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Work of Art

Tuesday, February 4th, 2014

Photos by Bruce Damonte

When architect and painter John Marx was designing a house for himself and his family, a creative approach was a must. After all, the San Francisco property had been home to artists for decades.

Marx, of Form4 Architecture, renovated the 1907 residence accordingly: paintings by four generations of Marxes (including the architect’s father, grandfather, his wife, his daughter, and his own work) line the living area walls, the inspiring ocean views are framed with dichroic glass windows, and bright colors are splashed throughout the space. In fact, it was a piece Marx had created back in 1988—a colorful geometric watercolor, painted in a similar style as the work of Dutch artist Piet Mondrian—that sparked his initial vision for the house.

“I thought that style would be the perfect bridge between the old house, which is sort of arts and crafts, and something very modern,” Marx says. “So it allows us to have bright colors and interesting patterns and to sneak a little bit of modern and a little bit of traditional in at the same time.”

A bay-view statement window in the living room draws from that original painting. Color-blocked in glazed yellow, blue, and orange panes, it works with the room’s painted accent walls and bright furniture, including armchairs in primary blues and yellows and a cobalt work desk. “The colors that we picked are specifically the colors of a California morning, but we intensified them a little bit,” Marx says. “The trick is to have the bright colors without making it overwhelming. And that’s what we hope that we achieved.”

Downstairs, that lively spirit manifests itself in a topiary wall textured with faux greenery. The feature fittingly dominates the “tree shop,” studio space Marx’s wife, Nikki, uses to fashion miniature artificial trees for architectural models.

“It’s a very livable house, it’s not a decorator showcase or a museum house,” Marx says. “Even though there’s a lot of artwork, it’s a very comfortable house. You don’t feel like you shouldn’t touch anything because it’s too precious.”

Designing his own house was a departure for Marx not only because the rectilinear aesthetic of the house is a stark contrast to the sweeping, curvaceous civic spaces he often creates overseas, but because he was emotionally invested down to the last detail. “Usually,” he says, “if you’re an architect, your personal house expresses your design philosophy at its purest and you don’t want to compromise.”

Clearly, he didn’t. 

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