By Karen Egly-Thompson
This newly built three-story contemporary San Francisco home was designed to capture views of the surrounding city and terrain, and to create a calming environment for its owner. However, the home also offers a surprise. A sculptural, mirrored cube structure at the top of a terraced hillside in the backyard reflects the garden landscape and opens to the sky through an interior oculus.

Besides living space, the homeowner, an entrepreneur, also uses his home for intimate meetings and entertaining. "It's meant to be a place to share ideas with others and foster a sense of community," says architect Cass Calder Smith of CCS Architecture.

House at a Glance:

  • Location: Glen Park neighborhood of San Francisco, California
  • Size: 4,860 square feet (451 square meters); three bedrooms, two full baths, two half baths
  • Designers: Cass Calder Smith (design architect), Bjorn Steudte (project architect) and Barbara Turpin-Vickroy (interior design) of CCS Architecture

Exterior: Hinting at the home's striking interior, the front facade is straightforward, yet far from run-of-the-mill. Smith's design pushes the second floor's master bedroom window outward and rotates it slightly, creating an energetic wedge shape to add mass and shadow to the relatively flat exterior.

The dark exterior material is cypress wood siding that's been charred prior to installation. The process is known in Japan as shou-sugi-ban. Not only does it look dramatic, but charring the wood increases its flame resistance, and in comparison to stains and paints, the technique offers a more stable dark finish. Smith says they chose the charred finish for these functional attributes as well as to visually distinguish it from the neighboring homes.

Front door: The front entry is pulled inward from the front facade, creating an inset niche enveloped entirely in glass back-painted in red to match the pivoted front door. The scorched Cypress siding offers textural contrast to the glass reflections and gleaming steel trim.

Entry: Natural light spills into an elegantly spare two-story entry.

Pristine white interior walls contrast with the dark exterior. Smith says the overall design is "restrained white minimalism balanced with wood, color and the city beyond."

First-floor bar: One flight up from the entry, the first floor features a bar and media lounge, an en suite guest bedroom and laundry.

Flooring: Bleached plain-sliced reclaimed Douglas fir flooring is used throughout most of the home. Smith says it is "meant to be a common denominator to the design."

Staircase: The staircase is one of the home's notable features. Dropping down through all of the floors, Smith says it "acts like a vertical counterpoint." Here, planes of clear glass transfer daylight deep into the interior and provide transparency to the staircase structure.

For added contrast, the exposed side of the stair treads and risers are edged in a band of blackened steel.

Guest bedroom: A calming white palette in the guest bedroom draws focus to the view outside. The headboard wall is clad in the same Douglas fir wood as the floor, and a strip of indirect light embedded at its top — a wall detail carried throughout the home — provides soft illumination.

Music room: On the second floor above the lounge, the music room features a cozy upholstered nook, creating a perfect hideaway to curl up and listen to tunes or play guitar.

Living space: Seemingly saving the best for last, Smith designed the main living space up top on the third floor since, he says, "the views progress from great to amazing as one moves up through the house."

The open living space consists of a seating area, dining space, a kitchen and a powder room. However, the living space is open at both ends, extending to a rear terrace off the kitchen and an ample-sized viewing deck off the front, seen here. Skylights bring in additional natural light.

Inset steel ceiling detail: A sheet of stainless steel inset over the length of the dining table enhances the light fixture and bounces more light into the space. Highly polished, it mimics a mirror, but its slightly less-than-perfect reflection and undulation prove delightfully unconventional.

Fireplace: A slim horizontal slit made of blackened steel carves into the floating back-lit wall to form an integral fireplace and shelf.

Loungeworthy seating: The casual modular sofa system can seat loads of party guests or just be an ideal spot to lie down and look outside. Its organic, puffy lines also help add softness to the room's architectural lines.

A large sliding door between the living room lounge and front deck completely opens up to seamlessly connect the interior with the exterior.

Outdoor lounge: From the front deck, a gorgeous view of San Francisco awaits. The energy of the city below is matched by a sprinkling of spirited outdoor furniture.

Kitchen and rear terrace: Just beyond the dining area at the rear of the house, the streamlined kitchen opens onto a terraced patio.

Stairway to the cube: An exterior staircase leads to an extraordinary space: a mirrored cube room, shown here gleaming at the top.

The cube: Measuring 10 by 10 by 10 feet, the cube is an unattached exterior structure located at the top of the site's severely sloping backyard. Made of reinforced fiberglass, it's clad in gray mirrored glass with butt-jointed corners. "It's meant to be a mysterious and changing sculptural object that reflects the landscape, the sky and the view, depending on your viewpoint," Smith says. "It essentially photographs its surrounding."

(The homeowners say there haven't been any issues involving wayward birds flying into the structure.)

With the cube on the right-hand side, here's a view looking back toward the house. If not looking closely, one can easily mistake it for a normal landscape.

Cube portal: The cube's walls are 2 feet thick, as seen in its entrance portal on the back side. Radiant electric heat is embedded in the concrete seats to provide warmth on chilly days.

Square turns cylindrical: The cube's cylindrical interior belies its square shell. Curved whiteboard creates a circular wall on which to hash out ideas.

Heads up for the cube's view: Whereas the home's design highlighted the views horizontally through windows, the interior of the cube features an operable oculus to the sky. Smith says the cube's design concept is based on artist James Turrell's Skyspaces.

"The actual and conceptual path is that you ascend up through the house, then up through the yard to the highest place on the sight with the best city views, and then you go around to the back of the cube through a portal and enter it. Once inside, since the views of the sky is now the only view, the city and its action is pleasurably left behind," Smith says.

Floor plans: The first floor is on the left side; the second floor is shown in the middle; and the third floor is on the right side. The front of the house is oriented at the top of each floor plan and the back of the house is illustrated at the bottom.

Landscape consultant: Danielle and John Steumagel, Sculpt Gardens
Object and art selection: Subject to Change
Contractor: MT Development

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