Industrial Age

California Home + Design

July/August 2011


Text by Leilani Marie Labong / Photography by Philip Harvey


It was love at first sight. In 2008, a classic loft in San Francisco's South of Market neighborhood wooed former Navy pilot turned start-up impresario Christopher Michel with it's soulful authenticity: stately brick-and-timber good looks, a beautiful patina more than 100 years in the making and a storied past. Over its lifetime, the 3,500-square-foot space has housed a carpet factory, a few tech companies and a mysterious testing facility, as one salty taxi driver recently revealed upon delivering Michel to his front door. "Ah, the laboratory," said the cabbie, with theatrical, Vincent Price-style flair.


But as many quixotic tales go, the enchantment between home and homeowner was short-lived: Just a week after moving in, Michel, who had purchased the partially furnished loft from a colleague, was already searching for the eject button.


"I found myself living in the kitchen and my bedroom,: says the 43-year-old Connecticut native. "Everything else just felt really cold and uninviting." For better or worse, Michel's time in the loft was limited due to his frequent travels as a photographer and entrepreneur. (He founded several tech start-ups-including, an onlineportal for soldiers and their families-and, most recently Nautilus Ventures, a seed-investment fund.)


In hindsight, acquiring the previous owner's frosty European trappings (think boxy Italian sofas, an angular Jean Prouve Cite armchair and gray area rugs) didn't harmonize with Michel's quirky, retro-industrialist vibe (he's a collector of steampunk-inspired gadgetry, antique paintings of ships and bulky vintage cameras). "The previous decor seemed optimized for design rather than comfort," he says.


"It took Chris a while to articulate the problem," says Philpotts Interiors' Jon Staub, whom Michel recruited to help him seek out alternative dwellings in the city. "I knew I could help him tailor the space to fit him like a glove."


Indeed, when viewing of lofts in SF's new residential towers revealed spaces of the bright-and-shiny- but spiritless-variety, Michael began to rediscover all the reasons he fell for his brick-and-timber beauty in the first place. "Then I realized I couldn't live anywhere else," he says.



Project Credits:

Interior Design by Jonathan Staub

View additional images of Classical Industrial Loft.