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Old San Francisco horse stable gets mod office makeover

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This classic San Francisco structure gets an update, but history is preserved

San Francisco stable turned modern office Photography by Adam Rouse Photography

When it comes to San Francisco history, this Jackson Square building has more than its share. It’s constructed from lumber salvaged from the ships that clogged the bay when the enterprising 49ers rushed into the city and then to the Sierras to find their fortunes. Because pre-1906 records are spotty thanks to the legendary earthquake that leveled the city that year, no one is quite sure when it was built. But its original use was as a horse stable.

Before cars were commonplace in the City by the Bay, horses were quartered in common stables—something like an equine parking garage. In an ironic twist of fate, many of the large stables were converted into actual parking garages when cars became the dominant form of transportation.

There’s some evidence that this building went down that conversion track, but history didn’t stop there in this case. It’s been through many cycles of ownership, and has served as, among other things, an antiques store and an architecture office. Today, thanks to a recent renovation that marries the past to the present, it’s home to the investment bank Scenic Advisement.

A space with rough wooden timbers, brick walls, and concrete floors holds a modern, open-plan office with frosted glass conference rooms.
The investment bank created by Artistic Designs for Living and Feldman Architecture dispels the concept of a “stuffy bank.” Artwork by graffiti legend Ian Ross hangs in the entry.

Architects at Feldman Architecture and interior designer Tineke Triggs, principal at Artistic Designs for Living, were hired by Scenic Advisement to transform the space into a unique office that has a lot of style but no stuffiness.

“The clients were looking for something more creative, cool, and hip,” says Triggs. “This was not to be a bunch of cubicles.”

In the open-plan space, a wooden rowing machine has a prime spot.
In this office, the unconventional features include a rowing machine.

In lieu of cubicles, the design team took a more open approach. “From a space-planning perspective, we approached it as having be mostly open, but with enclosed areas for meetings,” says Tai Ikegami, managing partner at Feldman Architecture. “From a design perspective, we looked at it as making modern interventions within the historic space.”

A conference room has glass walls.
The goal of the design team was to open, not divide, the space. Architects created glass conference rooms that provide privacy without blocking the light.

Those concepts manifest as a background of original brick and rough-hewn timbers with glass-enclosed conference rooms, a tea and coffee bar, a gym (not shown), and a long work table defined by a rectangular light fixture.

“We wanted to open the space, not subdivide it. The glass boxes create pavilions for private meetings, but make a minimal visual division,” says Ikegami. “The office now exists in a long, open space, and the pavilions are almost light apertures that let the light through.”

For the foreground, Triggs worked her particular brand of magic. As she puts it, “We brought the funk. This is not your typical office, and we didn’t want to do the typical office thing.”

It starts at the front door, with a relaxed lounge area. “The entry is inviting,” says Triggs. “It’s a place where employees and visitors are welcomed to come in and have a seat. This is a place where brainstorming often happens.”

Throughout, Triggs installed compelling art. In the lobby it’s a piece composed of used spray paint cans, the work of Ian Ross, a local graffiti artist.

A bathroom has bright sections of graffiti art in yellow, red, and blue.
A bathroom is decorated with stripes of graffiti by Elan Evens.

It’s not the only graffiti reference in the space. In one of the bathrooms, decorative artist Elan Evans painted the walls in brightly colored street-art style. “I like commercial bathrooms to be more than utilitarian,” says Triggs. “I love walking into a bathroom that gives you something surprising and unexpected. The graffiti also speaks to the street culture of San Francisco.”

The long work table is an exercise in workplace democracy. “This is a place where they all come to work together,” says Triggs. “There’s no hierarchy or power spot.”

A kitchen has a eat-in bar. A kid’s dirt bike hangs above it.
An open kitchen, coffee, and tea bar is topped by a kid’s bike once used by one of the principals.

The tea and coffee bar is topped by a bicycle. “These clients like to add a little playfulness in their professional space and lives,” Triggs says. “The bike belongs to one of the partners—it was his childhood bike. I think it makes him happy to look at it here.”

Another whimsical touch: An old school rowing machine holds a prominent place near the workspace. “If you need a break, you can sit down and have a few rows. They also have some small bikes they ride through office,” says Triggs. “Consider it a break from the stale office environment.”

A long table has rows of computers and chairs. A long rectangular light fixture hangs above.
In this office, everyone works at one long table.

Despite all the new features, the past still shines. “The team worked really well together, and we were all in agreement that we wanted to leave the original purity of the building intact,” says Triggs. “We left most of the original details in place—including what appears to be horse bites in some of the beams.”