The Intersection of Modernism & Wabi-Sabi: John Lum’s Unique Redesign

John Lum Architecture faced a significant challenge when tasked with the complete redesign of a midcentury modern-style home in San Francisco's Golden Gate Heights. The team completely reimagined the space, incorporating Japanese aesthetics and midcentury architecture to create a cohesive design that reflected the owner's eclectic taste.



In San Francisco’s Golden Gate Heights, This Home With Spectacular Views Draws Inspiration From Japanese Culture and Midcentury Architecture

For the team of John Lum Architecture, the challenge was big. They had to completely reimagine this 2,951-square-foot, two-story home with three bedrooms, inside and out. The owner, a successful tech entrepreneur and art aficionado wanted to live in a space that would allow him to accommodate large gatherings while feeling intimate for everyday living. 

“The house was built in the 1950s, in a midcentury modern style, custom, but fairly conventional with 8-foot ceilings and hollow-core doors,” says John Lum, founding principal at John Lum Architecture. “While it had plenty of windows, the floor plan was overly formal, restricting views and flow, and had little access to the outdoors.”

Located in the quiet residential area of Golden Gate Heights, in San Francisco, the home now highlights the unparalleled panorama of the city, the Golden Bridge and the Marin Headlands. 

“The house had great bones,” remembers John Lum. “The client was very open to new ideas, giving us leeway to experiment with interior finishes, materials and colors. His eclectic taste added an element of play, which we always try to achieve in our designs.”

Originally from Romania, the busy owner has founded numerous companies, has been an early-stage investor and is an avid collector of proto-modernist furniture. John Lum Architecture needed to reflect all this through the home.

“We had to meld modern, eastern European and Japanese aesthetics together into a cohesive design,” says John Lum. “The client brought along an eclectic furniture collection, ranging from Streamline Moderne to 1950s Cubism, that he wanted to incorporate. Given his hectic life, he really wanted a calm, Zen sensibility that would act as his personal retreat.”

Sited on a steep slope, the house has an unusual layout in that the entrance to the house faces the backyard, with an exterior tunnel entrance with a staircase leading up to a new Zendo-inspired entry garden at the rear.

“We wanted to create a sense of intrigue and discovery as the client is a curious person,” says the architect. 

The comfortable and inviting atmosphere was created using a natural palette comprising exposed cedar to recall the Bay Regionalist style of returning to nature; teak to give the interiors a richness and complement the golden accent colors such as the brass plated chimney and the complex-patterned marble island face; and burned shou sugi ban to add a serene quality to the house; with pops of primary colors.

“We backlit the orange Chroma panels for the wet bar area to set a swanky tone for the den, offset with a custom brass mantle that showcases a Chinese dragon,” says John Lum. For the architect, this house epitomizes “California modernism with wabi-sabi flair and a touch of glam.”

John Lum Architecture |

Photography by Ema Peter


Jensen & Skodvin’s Bold Vision: Juvet Hotel as a Gateway to Norwegian Nature

The Landscape Juvet Hotel, designed by Jensen & Skodvin in northwestern Norway, offers a unique and authentic experience. Owner Knut Slinning's deep connection to the land inspired the sustainable and nature-focused design. This innovative approach to architecture blends seamlessly with the surrounding landscape, creating a truly immersive experience for guests.
  • May 31, 2023
  • Jenn Thornton

Specht Architects: The Modernist Marvel of New Mexico Residence Sangre De Cristo

The New Mexico Residence Sangre De Cristo, designed by Specht Architects, offers a modernist twist on Santa Fe's traditional adobe style. Situated on a hilltop, the house harmonizes panoramic mountain views with the need for shade and climate protection. Specht Architects creatively embraced the region's architectural restrictions while infusing fresh elements.
  • May 17, 2023
  • Jenn Thornton

Sparano + Mooney Architecture Crafts a Sustainable Retreat near Salt Lake City

Designed by Sparano + Mooney Architecture near Salt Lake City, this home seamlessly combines privacy with a connection to the community and nature. With a focus on sustainability and openness, the house features stunning views of the landscape, stylish interiors by cityhomeCOLLECTIVE, and thoughtful design elements.
  • May 17, 2023
  • Karine Monié

JM|A+D and TAP Studio Empowering Women

The former puppet theater located at La Cienega and Melrose Place in Los Angeles has been transformed into a 14,000 SqFt space for powerful women in business. Designed by JM|A+D and TAP Studio for the architecture, and AvroKO for the interiors, the space is designed to encourage collaboration, with spacious and airy rooms that provide the ideal environment for discussion.
  • May 4, 2023
  • Karine Monié

Bruno Gaudin Architectes Redefines the National Library of France with Stunning Renovation

The Bibliothèque Nationale de France, or the National Library of France, located in Paris, is a historic structure that has undergone a modern facelift. The project was carried out by Bruno Gaudin Architectes, and it took 15 years and two phases to complete the renovation of the structure. The library was initially founded during imperial times, and it has survived calamities, including two world wars, and various scattershot repairs.
  • April 19, 2023
  • Jenn Thornton
Sign Up for DIGS Newsletters