Architecture is like a time capsule that captures how a city lives, works and plays—both in the past and into the future. The geography of San Francisco, sitting on 43 hills and surrounded by water, provides a unique canvas for some creative home styles.
Ask anyone to describe what homes look like in San Francisco and chances are you will quickly hear about the Painted Ladies. This colorful row of Queen Anne homes from the late 1800’s in Alamo Square has appeared in numerous TV and film productions. However, the Golden Gate City isn’t just about quintessential architecture. It boasts an eclectic mix of residential styles to house the city’s diverse population, which consists of hippies, techies, biker enthusiasts, and many more. As you browse through each home style, the story of San Francisco unfolds.
For those who grew up with Full House, thinking about where the Tanner’s lived conjures up an image of an elegant Victorian home with an ornate facade and iconic red door.
With elaborately decorated trim, vibrant colors, and bay windows, the Victorian is the most prevalent style of architecture in San Francisco. They were primarily constructed in the late 19th century and rose from the reconstruction efforts after the 1906 Earthquake. Today they are predominantly found in Pacific Heights, Ashbury Heights, and Cow Hollow.
In a city where land is so scarce, two-story Victorian homes make efficient use of space. You can typically find the master suite and bedrooms upstairs, while the lower level is dedicated to a cozy family room. Many homes also have small gardens, where outdoor lovers can dine alfresco.
While the exterior of Victorian homes still preserves the distinct characteristics, the interior is usually meticulously renovated with a modern style. Features like stainless steel appliances and granite countertops add a contemporary flair.
In America’s priciest housing market, owning such an architectural jewel might be out of reach for many. A moderate-sized Victorian home, for example, goes for between $1.5 million and $4 million according to Zillow. But for those who just want an authentic taste of Victorian-style living in San Francisco, rental site 2nd Address has furnished Victorian homes that cost as low as $100 a night.
In 2016, in its prime, the Tiny House Movement was all over the news. The idea of living in a 120-square-foot home with only the bare essentials resonated with many of the San Franciscans paying high rents or mortgages.
For example, a local family of three has been living in a tiny house parked in a residential backyard. The well-designed layout features a cozy bedroom, a fully-functioning kitchen, a lounge area, and even an in-unit washer/dryer.
The family managed to pay off the house in just two years. Meanwhile, to save up for a standard house in San Francisco, it would take the average person 20 years to save for a 10% down payment, according to a report by Unison.
For many tiny home residents, it’s not only about saving money but also about taking advantage of the minimalist lifestyle, as well as the chance to be closer to nature. Many tiny homes get their power from solar panels, which speaks to the environmentally-conscious lifestyle in San Francisco, which has proudly become one of America’s greenest cities.
Tiny homes give homeowners the flexibility of moving to new locations. Owners usually register them as either RVs or mobile homes, offering them exemptions from many of the taxes and regulations that come with owning a standard home.
As a bustling tech hub, the idea of connected, remotely controlled systems in your homes is already taking root. From thermostats to smart switches, and even refrigerators that can order groceries for you when you’re running low.
Last year, CNET built the ultimate smart home right in the heart of San Francisco to showcase what modern home automation technology is capable of. How about waking up to the gradual rise of lights instead of a blaring alarm?
In the real world, one San Francisco man installed 21 home automations in his home. Before he leaves for the day, his automation system checks to make sure all doors are closed (except for the doggy door). If something’s wrong, the in-ceiling speakers will immediately let him know.
For those with a moderate amount of tech-savviness, a WiFi thermostat is a popular item to upgrade. Homes with a smart thermostat usually receive lower energy bills as the temperature is adjusted automatically. With every degree of temperature adjusted, there will be a 2% savings in energy bills.
Housing providers in San Francisco are also keeping up with the trend. For instance, Blueground is a real estate tech company offering fully-furnished and equipped rentals in the most sought-after areas of the city. All properties are outfitted with smart TVs, WiFi speakers, while select apartments also include smart locks and thermostats.
The fact that San Francisco sits near a fault line heavily influences the city’s landscape. After the 1906 earthquake and fire, the city quickly built more than 5,000 small cottages to house the homeless residents. They are now known as earthquake shacks.
Packed into tight rows, earthquake shacks are extremely small by today’s standards, ranging from 10 by 14 feet to 14 by 18 feet. Most of them are painted dark green to blend into the natural landscapes and city parks.
Only a few earthquake shacks still remain today. Occasionally, you might even come across one for sale. In 2016, a 450-square-foot shack went on the market for $849,000 according to Realtor.com. Just another example of the ridiculousness that is the San Francisco housing market!
Although now you’ve got more information about the background, the story of San Francisco’s homes doesn’t just end here. From Tudor Revival to Art Deco, an amazing array of styles contribute to this city’s architectural heritage. To truly experience the unique SF vibe and check out the impressive architecture, there’s no better way than to hit the streets and just start walking. It’s best to see the beauty of this place for yourself.