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Through The Looking Glass

A library full of design books and record albums competes with vertiginous views of San Francisco Bay.



WHEN CLIVE SAFFERY and his wife, Jacqui, purchased their Sausalito hillside home during a quick stopover from Hong Kong on their way to South America, they decided to live there some of the time and also create a space for their vast collection of vinyl records and books.

It’s as if no one had told Saffery, a newly retired CEO of the largest Coca-Cola bottling company in China, that vinyl records are a thing of the past.

For Saffery, an amateur DJ and connoisseur of soul and funk music, the record albums, design books and artfully decorated Coca-Cola bottles he’d amassed are all indispensable mementos of a decades-long career in Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong, artifacts that had to be shipped across the Pacific.

“I am not a Luddite,” Saffery, 60, says. “I have music stored digitally on a server, but I still like the tactile aspect of my library. Vinyl recordings have distinctive paper and plastic wrappings with beautiful graphics on them. Downloaded music doesn’t have that.”

For him, even traditional books trump e-books, for some of the same reasons. “Books stimulate conversation, and I like to reach into my shelves and get a depth of information I might not find online,” Saffery adds.

Enter San Francisco architect Jonathan Feldman, hired to create the library and update the rest of the 1970s house, which potentially had spectacular bay views from each of its three floors but little else to distinguish it.

In fact, “it was really ugly,” Feldman recalls.

The nondescript entrance, downstairs from the street level, was on the floor below the garage. The rest of the building clung to its steep site and was chopped up into little rooms. “There were vaulted ceilings and inexplicably small triangular windows. The stunning view was not visible unless you stepped out onto the cantilevered decks. Even the handrails were too chunky,” Feldman says. Moreover, the materials and detailing exemplified the worst of ’70s construction.

“I knew we could improve all that,” Saffery says. “But I also knew that I did not want merely glorified bookshelves to house my collections. I have conventional things, but I wanted our library to be of the future and visually interesting. I wanted a multipurpose space that reflected the modern way we live.”

Feldman translated that brief into a 1,000-square-foot open-plan media room and library three floors down. That space, with its contemporary look and walls of glass to enjoy the expansive views of San Francisco Bay, took the place of two spare bedrooms with small bay windows and storage spaces. A former third bedroom on the same floor was converted to a gym. The top floors that contain the garage, living spaces and the master suite were refreshed but not significantly changed.

Feldman and project architect Lindsey Theobald achieved the transformation by bringing down an interior wall and adding 9-foot-high floor-to-ceiling shelving with asymmetrical compartments for books and vinyl records of different sizes along the perimeter. Casual, modernistic furniture picked by the Safferys from local stores such as Dzine, DWR and B&B Italia is floated like sculpture on the original oak floors.

The understated built-in casework does not detract from the view, nor do the few necessary partitions with open MDF (medium-density fiberboard) shelving to display Saffery’s Coke bottles.

Protecting the objects in the library from overexposure to light without sacrificing the views was key. Decks above the library form deep overhangs that help keep the sun out, and the designers made certain that the most important books are positioned away from the windows. Vinyl records and CDs that could warp are stored deep in back, behind a new dry bar counter, in what used to be a closet.

Sliding doors attached to built-in shelves cover the inset TV when it is not in use but leave the speakers uncovered for music. Added glass railings, newly refurbished decks, and a low fire pit, built-in gardening table and outdoor pizza oven also maximize opportunities to enjoy the library as a casual entertainment space, indoors and out.

At the bottom of the stairs to the top floor is Saffery’s DJ booth, his Valhalla, where he can trot out his latest local finds.

“I have always had this massive collection of music that I keep adding to,” he says. “Some people get stuck in an era, but I stay contemporary and enjoy the new music scene in San Francisco.”

The Safferys’ new retreat delivered other dividends.

“We are both very sporty. We enjoy running and cycling and if you’ve ever tried to do that in a polluted city like Hong Kong, you can understand why the quality of air factored into our decision to move here,” Saffery says.

The duo trains year-round for running and cycling in the European Alps, and when they are in Sausalito, they continue that daily regimen, biking on Mount Tamalpais or at Point Reyes or running from home to the Marin Headlands. “It is a great location. When we have visitors they are amazed that the city or the wine country is just 20 minutes away,” Saffery says.

Avid cooks, they revel in shopping at the farmers’ markets and discovering local food sources. “In Hong Kong, everything is shipped in from elsewhere. California’s global reputation for food is true,” Saffery says. “We buy milk in glass bottles and go to real farmers for cheese. We love even the little things that people who live here all their lives might take for granted. It’s a wonderland.”

View the gallery below for more photos.

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