141 Ames

It’s not yet listed, but its website just went live. And while we haven’t yet been inside 141 Ames (aka Betty May’s School of Tap), a plugged-in reader reports (rather effusively):

I am a neighbor with an interest in design, and this is maybe the finest renovation I have ever seen in San Francisco. It is utterly original. An massive rectangular chimney covered with slivers of reclaimed fir thrusts up through a skylight in the center of the space, creating a striking visual impression and dividing the living from the sleeping area.

141 Ames: Living

The bedroom opens onto a lightwell/patio with an irrigated “living wall” designed by Flora Grubb and a custom concrete soaking tub. The kitchen is functional and elegant. The floors are old hardwood, dinged and pock-marked by 40 years of dancing classes. The bathroom skylight doubles as a fixed, transparent table on the roof deck.

141 Ames: Roof

I doubt that the entire space is more than 800-900 square feet, but the space is used brilliantly. Asking price is [$695,00]. It sits on its own lot, so technically it’s a single family home. (It used to be on the same lot as the 3-unit building that Flora owns adjacent to her old nursery on Guerrero between 22nd and 23rd, but apparently she got permission from the city to do a lot split.)

141 Ames: Sketch

I know I sound like a promoter but I have no financial or personal interest in this at all. (I live two blocks away and I sometimes buy plants from Flora Grubb–that’s the extent of my interest.)

Good eye all around (it’s 840 square feet per the architect) and cheers. And for the record, it’s a tipster we trust (but we’re not about to start naming names).

∙ Listing: 141 Ames (0/1) – $695,000 [141ames.com]

51 thoughts on “A Plugged-In Reader Reports (Rather Effusively): Go See 141 Ames”
  1. They missed a chance at some irony: instead of the bumble and bumble, they should have used a generic supermarket shampoo — oh, and look, you can *drink wine* on the deck! 🙂
    Indeed seems a great use of space, but the pictures are a little dishonest about the open bedroom. I think it’s nifty, but why are they being so sneaky?
    Look out cubix 🙂
    [Editor’s Note: Considering there’s a full-on floor plan included…]

  2. Hi there- Thanks for posting my listing….come have a look anytime. We are open this weekend and by appt. Very easy to show-just give a call.
    And to the poster who thought we were being sneaky-? We took the photos before everything was staged and had to work around.Sneaky is as sneaky does….. smiley face back atcha.

  3. Very cool, especially that merged chimney stack/skylight thingy. I was going to complain about how that cool looking fir wood box around the chimney ate up precious space. But if I read the floorplan correctly, the backside is open and covered by a curtain so this also functions as a [intermittantly heated] closet.

  4. how do you access the roof deck? I don’t see any stairs and I am sure as heck not climbing a ladder carrying a glass of vino and a platter of brie and crackers.

  5. It’s the perfect pad for the serial killer who reads Dwell. The three small windows in the sleeping area open at eye level inches away from the alley; for privacy’s sake, you’ll keep those blinds drawn. The only other windows face the lightwell. The living room has no windows at all. No one will hear the screams.

  6. Access to the roofdeck is via an metal (aluminum?) ladder on the patio. When I saw this I exclaimed to the broker, “No way they did this with permits!” His reply: “Nope, they got a permit to provide access to the rooftop to maintain ‘mechanical systems.'” And the deck, of course, was necessary to provide a “walkway” to said mechanical systems.
    In my opinion the ladder is a great solution given the extremely limited space, and I very much appreciate the elegant “work around” of the building code, but you’ll definitely want a shoulder sling for your wine and cheese . . .

  7. In the interest of preciseness — Flora Grubb does not own the building in front of the studio, she is a tenant in that building. To get to the roof deck, you use a ladder.

  8. I would say this is a beautiful home, but a good use of space? The place my wife and I live is about the same size (850SF) and there are five rooms (2 bed, bath, kitchen and living) and they are all actually decently sized. While I like looking at these photos, I can’t imagine two people living here. And I certainly can’t imagine having house guests.

  9. If a ladder is used to provide roof access for mechanical access only, the realtor shouldn’t mention it as an legally occupiable roof deck. One complaint from a passerby/neighbor will cause the removal of such deck and its accessories since a ladder cannot be used as a means of egress. Buyer and realtor beware.

  10. Are there any SS readers out there who know the status development plans for the three empty lots right by this property (where Flora Grubb’s nursery used to be)?
    The listing broker (for 141 Ames) told me that a developer proposed a run-of-the-mill condo plan for the three lots, which the neighbors shot down, and that the architectural/planning team that did Linden Street in Hayes Valley has been brought in to create a mixed-use condo/gardens/commercial development. Can anyone corroborate this or update me on project status/timeline? (I’m a neighbor and I’m certainly a fan of the Linden St. model.)
    My fingers are crossed for something that Flora Grubb will celebrate . . . and that trounces that most unfortunate “English Country Fortress Meets Ivy League Dormitory” development behind Delfina, a/k/a Chelsea Park.

  11. I don’t say this very often (if ever) but I *love* this place!
    And maybe I have been in SF for too long, but the price actually seems reasonable to me.

  12. one of the best real estate scams I’ve seen in a long time..
    1. Dolores Heights? total lie.
    2. Windowless living room: not enjoyable. creepy.
    3. Flashy use of “Dwell” materials. don’t be fooled. it’s a cheap little studio apt.
    4. The possibly illegal roof deck. having to access it via a portable ladder is dangerous and not code compliant. The realtor is simply lying, lying.
    5. landscaping by Flora Grubb: big deal.

  13. When the “plugged-in reader” reports that “this is maybe the finest renovation I have ever seen in San Francisco” it leads me to think that either the reader should get out more, or that San Francisco is a truly creativity-deprived city.
    141 is ok for what it is, but it’s only that and nothin’ more. I’d say it’s a spiffy pad for a single undergrad.
    “Tiny feet” indeed.

  14. Oh dear…..so many bitter souls out there.
    What happened to this wonderful city- where beautiful things were once revered and artists were applauded and encouraged? So crucify the folks who are beautifying the streets and alleys and preserving what is-and cheer the big box developers who gave us the crappy lofts and uninspired high rises.Maybe its time to move back to Ohio.

  15. I think this is a clever alternative to a typical stucco box condo, but I do have one question. Why is there no mirror in the bathroom?

  16. This is very classy! Compared to some of the condos available at this price level it is like a palace. Being one level at the street limited windows and skylights make sense. The kitchen layout and window by the sink are quite nice indeed. The hearth really works. It is not hard to find units with one bedroom proper that have less space than this. I wonder if the roof deck is built sturdy enough for some really big plants in containers.

  17. I’m much rather have an outdoor shower than a tub in the light well off the sleeping area but I love the idea. Put an opaque glass door on the front and you could pick up some more light. Love the fir wrapped chimney/closet.

  18. Wow, that is absolutely beautiful. I love it and the price is actually not bad relative to other overpriced crap boxes. If I were still single I would take that over some SOMA filing cabinet any day of the week.
    Congrats to the developer – really nice job!

  19. I agree about the bedroom pictures; they are confusing and potentially misleading.
    Otherwise, interesting place. Not worth $700k for a studio in this neighborhood, even a cool studio like this one.

  20. @cse: Any idea which permit the agent was talking about? I see one in Feb 2008 for a new roof, but nothing else that jumps out at me for anything close to “maintaining mechanical systems.”

  21. definitely seems as if people love or hate this place! i do think the design is very good, and inspiring. but my practical side says, with 850 sq ft, couldn’t they have at least made it a true 1BR? maybe it wouldn’t be so ‘dwelly’, but certainly alot more practical. heck, you can do a 2br place w/ 850 sq ft., but admitedly, it would likely have a typical apartment feel. i just think settling for what is essentially a studio goes a bit too far in the other direction.
    i also think it’s over priced for what it is…but then again (especially if we were still living in early 2007) someone may just fall enough in love with it. at any rate, always nice to see someting that is out of the box and creative in the city, so i wish them the best.

  22. Definitely unique, but I agree that it’s overpriced for what’s essentially a studio at this location.
    And where the closets in this place??? didn’t see them in the pictures or floor plan.

  23. “where the closets in this place??? ”
    Don’t you know? Closets would ruin the design, so they just expect you to hang clothes behind the drape at the fireplace. Don’t even think of having books btw.
    This reminds me of Meis stories in Chicago, where he tried to control how owners in his high rise designs would live. Drapes were an outrage. Walls were to be kept white. Some designs are to be admired but not lived in.
    Still, I would much rather own this, than a SOMA 1bd condo, and don’t think the price is unrealistic, as long as the roof access is legal.
    Rooftop views in San Francisco are one of the unique charms of this city.

  24. ^ isn’t there a closet behind the chimney? looks like there’s storage behind the wood panels surrounding the bathroom too.

  25. Parking, closet space, safe streets, a bedroom that is not part of the living-kitchen space. That is asking for a LOT of “luxuries” in San Francisco for under a million dollars.

  26. does anyone know how the integral color plaster (or integral color stucco?) will hold up in the shower? I’m sure you could try to seal it, but am wondering how daily water and soap will wear……

  27. depending on the product they used it should be fine in the shower. remember that many of these finishes are used for exterior exposure.

  28. I’m the anonymous “tipster” whose initial rave was published by SS above. Let me say a few more words in response to some of the criticisms:
    1. Why is this an exemplar of good design (one of “the finest residential renovations in San Francisco I have ever seen”)?
    Because they took a small, boring space and made it lovely, at modest cost. In my book, the true measure of an architect is his/her ability to create a comfortable, pleasing space that evokes a sense of wonder, while staying within a modest budget. This place fits the bill. Special plaudits are due when the architect pulls this off using innovative design features that in the wrong hands might have come across as gimmicky. In the 141 Ames, those features include:
    – A 4’ x 10’ lightwell that performs quintuple service as a patio, garden, outdoor bath, and access point for the roof deck. Who would have thought you could get so much functionality and beauty out of such a small space? You can’t, unless you conjure the idea of (1) a 4’ custom tub (a standard 5’-6’ tub would have overwhelmed the space); (2) an irrigated, wall-mounted “painting” composed of succulents, which creates a garden sensibility without crowding the space, and (3) a wall-mounted aluminum ladder in lieu of stairs for rooftop access.
    – The oversize chimney, shot through a skylight, which does triple service as flue, room divider, and closet. Normally the effect of plunking down a large, closet-containing box in the middle of an open space would be to make the space feel smaller. But by virtue of the manner in which this box shoots up through a skylight, it draws the eye upward and actually makes the space feel larger. And the play of down-filtering light on the fir-lath sheathing is simply gorgeous.
    – Rather than taking the form of the standard “U,” the kitchen counter snakes north at one end toward the bedroom, creating much-need workspace, under-counter storage, and a bar for eating. This is a small touch but it hugely improves the functionality of the kitchen, while also resulting in a visually pleasing sense of flow between the different living spaces. Another plus is that the kitchen sink is perfectly positioned vis-à-vis the lightwell/garden/patio, bringing light into the kitchen and no doubt evoking a sense of calm and peace is whoever is doing the dishes.
    – The elusive goal of indoor/outdoor aesthetic integration was effectively achieved through the use of a continuous stucco wall (which doubles as backsplash in the kitchen and bathroom) and run of slate tile.
    – The roofdeck is a delight, including the skylight “table,” and I applaud the building code workaround. (If indeed it is legit, and I have no idea whether it is.)
    – There is a decent amount of well-concealed storage, with cabinets hidden away in the wall that divides the bathroom from the living space.
    Finally, the design does not have any glaring flaws. In my experience, it is almost always the case that even a well-conceived design ends up having one or two significant problems that only become apparent once the project has been completed. The biggest “flaw” in this design is the lack of windows in the living room, but as another poster noted, that could be remedied by installing a front door with translucent glass.
    2. What are the problems with this property?
    The biggest problem in my opinion is the lack of ingress/egress to Guerrero Street. I live nearby, I *love* the neighborhood, and I do not worry much about the safety of walking along Guerrero at night (there is a decent amount of foot traffic, “eyes on the street”). But I would not want to come home late at night, on foot, to a house that can only be accessed through what is essentially a back alley. If there were secure parking on site this would not be as much of a problem . . . but there is not.
    As other posters have noted, I would want to confirm that the roof deck has been properly permitted.
    And I would want to spend some time in this property during the early morning and late afternoon. It is full of light at midday, when the sun is high in the sky, but I wonder how it performs in the morning, when the 3-story buildings along Guerrero may block out much of the light. The space might also prove to be light-deprived during the mid-winter months, when the sun is lowest in the sky. (One reason to buy property mid-winter—and we’re closing in on that time—is to see how it fares during the season of low light.)

  29. seems clear that the lack of a private bedroom is a function of the extremely limited window situation. Carving up the space with walls would have created a warren of little caves. They took a dog of a space and came up with some creative solutions to address the lack of light and to distract you from the fact that you’re essentially living in a drab little shoebox. Cool staging heightens the distraction. This property would be really attractive at around $500K; at $700K…not so much.

  30. 3 years ago this well staged shoe box would have been sold before the first weekend open house. Unfortunately, today it’s a different story…a much more accurate picture with no hype and loads of cynicism.

  31. I am with noearch- very good luck selling this place- and as far as flora grubb goes- 1) I wonder if she is aware her name is being thrown around in conjuction to this art and crap project and 2) when I went in to the FG nursery they do not offer her (her staff) l-design services ?? curious they gave me lots of other designers names who in good SF tradition- do not return phone calls ?? all of this is shady- but 5mill on fillmore claimed her l-scape services also- maybe it is secret agent ?? who gives a crap..

  32. @cse-
    I wouldnt put the architect up on a pedestal exactly..this is not rocket science. this is clever staging.
    I do think the roof deck and access to it is blatantly non code compliant.
    I think the realtor should be mildly punished for daring to call this Dolores Heights. this is an alley in the mission.

  33. “I think the realtor should be mildly punished for daring to call this Dolores Heights. this is an alley in the mission.”
    SFAR’s map puts this in District 5C (Noe Valley), 1/2 block from the District 5K (Eureka Valley, Dolores Heights) line on 22nd St. and 2 blocks from the District 9C (Mission) line on San Jose Ave.

  34. It’s charming. I like it. (i don’t like the deceptive marketing). However, how big is the market for high end cottages? 1448 Kearny isn’t moving…

  35. Who is the architect for this place? Its pretty cool. Except there is absolutely NO storage. None. No towel/coat/stoarge closet. Nothing.

  36. Went to the open house yesterday.
    It is really lovely, but only for 1 person. There is very little storage, however the wood paneling around the entrance to the bathroom is all storage and there are a few deep cabinets high above the small bedroom closet. the exterior wall of the place could easily be fitted with a low cabinet spanning the length of the building. This would certainly provide adequate storage in addition to the storage already there.
    One major problem is there is absolutely no place to put your flat panel screen. I thought it could be hung above the fireplace, but with the overhead light and the height (too high for viewing pleasure) – no can do. You’d basically have to have your TV on a cart and wheel it out when you felt like watching a movie. How annoying and ugly.
    Basically, the only way this place makes sense is if 1. you are single and don’t own much stuff. 2. you don’t have a car 3. the price was lowered to 500k 4. you had another 300K to add a bedroom on the roof accesible by spiral staircase. 4. There is no way the ladder to the roof is functional except for the water heater repair guy.

  37. Tipster-thanks for the props and for shouldering the heat.
    Love or hate it here’s some background.
    In 1999 two of us shared the space for a year while I renovated the flats fronting Guerrero.
    Formerly, Betty Mays School of Dance the studio included mirrored walls and a stretching bar mounted to the wall set at about 30”off the floor. When I pried up the top to the old bench seat along the wall I found a treasure trove of artifacts dating to the early 40’s- flyers for dance recitals, old photos, uncanceled checks, baseball cards, silver dollars, a roller derby punch card, a couple of records etc.
    The floors show years of dance wear and served as the inspiration as well as the design driver for the “modern meets dance” motif.
    We loved the open floor plan, and moderated the space with floating furniture serving as visual breaks much as the fireplace does currently sans the height and float.
    We through many parties, twice with bands in an 800 sq. foot space and while I wax on- here’s the crux, anyone who experienced the space commented on the warmth and funkiness of the interior.
    The charm and dare I say the energy of the space, was inescapable.
    This is the feel we tried to capture and expand upon in our renovation.
    After considering a quick facelift renovation I found that that the roof joists had sagged and needed to be replaced. I opted for engineered trusses, which as a side benefit increased the interior ceiling height and provided for the live load rating necessary to carry the rooftop deck.
    The deck is permitted and code compliant. Permits are of course public record and available to anyone with extra time to kill.
    I re-purposed the old ceiling joists by ripping them into 3/8” x 1 ½” strips and milling them to a ¼”x 1 ½” to reveal a crisp modern edge while maintaining the distressed face of the old Doug fir. The slats were then applied with 3/16” tile spacers in between each board to achieve the overall effect.
    The open feeling of the space is achieved by pulling the outdoor wall and floor treatments into the kitchen and bath. The walls are integral color Portland cement shower treatment and the floor and shower pan are tiled with custom cut 3 5/8” x 12” slate. All of the walls are sealed.
    The counter tops are custom color concrete polished to 1600 grit, sealed and bees waxed. As for storage, the back of fireplace has plenty of hanging space with four deep cabinets above. The custom cherry cabinetry wraps from the kitchen and surrounds the bath with deep cabinetry on the bath wall. All of the custom work was done in-house by my crew and myself.
    Although I consider the design of the space a collaborative effort between myself, Flora and Seth Boor of Boor Bridges Architecture, all of the insightful architectural elements including the playful voyeuristic table/skylight and the fireplace should be credited to Seth.
    Seth also welded the galvanized front entrance overhang. Unheard of hands on architecture.
    For me the appeal of Ames is the quiet open space feel of the thoroughfare. Most of the time it serves as a dog run and play space for our two-block neighborhood.
    As we all know any urban neighborhood is difficult to understand unless one spends some time there. Who belongs who doesn’t? What’s normal/abnormal Etc. Check the S.F. crime map of your own neighborhood you’ll be amazed at what you find. No crime reported on Ames. Compare this to the surrounding area.
    Also look at http://alleyproject.ning.com/ – the newly proposed alley improvement project.
    Thanks for the interest.

  38. Bravo to the builder for posting. Sorry to call this out in such a public forum, but only half the lights worked when we toured. I was interested in this place, but felt that may have been a wake-up call.

  39. 141 Ames was on the 2009 AIA tour and its year lease is starting to come to an end… when is this place coming back on the market? And will they price it reasonably this time?

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