By Meghan Hall
Engine Company Number 8, a firehouse near San Francisco’s Pacific Height and Nob Hill neighborhoods built in 1916, has worn many hats over the years, serving as everything from an active firehouse to an events and retail space. Over the past couple of years, however, Feldman Architecture has moved into space, breathing new life into the space which will now serve as the firm’s permanent home in San Francisco.
The project had been a career-long dream for Feldman Architecture’s lead designer and principal, Jonathan Feldman, who admitted that while owning a property for his growing firm had long been in his mind, the right timing and opportunity had not presented itself until several years ago, when Engine House No. 8 came up for sale.
“In general, we were in office space that we had out grown, and we were at the mercy of the building owners,” explained Feldman, who admitted that the day-to-day running of the business and work for clients had placed that goal far from the forefront of his mind. “I had the dream of being the sole proprietor of a building we could really invest in long-term…and when we had this acute need for space, and we were looking at a lease that was going to skyrocket, suddenly it became much more interesting to me to look at buildings for sale.”
Feldman looked at the firehouse with another interior design firm, hoping the two companies could split the space, as the building totals roughly 9,000 square feet, nearly double what Feldman Architecture was hoping to occupy. When the interior design firm was unable to move through with the deal, Feldman stated he was crushed.
“I looked at it, and I totally fell in love with it,’ Feldman said. “After that, every other space just looked bad in comparison. It was harder to find something after seeing how beautiful this one space was.”
Feldman kept looking at other properties, but his mind always returned to the engine house. After realizing that the firm could rent the ground floor while occupying the top two, Feldman purchased the nearly 100-year-old building for $6.85 million with an SBA loan. The building now theirs, Feldman Architecture could begin transforming the space into its new home.
“We then had all of the long-term upside of a bigger property, and that’s what kind of got us here,” said Feldman.
For the architecture, transforming the space was not difficult, because, according to Feldman, its bones and existing structure were still in great shape.
“It was a beautiful, raw space,” stated Feldman. It h as the most gorgeous studio that was the complete length of the whole building with great architectural character and really good, soft, even natural light throughout.”
Feldman solicited a lot of feedback from various designers and architects throughout the firm, and the overall feel of the new space was informed by the history of the firehouse and the firm’s approach to present-day office design.
“It was a beautiful, raw space. The beauty was not so well hidden that we had to have an amazing vision,” said Feldman. “…We are big fans in our architecture of doing modernism. We love mixing textures and cleanliness. And this building has so much raw and rough texture, so when we inserted our own touches to it in a clean way, that juxtaposition was just really wonderful and a great showcase for the work we like to do.”
The building was originally designed by city architect John Reid, who consulted on San Francisco’s City Hall and Civic Center. The original brick, metal windows and even one of the original brass fire poles remained when Feldman acquired the space, and were all features the firm sought to highlight.
To filter sunlight throughout the design team repurposed some of the fire hole cutouts from previously removed poles, filling them with glass to connect all three floors and allow natural light to filter through. The remaining fire pole was preserved to remind visitors and Feldman employees of the building’s original purpose. The building’s original steel beams and masonry were also preserved.
The building’s skylight—which runs the length of the building—is also a major focal point. “At first it was a problem because there was too much light,” said Feldman. “We put a film over the skylight, but we still get a ton of light. When the clouds go overhead, you feel the light shift. It is wonderful for us to look at materials and colors and things.”
The floors of the studio—originally stained a dark, wood tone—were stripped and lightened to resemble a white oak with a natural finish. Crisp, modern desks and bookshelves in whites and light greys are meant to add to the office’s modern touches, as are the perforated metal screens that are used to divide the space.
On the top floor of the building, a conference room, wet bar and sitting room are lined with glass windows to expose panoramic views of the San Francisco Bay, Pacific Heights neighborhood and Golden Gate bridge. While glass doors separate the conference room, the three panels can be easily folded back so that Feldman can host company-wide meetings and events.
“The space itself just has a great feel. The brick walls and the skylight and the sort of big hall which we are in, are all defining features,” stated Feldman.
The space was completed in 2017, but the firm is still working on filling out its space. Currently, Feldman is working to add a wood shop in its basement. Additional changes will no doubt continue to come as the needs of the company—and the desires of its employees—evolve. To get to this point, Feldman emphasized that employee input was extremely important.
“You ask architects what they care about in their space, and they are all so opinionated,” Feldman laughed. “We realized that everybody had so many opinions, that we had to be careful about what we asked for feedback on; we could not democratize the whole process. But we did get amazing feedback from people who are talented and articulate in talking about the space, and we learned how to be efficient in that process.”