A Blue Bottle Coffee House

Matthew Millman for The New York Times

As the founder of Blue Bottle Coffee, James Freeman has put his personal stamp on dozens of cafes across the United States and Japan.

So when he and his wife, Caitlin Freeman, a pastry chef and a founder of the clothing company Girls Up Front, bought a San Francisco house in need of renovation, Mr. Freeman had plenty of experience collaborating with architects to bring his favorite design details to life.

“For many years at Blue Bottle Coffee, there wasn’t much of a difference between my personal taste and how we would build cafes,” said Mr. Freeman, 52, who started the company in Oakland, Calif., in 2002. That generally meant minimalist lines, light-colored woods and white surfaces: “I just want to keep things pared away as much as possible.”

For their own home, he and Ms. Freeman wanted a similar aesthetic. And they knew just the architects for the job: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, a firm that has designed many Blue Bottle cafes and is currently working on numerous new ones.

Choosing the same architect to design their home was “like not having to start over with a new therapist,” said Ms. Freeman, 42. “You don’t have to go back and tell them all your mom-and-dad issues before moving on.”

Credit...Matthew Millman for The New York Times

The Freemans bought the two-family home, a Queen Anne-style house built in 1894 in the Alamo Square neighborhood of San Francisco, for $3.2 million in September of 2016, while preparing for the arrival of their third child. After selling the lower apartment for $1.35 million, they set about transforming the top two floors into a 3,500-square-foot home.

“It had some of its original historic character, but a lot of it was poorly renovated” a few years earlier, said Gregory Mottola, a principal in the San Francisco office of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson. “We peeled away stuff where we could, and tried to distill the house back to the best parts that were still there.”

They stripped the dark-stained Douglas fir floors to give them a lighter finish and tore out the kitchen’s traditional cabinets and granite counters, but kept the original stained glass, windows and fireplace mantel and tile. They redesigned the master suite, along with three additional bedrooms for the couple’s children: Dashiell, now 15, Linden Pepper, 3, and Monroe, 1. They also designed a playroom, a home office, a laundry room and even a sleeping nook for the family dog, Hobbes, where there was once a closet.

As the project progressed, the Freemans mixed practical considerations with whimsical personal choices. A custom-made, seven-foot-diameter dining table was modeled partially on Mr. Freeman’s favorite table at one of Blue Bottle’s Oakland cafes, but upgraded with a lazy Susan at its center and a cluster of off-kilter legs inspired by a toy sheep Ms. Freeman had in college.

“The design brief was basically to turn a nine-legged, three-headed sheep into a dining table,” Mr. Freeman said. “When you have a good relationship with your architect, that sort of thing is possible.”

Where the laundry room meets the kitchen, they covered one of the walls with a vertical garden faced in white Corian, with grow lights and an irrigation system. Inside the wall, they grow greens for their favorite salad mix and Japanese herbs for cooking lessons Mr. Freeman is taking.

To stay within a budget of about $500,000, they saved money in the kitchen by using Ikea cabinet carcasses with fronts by Semihandmade, but splurged on Corian counters and custom powder-coated aluminum shelves that allow water from wet dishes to drain into the sink.

Mr. Freeman, who oversaw the sale of a majority stake in Blue Bottle to Nestlé last year, said he is no longer allowed to use white Corian in Blue Bottle cafes.

“Especially lately, trying to build cafes for Blue Bottle, there are more constraints than there used to be around budget and what the operation team wants,” he said. “A few moves in the house are things I really wanted in the cafes, but couldn’t have. I was like, ‘Well, fine, I’m going to have them at my house.’”

Another example is a wall of floating laminate bookshelves off the living room, with exposed plywood edges fabricated by Tomlinson Woodworks (which also built the dining table and other millwork). “There were plans for a wall like that in a cafe in San Francisco,” Mr. Freeman said. “But it kind of got chipped away for budgetary reasons. This is the version that should have been at the cafe, which I was so excited about.”

Initially, he had the architects run plumbing up to the office for an upstairs espresso station. “I thought it would be so luxurious to have an upstairs coffee bar and a downstairs coffee bar,” he said. But then he realized, “When you have two babies, you’re not spending a lot of time drinking coffee in bed.”

In the end, he and Ms. Freeman turned the space into a gift-wrapping station. “We’re entering the part of our lives where every weekend we’re going to be at a different birthday party,” she said. “Our kids are going to give well-wrapped gifts.”

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