Travel March 13, 2020
This San Francisco Cottage Has Seriously Cool Outdoor Traveling.
In 2014, Birgit and Raul Sfat were a year into the lease of a rental cottage in San Francisco’s Noe Valley when they learned of the owner’s plans to sell the property. Initially they scrambled to find a new place, but after a few solid weeks of apartment hunting in the city’s notoriously stretched market, they decided to circle back with the owner and ask if they could just purchase the house instead. He agreed. It was a phenomenal occurrence by San Francisco standards, especially considering the couple had only recently relocated from Munich and weren’t quite convinced they wanted to buy a home in the States.
Now homeowners, they turned their eyes toward making the cottage their own, and began fixing up the backyard. The 1,200-square-foot plot was more jungle than garden—it had been neglected for more than a decade. Yet among the weeds and sun-starved rose bushes were some diamonds in the rough, including a towering Australian tree fern and a Meyer lemon tree loaded with fruit. “There was so much charm, and we fell in love right away with the existing birch trees.
They envisioned a lush and peaceful space where they could keep a watchful eye over an adventurous duo—Milla and Charlie, their 9-year-old daughter and Labrador-mix pup. Birgit also wanted a pleasing view from her garden-adjacent basement studio, where she runs her curated European children’s clothing shop, Over the Ocean.
The family tackled the backyard in stages over the next three years. First up was a pathway designed by Munich-based artist and friend, Tim Wolff. Raul’s love of surfing and a past obsession with skateboarding also came into play. “We wanted to give the garden structure,” says Raul, “but we weren’t ready to change the plants and trees.” For three weeks, Raul and a visiting Wolff built the redwood path and added a literal twist of their own: Toward the back of the property, the walkway rises up and curls into a six-foot-high sculptural wave. You can hang out inside the barrel of the wave or clamber to the top. “When Milla has friends over they often sit on it,” says Raul. “With Charlie wishing she could climb up there too!”
Tie It All Together
Raul, Birgit, Milla (far left), and their dog Charlie outside their Noe Valley home. Raul and two friends built the fence and containers to mimic the pathway and structure in the backyard. Asparagus ferns and sedum spill out from the raised beds, while bamboo pokes up from behind the fence.
Escape the Cit
Beneath a canopy of birch trees and an Australian tree fern, the garden is a calming oasis amid the busy streets of San Francisco. There’s plenty of room to entertain or simply spend a quiet morning alone with the family.
Here, Raul’s passion for surfing comes through loud and clear. Instead of letting the pathway end at the fence, he and a friend built a sweeping, wooden wave that gives the garden a feeling of constant movement and possibility.