farrell architecture


The Cobbler's Bare Feet

I feel like puking. I’ve been staring at the bottom button for the last 5 minutes, turning over in my mind the ongoing repercussions of clicking it. By doing so I put my signature on a DocuSign offer that my real estate agent convinced me would be competitive, but also makes an implicit promise to someone I’ve never met that in exchange for their house I will forego family vacations for the next few years, buy fewer clothes for the kids who won’t stop growing, enrollment them public school, drive my 15 year old Toyota a few more years, and probably stare at the ceiling a few more nights worrying about incoming work. In this offer I’ve agreed to also forego any of the usual process involved in buying a house, or at least those that can’t reasonably be completed in a week. Giving up the loan contingency scares the shit out of me. It’s just how things are done now, and the price of admission to home ownership in San Francisco. It’s a stark contrast to the ordeal we went through selling our house in Annapolis, MD last summer (there is no winter real estate market in Annapolis). We built a new deck, landscaped the yard, and replaced bathroom fixtures to increase appeal. To meet buyer demands we removed solar panels (….!), put on a new roof and agreed to supplemental inspections by the Veteran’s Administration who were funding their zero down mortgage. It’s what you have to do in a conservative military town where solar power is a myth created by Al Gore. The selling price for that house was somewhere close to the down payment we’re making on this one.

My nausea over signing away the college fund eventually gives way to what I have to do the rest of today. I have a long call list to coordinate PR around a project I completed more than a decade ago. In a few weeks, and after the realtors get to make the first announcement, I will be the architect for the residence that sets the highest price paid for an apartment in SF. This is all determined along some metric that baffles me and goes beyond price per square foot. I do know that the number on my DocuSign that’s causing me such stomach distress equates to roughly 1/32 of what I’m telling people on the other end of my calls. It’s a number I’m not supposed to know, but one that is nearly impossible to keep silent about in a town that values the spectacle around such things.

The interior designer for the project is intent on publishing the project in a magazine…again. I’m less excited by this, but need to feign interest otherwise the article will read like it did last time. Interior designers for some reason, will disavow all knowledge of ever being part of a team when talking about their projects. It’s amazing to me how someone who bills by the hour to select silk pillow tassels can take credit for hundreds of hours of my work. I can’t point to one thing in the apartment that is nailed, screwed, glued, installed or otherwise a permanent part of the architecture that was the result of the interior designer’s efforts. There’s a shit load of Louis Frou Frou furniture, Persian rugs and artwork that together also probably exceed my humble offer-to-purchase price, but not one fixed in place element in the whole apartment was the result of a designer’s decision. We even salvaged the goofy gold swan faucet for the powder room. And perhaps all that doesn’t matter. The furniture and decoration is utterly impeccable. I can’t do that. I’m glad to have many working relationships with people who can. But I also know how to give credit where it’s due.

That makes me sound bitter, I know. I’m not. I take comfort in the fact that someone else out there agrees with me since they produced an unsolicited offer for a stunningly large sum of money, to purchase everything that was left when you remove the gold-gilt tables, the artwork, the imported rugs and those silk pillow tassels. What they bought was my design. I’m the one who took an already stunning apartment, in it’s full Beaux Arts Grand Luxe grandeur and excised the parts that didn’t work and stitched together what was left into a complete masterpiece.

I walked into this apartment in early 2000. At that point San Francisco was headlong into the dot com boom cycle. I was impressed with the place, but to be honest I had been in quite a few fabulous places at this point, so was able to approach it objectively from the start. The entry foyer was a mess. It had a residual stair that once lead to a second floor penthouse. The penthouse had been subdivided and sold off decades before, yet the stairs to nowhere remained. The steps were full of family photographs arranged by the widow who lived there. Well not all family. I noticed one of Ronald Reagan, which I thought was out of place. Looking closer I saw Leonid Brezhnev and the widow in the same picture. Red Square was in the background. The widow had an interesting past, I’m sure of that, but all I could see was that the apartment hadn’t been painted in the last 25 years and she clearly owned one of those adhesive label machines. Everything had a little white stripe containing explicit instructions as to what was to be placed in a given location and what should not be touched. Toilet paper belonged in the hall closet, lower left shelf.

Ironically, the purchase price for the apartment back in 2000 was nearly the same order of magnitude greater than my first San Francisco house, which I purchased shortly after. Roughly a 32x multiplier. I’m glad it’s held its value for the current seller. Or perhaps it’s just that I’m doomed to always be pegged to the lower 1/32 of available housing in San Francisco. I’m not bitching, it’s an honor just to be in San Francisco, even if I’m in the last 32nd.

As a bonus I even salvaged the kitchen cabinets from this apartment and distributed them for three very worthy purposes: in a kitchen remodel for a friend, my garage workshop and a medical marijuana dispensary in the outer Sunset. Trickle Down Theory in action. Reagan was right.

Epilogue: My offer came in at 12 of 23 offers. We were $200K over asking, the top 4 were $400k over asking….each one all cash. I’m now looking at the lower 1/40 of available housing in hopes I can muster a similarly spectacular bid.

Ben Farrell