2019 Residential Architecture Design Award: The Cut Out House by Fougeron Architecture

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As part of the dwelling’s transformation, Fougeron Architects shifted the main living area to the back, which improved the flow and now allows convenient access to the garden.
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For a family in the Noe Valley neighborhood of San Francisco, architect Anne Fougeron of proved that less is indeed more— and to striking effect. Though some square footage was sacrificed on a couple of the home’s floors, the trade-off is well worth it. Her namesake practice’s ingenious strategy of employing openings throughout yielded a residence that not only appears larger and maximizes natural light but is also more engaging. “It’s called the Cut Out House for a reason,” says Fougeron of the project’s moniker. “We basically cut big holes in the floor and created these two-story and three-story volumes. Sometimes the removing of space and making floor plates smaller—and going taller—is actually a way to make a home seem grander.” (Spatial illusion is especially key when a lot measures just 65 by 25 feet!)

The treads, rail and structure of the staircase that connects all three levels of the home is done in perforated metal. The vibrant hue is a nod to the clients’ love of color, while the material diffuses light.

From the sidewalk, there’s little indication of the modern masterpiece that awaits inside. Because of the city’s historic preservation guidelines, the Victorian front façade, steps and part of the pitched roof were held over. “The rest of it,” says Fougeron, “we were basically allowed to start over.” Which is a good thing, considering that “the back of the house and the inside had nothing left. It had been stripped a long time ago and was quite dilapidated and really falling apart.” Her initial impression? “It was dark and grim.”

The clients—a husband and wife who both work in tech, and their young daughter—had a simple directive: Make it great. For Fougeron, that translated into interiors that are both functional and exciting. “We’ve done a lot of these Victorians before and my general impression is: They’re like
a stack of pancakes,” she explains. “There’s one floor on top of another floor on top of another floor. They’re not very connected and they’re often pretty dark in the middle because they get light from the front and the back. We wanted to break up the floor plates so that there’s a lot of interaction between the floors. By opening up one space to the next, they feel larger and are as light- filled as possible.”

A Metallico dining table by Piero Lissoni for Porro is flanked by Eames chairs. The blue custom cabinetry runs throughout the house.

The back of the house is now composed almost entirely of glass, with metal interspersed for privacy and shade from the sun. And those aforementioned upper-floor cut outs allow for what Fougeron describes as “a crazy perforated metal stair,” painted bright orange, to occupy one side of the house, from bottom to top—the perforations induce light to pass through all three stories.

Also spanning the entire structure is ample and cleverly devised storage. “Everything that’s blue is basically a piece of built-in cabinetry that winds its way up the house” in gradiating shades that lighten towards the top, says Fougeron. (This is the first time her team has implemented this maneuver in a home.) On the ground floor, where the blue is the darkest, the MDF units provide storage for the dining room; the living room and kitchen are also on this level. On the second floor—which houses the daughter’s bedroom, guest bedroom and an office—the cabinetry forms a desk and adjacent closet. On the uppermost floor, the cabinetry is the closet in the master suite; its light blue hue is carried over into the skylight well in the bathroom.

The master bath features cabinetry by Myers Cabinetry as well, also in a walnut finish.

Today, the house totals 2,500 square feet, which is about 600 more than when Fougeron started the three-year endeavor. The extra space came from excavating the ground floor, which now offers convenient access to a compact garden where the daughter can play, grown-ups can grill, and the whole family can hang out and enjoy the southern exposure. The indoor and outdoor areas share limestone flooring; the organic nature of the stone serves as a beautiful counterbalance to the modernity of the dwelling.
The second and third floors feature oak wood underfoot, and uniform white walls lend visual continuity. In addition to the architecture, Fougeron was responsible for the furnishings, which are clean-lined and fairly minimal. The occasional splash of color delights, as in the pink indoor/outdoor chairs in the master bedroom and the daughter’s blue bunk bed.

The kitchen includes cabinetry by Myers Cabinetry and Corian countertops.

While the Cut Out House has its singular aspects, according to Fougeron that’s the case with all of her San Francisco-based firm’s undertakings. “We don’t do repeats,” she says. “You get a different house, you get a different client, you get a different place. It’s always about fitting all these program elements and ideas into a specific location. Since every project is customized, each one is kind of like a prototype.”