526 Duncan

As we wrote about the Ogrydziak/Prillinger Architects designed “T House” at 526 Duncan back in 2006:

Ogrydziak/Prillinger Architects (OPA) identifies it as the “T House.” The Noe Valley Voice calls it “The House That Google Bought.” We simply call it our fantasy.

The T House is located at the “end of a cul-de-sac in the 500 block of Duncan Street near Newburg Street” in Noe Valley and “sits on the precipice of an oversized lot that provides panoramic, 270-degree views from Twin Peaks to downtown San Francisco to across the Bay.”

Designed by Luke Ogrydziak and Zoe Prillinger, the three-story home offers 5,689 square feet of living space, five-bedrooms, three terraces, and a three-car garage. And [in October 2005] the T House sold for $5.3M ($50K below asking) to a former Google engineer (he paid cash). That’s a lot of Google Ads.

And while it’s not listed nor official inventory, as a plugged-in tipster reports, 526 Duncan has (or at least had…) quietly hit the market and is now being offered at $6,400,000.

Comments from Plugged-In Readers

  1. Posted by resp

    pardon my ignorance of the neighborhood or the home but what has driven the 21% increase in value since October 2005?
    I probably would’ve tried hanging a flyer in the Google cafeteria before signing a listing agreement to the tune of $320K in commissions.

  2. Posted by ex SF-er

    I’ll probably be the exception here, but based on the pictures I’m not sure I really like this place.
    Layout seems awkward. The staircase dominates way too much of this house. why put it right in front of the windows like that, obstructing the incredible views??? there must be a better way to achieve a lofty open feel without using a staircase that really breaks up the open feel of this home (LR is so disjointed from Kitchen and DR, again because of the staircase position).
    I would have put the stairway on the contralateral wall opening up the entire home to that incredible view. or on the end so you had a big open space.
    Also: first floor is very choppy, with lots of wasted space… for instance all the wasted space around that staircase and also the wasted space behind the couch… to small to make into a living space and too big to leave empty.
    that said: I didn’t see any pics of the bedrooms or bathrooms or the other floors… so maybe it makes up for it there.
    i’d love to see the floorplan.
    I absolutely love the outdoors spaces. those are A+++.

  3. Posted by noearch

    One of the best designed and constructed houses in Noe Valley, and The City.
    Beautifully sited on a steep site, taking advantage of the views from all of the major rooms. The main interior stairway is perfectly located to functionally connect all the floors while allowing the occupants to always enjoy the views going up and down the stairs. With the stair having open risers allows the main space to flow freely and visually connect across the entire north elevation. The main stair is a strong connector, as well, both separating the living spaces from the dining and kitchen area,at the same time tying them all together.
    There is no “wasted” space on this floor, but rather various locations allowing you to enjoy the openness and superb architectural interiors and craftsmanship. A house of this caliber and budget does not need to have every single corner and nook and cranny be functional.
    This is a great house for large scale entertaining, with great wall areas for artwork, and totally focusing on the stunning views.
    As a side note regarding the apparent increase in value of 21%: The architectural quality and provenance counts for some increase. There is simply no other house like it in this part of SF.
    Value also has to do with what a seller thinks it is worth…and what a buyer will pay. That’s really what real estate is all about.

  4. Posted by anon

    I think I’d buy in Pacific Heights for this price, and not have a house that is probably 8x more expensive than my next door neighbor.

  5. Posted by [anon.ed]

    “I think I’d buy in Pacific Heights for this price, and not have a house that is probably 8x more expensive than my next door neighbor”
    Well, 625 Duncan which is also on that segmented part of Duncan went for 5.8+ in 11/08.
    [Editor’s Note: The Spec-tacular 625 Duncan Sells For $5,818,000 In Noe Valley.]

  6. Posted by Jim

    floor plans, 3-d computer modeling, etc. on architects’ website.

  7. Posted by shza

    As a side note regarding the apparent increase in value of 21%: The architectural quality and provenance counts for some increase. There is simply no other house like it in this part of SF.
    I don’t follow this. It has the same uniqueness and architectural quality it had when it last sold. This certainly accounts for it’s higher value/price relative to other homes in the neighborhood but I fail to see how it — without more — justifies a huge price increase above where it previously sold in a similar market.

  8. Posted by tipster

    As a side note regarding the apparent increase in value of 21%: The architectural quality and provenance counts for some increase. There is simply no other house like it in this part of SF.
    How did any of that change from when it was first purchased? The only difference I see is that we were in the midst of a debt-infused property bubble that has now started to burst, and a lot of google-aires, who were all buying back then, are, for reasons I haven’t been able to ascertain, now selling.

  9. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    “The main interior stairway is perfectly located to functionally connect all the floors while allowing the occupants to always enjoy the views going up and down the stairs.”
    Further evidence most of us are unworthy subhumans. Instead of spending that ten seconds on the staircase to successfully get from one floor to the other we could have been enjoying the view. My life seems so vacuous now knowing that I waste about a minute a day climbing stairways without taking in the view. I guess I’ll never deserve such a fine architectural prize.

  10. Posted by shza

    Sorry, “it’s” = its. A pet peeve of mine when others do that — and one of the iphone’s more annoying “autocorrects.” (Up there with the completely inexplicable “us” to “u’s”.)

  11. Posted by conifer

    “The architectural quality and provenance counts for some increase.”
    Exactly what provenance is that? Has it previously been owned by the Duke of Devonshire?
    Were you trying to say ‘location’?
    I agree with anon. There are many fine houses in Pacific Heights for this price.

  12. Posted by Joshua

    This house is custom-made for the newly minted tech millionaire, the same person who might eye a Gallardo. They’ll live there a few years, enjoy the views, impress and irritate their friends, and then start looking elsewhere. Someplace they can walk to get their coffee, someplace better for pets or kids, someplace that’s simply more livable.
    The seller should wait a bit — Facebook, Zynga and the like will produce a crop of new folks ideally suited to buy this place — and enjoy it until they turn 30.

  13. Posted by ex SF-er

    I don’t know that it happens often, but I completely disagree with Noearch.
    That staircase is simply in the way and blocks the view. Look at the picture above as example. as well as picture 10, 16, and 22. That staircase dominates this place. do you see the view beyond the staircase? probably but think of the view without that thing there. that would be awe inspiring.
    on a side note: I LOVE the design pictures… especially #20 with the 1970’s hipsters dancing in the Kitchen. hahah! it is nice that they can put out a great product and still be lighthearted and poke fun at themselves!

  14. Posted by bubblesurfer

    joshua – good post, but don’t count on tipster to see it your way

  15. Posted by amused

    I completely agree with noearch.
    One of the most frequent insults thrown at properties is that “You can get something as nice in Pac Heights for that money.” So what? I just dropped a couple million on a new place, and Pac Heights was never on our list. Not going to get into why, but why do we endure the assumption that it’s the only place to live in SF?
    As for provenance, it’s a good choice of words. The hard-to-quantify element of homes is that they are unique. And unique assets change in value, often disconnected from external market realities. Bordeaux, for example (hello, China). Art is another. And houses from architects/firms of note will outperform their peers.
    Last, anybody who associates this place with a Gallardo buyer understands neither Lamborghinis nor design.

  16. Posted by sfrenegade

    The staircase might be this house’s equivalent of the Embarcadero Freeway.

  17. Posted by bubblesurfer

    I also agree 100% with noearch – well said

  18. Posted by EH

    You can get something nice in PH for this money, but it’ll take you at least a half-hour to get to a freeway if you ever want to leave the city..

  19. Posted by sanfrantim

    Someplace “better for pets”?? This is a great urban area for pets. As a neighbor and dog owner, I can say there are at least 4 dog parks in walking distance of this property — 27th/Douglas, Haas Park, Duncan/Newberg open space, and Glen Canyon.

  20. Posted by noearch

    Thanks amused and bubblesurfer for your comments. Much appreciated.
    And when I say, or others say, that one needs to spend time to “understand design”, that is not meant as an insult. Merely a statement of fact.
    I don’t pretend to know medicine the way my doctor does, nor law the way my lawyer does. That takes years of specialized training. I know architecture and design (both good and bad) from my years of training. I don’t expect the layperson to know the same as myself, when it comes to design critique, construction or quality.
    This is a high end, high quality house, with a high level of design integrity. It was designed by a firm highly regarded in the design profession. Houses of this stature will always command a higher than “normal” price. It should.
    @MOD: I’m not sure if you were “playing” with us, or just being sarcastic. No one said you were an “unworthy subhuman”. But sometimes it is nice in life to reach for something beyond pure function and utility.
    Art enhances life.

  21. Posted by sfrenegade

    “I know architecture and design (both good and bad) from my years of training. I don’t expect the layperson to know the same as myself, when it comes to design critique, construction or quality.”
    I think what you’re missing, noearch, is that architects may find something technically perfect, but no customer may like it. This happens in all industries.
    For example, I can say an iPhone app is crap without knowing about the technical expertise that went into it. You don’t seem to understand this for some reason in your comments here when you complain about others not understanding design, but you also usually express your disdain for the customer’s input in the process too, so that’s no surprise.

  22. Posted by snider

    EH needs to check his/her watch. a half-hour to get out of town from Pacific Heights?
    try this: get in your car and drive down fillmore street, turn left on lombard and drive over the golden gate bridge.
    i bet you get out of town in 30 minutes.

  23. Posted by noearch

    @sfren: You really do crack me up.
    Architects don’t have customers. We don’t sell a product. We provide a service. We have clients.
    I would never (nor have I) expressed “disdain” for my clients input in the process. I may challenge it, I may criticize it, but all ideas are on the table. My job is to sort out those ideas and recommend the best ones for that particular client, budget, location, program. The best clients (that I have had) are ones who allow me to take their ideas and expand upon them, make them better and deliver a project that exceeds their expectations.
    Then I really have done my job.

  24. Posted by shza

    noearch, I had a similar reaction to sfrenegade’s on that comment.
    The analogy to the services provided by doctors and lawyers is inapt. The quality of the services provided in those professions is measured by quantifiable results or outcomes that are largely independent from what any particular patient or client thinks of the service. Sure, a patient my have an immediate reaction to a doctor’s bedside manner, but ultimately what he/she cares about is, e.g., getting a mole removed with no complications (moreover, bedside manner is more a personality issue than it is the practicing of medicine, to the extent the two are separable). My client may have thoughts on a brief I’ve written (though it will generally be an in-house lawyer who does), but ultimately it is how the issues are resolved at court that matters.
    With architecture, the client’s (and also future potential homebuyers’) enjoyment of the space is paramount in a way it simply isn’t in the other fields you reference. It is an end in itself; and in almost every case, it is the most important end.
    You may be arguing that really what is important is whether an architect’s work is taught or written about in scholarship; but that’s just not going to happen in 99.9% of the cases (including this one). Nor does it justify dismissing the views of “laypeople” (i.e., potential clients and purchasers of the resulting homes), whose views actually do matter in a very real and meaningful way.

  25. Posted by anon

    ^ exactly.

  26. Posted by noearch

    @ shza: Sort of hard to understand exactly what you are saying. Some of your statements sound like they agree with me (in general), others seem to be counter to what I have said.
    I don’t believe I was “dismissing” any ones opinion. Disagreeing. Yes. Using the term “layperson” is not disrespectful. To me that simply means they are not professionally trained in what I am trained in. Pretty simple.
    With architecture, you most certainly can measure success or quality of a project in quantifiable ways: Functionality, maximizing views, maximizing the allowable building envelope per code, how efficiently passengers move thru an airport, how much rent-able retail space you can develop for a business, critical adjacencies in a hospital nursing unit (which I have designed), maximizing the most number of ocean view rooms in a tropical resort (which I have also designed), etc. The list goes on.
    I lost you on your last paragraph, sorry.
    Bottom line is this: Because this particular, high end house is exceptionally designed and crafted by experienced, talented architects, it will command a price premium against a house of similar square footage, but poorly designed.
    Good design always sells for more.

  27. Posted by sfrenegade

    I’d agree with shza here. I don’t care if a house meets some BS academic standard of great. The question is whether I want to live there.
    “Architects don’t have customers. We don’t sell a product. We provide a service. We have clients.”
    A service is a “product.” A client is a “customer.” At the end of the day, your services are largely irrelevant if the customer doesn’t like your product. Who cares if it’s technically perfect according to an architecture professor? The question is whether the building meets the intended use and aesthetic of the buyer, not the artichoke, er architect.

  28. Posted by anon

    The interior looks like a museum…what an over improvement for that area. Better pray for another sucker, drunk with options proceeds.

  29. Posted by The Milkshake of Despair

    noearch – Sorry my post was confusing and it could have been shortened to just “It is ludicrous to place a staircase at a prime location so people could enjoy the view while climbing.”

  30. Posted by noearch

    Sfren: you can rant and harp all you want. But some of your comments (and name calling) are making you look ignorant.
    You also fail to truly understand the architectural design process and the client/architect relationship. From a legal point of view architects offer a “service” and that service is defined as “intellectual property”; the drawings, notes, details, specs are defined as “instruments of service”, by the law and by the profession.
    AT the end of the day, as you say, if the client does not like the project, that will come out during the design process, not necessarily when they walk in the front door. They may, in fact, not like the project, but I still get paid for my services.
    A person may not like a house 6 months after they purchased it, but the realtor is still paid for his services.
    And who said anything about the building NOT meeting the intended use and aesthetic of the client? Not me. A good architect will achieve client satisfaction, AND the architect will be proud of his/her work.
    Not sure why you come off so angry and full of mistrust and spite so often here. I mean, we’re just talking about real estate and design.
    Have a nice day.

  31. Posted by sfrenegade

    “Not sure why you come off so angry and full of mistrust and spite so often here.”
    When you don’t agree and can’t support your position and don’t have anything of substance to say, accuse the other guy of being emotional in a failed attempt to discredit him. :p
    What you’re missing is that Dwell is not inherently better in terms of design. Yes, you can find a sucker who is willing to overpay for Dwell because they appreciate the aesthetic, but it greatly limits the potential market for the house, especially in this case, with the Embarcadero Staircase and the wasted space that ex SF-er identified (for example, what is the deal with the opposite side of the non-fireplace?). Dwell also may not stand the test of time, even though it’s trendy for BoBos right now. Is that worth 21% since the 2005 sale? Maybe to the right sucker.
    You’re in a service industry. You do what the customer says. End of story. The clientele determines the product, and Joshua seems to have identified the right clientele here.
    Another thing I’d add is that the “crafting” was by the builder and the subcontractors, not the architect.

  32. Posted by noearch

    Why don’t you just man up SFren and say publicly you hate architects? It would help us understand you better and know how to filter out your ramblings.
    What does Dwell have to do with this project?
    And please, work on your name calling issues. Not cool.
    It’s a service “profession” not an industry. Car making is an industry.
    I never just “do” what my client says. I have had clients try that approach: “here, just draw up this plan we sketched..”. Not how I work and I terminate the agreement immediately.
    “Crafting” of any project starts with the details, profiles and specifications produced by the architect, and shown in the construction documents. A skilled contractor will know how to build the particular detail.

  33. Posted by sfrenegade

    I don’t hate architects. I just don’t think their opinions are necessarily worth more than the people who commission their work without which their services would not exist. There’s a difference. But go ahead and keep getting your knickers in a twist because I said that the Embarcadero Staircase is poor design.

  34. Posted by Noodle

    I’m going to miss the lovely events the current owners – gracious hosts and humble in a way that early Google engineers were – held at the house. Contrary to earlier posts, they neither eyed a Gallardo nor turned thirty.

  35. Posted by ex SF-er

    not sure that this thread needed to get so hostile!
    I took no offense to being called a layperson. I AM a design/architect/building layperson!
    that said, in this case I think I as a layperson have a valid point about this particular house. The stairway is dark and bulky and really breaks up this house too much, as well as ruining a marvelous view.
    There are most assuredly structural/design considerations of which I am ignorant that are known to noearch… but IMO it doesn’t change the idea that those stairs could have been moved elsewhere with improved effect. at the very least they could maybe be all glass or something to un-obstruct sight lines.
    as others brought up, part of the issue of course is that architecture is part science/engineering and part aesthetic. this makes evaluation of outcome difficult and quite different from medicine in general. (although there can be disagreement in medicine, in general the ideas/principles are evidence based)
    in medicine I can say “my treatment led to a x% increase in improvement and yours only y%”
    but in architechture some/much of the outcome is purely subjective not objectively quantifiable.

  36. Posted by SocketSite

    It’s time for a friendly reminder to attack the argument not the individual. And now back to 526 Duncan…

  37. Posted by tipster

    View stairways can be very dramatic. I had one many years ago and they are quite a memorable feature. And it’s not like they don’t have 7 other windows and two decks from which you can enjoy the view. It also looks interesting from the outside to see the stairs.
    So for me, it works.
    As for architects, a good one is worth his or her weight in gold, but they are usually an example of the 80/20 rule. You can get about 80% of the result you want without one. But if you want to get that last 20%, most people will need one. However, the costs flip: getting a property 80% to its full potential only costs 20%. To get that last 20% costs 80%.
    To most people, it isn’t worth paying 80% to get the last 20%, so they don’t bother and think it’s a waste of money. To them, it is. For those who really want that last 20%, the 80% is well worth it.
    I’ve never used an architect, but I use a decorator in my offices and it shows. Costs a fortune, but to me it’s worth it. I could have gotten 80% of the way there with 20% of the costs, but I went all the way and I’m glad I did. People walk in and the first thing they say is wow! If that’s what you want, and you can’t do it yourself, it’s good to know you can buy it. And you can.
    And once you use one and go through the design process with one, you develop an eye for it and you can tell when an amateur did the design or a pro. Before I went through the design process with one, I figured I could do it just as well on my own. But when you see the result, and know what to look for, you realize you cannot. After years of doing it, I can now pick out some things myself, but I always run them by my decorator before buying them.
    That said, there are a lot of mediocre people in any profession and you’ll pay the 80% and get almost nothing. However, here, it worked out: they got a dramatic home that someone who would not normally consider this ‘hood will buy, though maybe not at this price.

  38. Posted by A.T.

    As another design layperson, I’m with the others on this one.
    It is a very pretty building – for a museum or a place to rent for one night to host a party, but not for a house to live in.
    That is a nice view – of the staircase which interferes with much of the real view.
    On the Pac Heights issue, the views of the Bay from some great Pac Heights places are literally among the prettiest views in the entire world (that is not an exaggeration). The views from this place are of SF’s fairly drab skyline. Not bad, but not spectacular at all. No comparison there.
    This may or may not be just what the customer ordered, but it would not even be on my top 20 list if I had an unlimited budget and was limited to places on the market in SF right now.

  39. Posted by EBGuy

    From what I can tell (after looking at the floorplans and site), here are the design considerations that led to this solution:
    1. Maximize windows in bedrooms
    2. Maximize windows in living room & kitchen
    2. Bury the bathrooms into the hillside
    3. Three car garage
    If you lose one of the cars in the garage, you may be able to push the stair case towards the hill. But then you no longer have a dual room fireplace and you kill the east-west flow corridor in the building. The other option is to put the staircase in the SW corner. This seems like it could be an option (probably where most of us armchair architects would put it), though it’s no longer central and easily accessible at that point. Do you really want to have to walk 80 ft. just to reach the stairs to get to a bedroom?

  40. Posted by noearch

    @ EBGuy:
    All good points and essentially what I have also been saying about the overall plan and stair placement. The stair is the key organizing element from both a vertical and horizontal connection reference. I’m sure there were other options explored during the design phase, but this is the best and logical location. One can clearly see thru the stair, around the stair, and when ON the stair.
    Perfect. Brilliant.

  41. Posted by ex SF-er

    I disagree.
    they could have moved the staircase backwards to where the sit-down-eat-in-booth thing is located. (so against the opposite wall of that room if that makes sense)
    this would have moved the staircase out of the way of the window entirely, but you would still have phenomenal views from every step of the staircase.
    it would also open up the sight lines from the Living room to the Dining room.
    where the staircase was you could then leave it open on the top two levels, or you could leave it open on the top level and put down flooring on the main LR/DR level. I would do the latter.
    There is space on all 3 floors for the staircase to be moved backwards to the contralateral wall. it would not affect any of the points that EB guy made.
    moving it back about 8(?) feet wouldn’t affect the garage, nor the bathrooms, nor the kitchen/LR windows or anything.
    but it would open up the place so that you had 2 stories of soaring windows looking over a fantastic view.

  42. Posted by eddy

    What’s the point in debating this issue? The house is awesome and if I had the money and the desire to live in that part of town I would buy it sight unseen. If you don’t like it, find a vacant lot and design/build your own. 🙂

  43. Posted by EBGuy

    moving it back about 8(?) feet wouldn’t affect the garage
    Except that there is now no way to get from the garage into the house. Believe me, I didn’t want to agree with noearch, but I think he called it right on this one. YMMV.
    BTW, I believe the sit-down-eat-in-booth thing is a modern take on an inglenook with benches. (I want one!) From the drawings, I believe it has pretty good sight lines.

  44. Posted by [anon.ed]

    architect views in
    person, jpeg arguers
    don’t. architect wins

  45. Posted by Tom

    C’mon, people, anyone can not like the particulars, but this site, and this house, are unique and awesome! Jealous much?

  46. Posted by ex SF-er

    cool site EBGuy!

  47. Posted by Simca

    I am a merely a keen amateur with respect to design and architecture, but this house leaves me cold. As others have noted, there is a museum-quality to the house that seems sterile and the staircase is clunky. Pass.

  48. Posted by noearch

    I like your comment, Tom. I agree.
    If we separate out the two points of view: One being the house does not “fit” everyones’ taste and two, judge the house itself on the architectural merits, provenance, site location, quality of construction, then we clearly can see that:
    This house is unique and awesome..as you say.

  49. Posted by MCM

    A house like this is ostentatious.
    No matter the design, the views, the beauty (or ugliness), size overwhelms function. Who really needs or can use a living room the size of a lecture hall? Anything of this scope intends to make a statement of power for architect, owner and builder. “I can do this, so I will.”
    It may be gorgeous waste, but it’s wasteful. This is conspicuous consumption that, in this case, literally looks down on others. This is as much a demonstration of wealth and power as the palatial homes of Carnegie, Ford, Rockefeller or Ellison were/are.
    The building has requirements of it’s own – housekeeping, utilities, furnishing – that are part of the social and aesthetic dynamic. It’s relatively safe to discuss and argue about the design, but doing so without considering the meaning of design, makes any judgment fractional as well as fractious. Are we talking about the aesthetic, the price, the nature of architectural design, form versus function?
    Buildings have a language, they speak not just to designers, but to people who see them, who live and work in them. There’s no such thing as an isolated work. Whatever one’s opinion of the design merits of this property, it is one more signifier of how much money is floating around SF.
    That one home in a neighborhood that 20 years ago was solidly working class, could be put on the market for nearly $6.5 million should raise larger questions about what real estate says about our society. The first one I thought of was, “how often is someone with this kind of money likely to be home to enjoy the view?”
    The corollary question is, “where is does one locate emotional investment when one’s expensive home is in SF but one’s job, which takes up 75% of a person’s time, is in a completely different place? Where is one’s community? At work? In the place you pay property taxes?”
    Time is the only thing we don’t get back, so if a house is now a showplace used for sleeping and entertaining, what has become of home? That’s a big part of what real estate is about, selling ideas of home.

  50. Posted by Jimmy (No Longer Bitter)

    This house, of all the houses eve featured on Socketsite … this house, really spoke to me. I saw the pictures and said “I want it.” Not some stuffy old $20M mansion in Pac Heights or wherever …. new, bold, incredible views, and makes a statement that you have (finally) arrived.

  51. Posted by Noecritic

    The entryway is masterful. Walking through the front door and down the stairs to the main level, the light and the views create a unique experience. The money spent on craftsmanship and attention to detail throughout the house shows, and there are acres of glass with views of downtown SF. But key design elements are redolent of common commercial spaces. And I don’t agree with noearch about the staircase tying the living spaces together. To me, the living spaces feel very disjointed. The house features stunning roof decks, but they hardly seem appropriate for the climate on a hilltop in Noe Valley. This trophy house is very impressive to visitors, so it will surely find a buyer, but If it truly is one of the best-designed houses in San Francisco, that does not speak well for the state of architecture here.

  52. Posted by noearch

    As before, I continue to admire this house, the more I see it and see its’ setting.
    I’m glad that our society allows for wealthy people to commission such works of art, allowing for superb craftsmanship and quality materials. Of course it is not for everyone, it is for someone with money.
    And yes, it is one of the best designed houses in San Francisco recently; certainly not the only one. But no, this one, singular house does NOT speak for or against the state of architecture in this city.

  53. Posted by LJ

    Let’s just say that this home sold for $6.1m – must be nice.

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