The Unerring Eye
San Francisco architect Andrew Skurman is admired—and hired—for his refined classical architecture informed by a lifetime of learning and study. I invite you to learn more about Andrew Skurman and his superbly polished and elegant work, and to be inspired by his philosophy of design.
I’ve always admired Andrew Skurman, principal and owner of Andrew Skurman Architects, because he is an architecture purist. He’s a classicist by training and by inclination. He focuses on high-end, superbly designed and crafted custom houses.
His elegant office is in Pacific Heights, in San Francisco.
The surprise: California homeowners love classical styles. They adore tradition. While many would imagine that sophisticated clients in San Francisco or Silicon Valley might wish for the experimental, in reality they love the grand and the classic.
Andrew Skurman Architects designs some of the most striking, sophisticated and architecturally appealing classic custom houses and interiors being built today. The firm specializes in residences inspired by the classical architectural traditions of French châteaux, Mediterranean villas and Georgian country houses.
“Whenever we first meet with clients, we draw for inspiration and reference from our extensive architectural library of classic European and American design,” said Skurman. “We identify historical precedents that meet their needs, tastes and lifestyle and spend months and years refining each detail to make the house truly personal—and timeless. Our goal is to create houses of quality and substance that embrace the spirit of homes built generations ago.”
Skurman’s projects inhabit the most desirable locations in San Francisco (Nob Hill, Pacific Heights) and Northern California (Lake Tahoe, Atherton, Hillsborough), along with Paris, Southern California and New York. He holds architectural licenses in California and in New York.
Skurman received his Bachelor of Architecture in 1976 from Cooper Union in New York and began his design career apprenticing with the New York firm of I.M. Pei & Partners. He then worked in the San Francisco office of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill as a Senior Associate and subsequently served as a Studio Director at Gensler and Associates in San Francisco and Los Angeles.
Today, Andrew Skurman is also committed to the highest ideals of ecological design, and creates LEED certified houses and incorporate green strategies on all of our projects whenever possible.
He works closely with San Francisco’s top interior design firms, including Diane Chapman Design, Tucker & Marks, and Steven Volpe Design.
I think readers around the world will be quite surprised that these houses and apartments are in California! In fact, most of the residences in Los Angeles and San Francisco are in a traditional, classic style. Yes, Californians are inventive, experimental, forward-thinking and well-traveled, but when they come home they love a classic house. One designed by Andrew Skurman, if they are very fortunate.
In Conversation with Andrew Skurman
Diane Dorrans Saeks sat down recently with Andrew Skurman to learn more about his inspiration, his work, and his lifelong dedication to architecture.
DDS: What was the moment you decided to become an architect?
AS: I grew up in New York and as a teenager, I loved spending hours in the museums. At fourteen, I drafted for my grandfather's elevator company in the Bronx. That summer, I accompanied him on a sales call to Philip Johnson's office in the Seagram Building on Park Avenue in New York, and was transfixed.
DDS: How did you get started?
AS: At eighteen, I attended New York's Cooper Union. All the students from around the world at this privately endowed institution are on a full scholarship. I was most interested in analyzing the cubism of Juan Gris as it relates to modern architecture. At 23, I apprenticed with I. M. Pei who works around the world but has just one office on Madison Avenue. I was involved in the designing of the Boston Museum of Fine Arts addition and of the Pyramide du Louvre in Paris. Pei was both a prince and the most modest of men. When we traveled together to a meeting in Boston, he insisted that I see the recent City Hall, by another architect, and never mentioned his masterpieces in that city. At age 28, I left Pei's office and moved to San Francisco to take a job with Skidmore, Owings and Merrill.
DDS: Who has been a mentor to you?
AS: John Hejduk, dean of the Architecture School of Cooper Union, who taught me to think conceptually; I.M. Pei, for teaching me integrity and designing in a three dimensional grid ; the San Francisco office of Skidmore Owings and Merrill, where they let me be in charge of my own buildings; and Gensler San Francisco, where I learned how to get clients.
DDS: Which architects have inspired you the most?
AS: The 16th century architect Andrea Palladio from the Veneto for his eternal rules on classicism, and the early 20th century Parisian architect Le Corbusier, the greatest of all modernists, for his poetry of the free plan.
DDS: Which is the most admirable architecture you have seen on your travels?
AS: Four houses by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, that have been restored to their original condition in Berlin and in the nearby royal city of Potsdam: Glienicke, Charlottenhof and the Roman Bath are in the royal city of Potsdam. Schloss Tegel is in Berlin. It was built in the 1820's for Wilhelm von Humboldt, a diplomat and philosopher and the founder of the Humboldt University in Berlin.
In those days, Prussia was not a wealthy country, and nevertheless, they were able to convey a sense of supreme elegance. The paneling and crown moldings are painted on rather than applied three dimensionally. Humboldt's collection of large white plaster classical figurative sculptures are displayed inside. It's about more with less. The scale is modern and modest by today's standards, approximately 4000 square feet with a symmetrical floor plan. That's my idea of perfection.
DDS: You are very versatile and can create any kind of architecture, custom, for clients. However your passion is for classical architecture.
AS: I am a firm believer in modern architecture for public buildings and monuments—punctuation points in the fabric of the city. When I created my own firm, I did what I enjoy: working on private houses and apartments. In this hectic and violent world, I believe in a different solution for each person within the unique harmony of classicism.
DDS: What architecture directions do you admire today?
AS: Frank Gehry's deconstructivism, exemplified by the Bilbao Museum (Spain) and the L.A. Symphony Hall.
Santiago Calatrava's structural expressionism, of which I particularly like the Milwaukee Art Museum addition for its exceptional use of light reflecting through the structure.
William McDonough's sustainable architecture, which uses solar energy and recycled materials to create buildings that are friendly to the environment..
DDS: You have a superb design book collection. Which architecture books do you treasure the most?
AS: To an architect, books are like children. I have a thousand. Love goes undivided to all, and all of them are precious. At this stage of my career, the most useful ones are A Parallel of the Orders of Architecture, Greek and Roman, by Charles Normand, Pub. John Tiranti & Co, London, 1928, in which I check the proportions of the different orders.
French Period Houses and their Details, by Ronald Lambell, Pub. Butterworth-Heinemann Ltd., Oxford, 1982, and Mouldings & Turned Woodwork of the 16th, 17th and 18th Centuries, by Tunstall Small and Christopher Woodbridge, Linden Publishing Company, Fresno, CA, 1987 : these two books have scale drawings of architectural details in the French and Georgian styles. Invaluable.
DDS: Which architecture book would you love to own?
AS: Jacques-François Blondel's encyclopedia on L'Architecture Française (1752-1756). The court architect to Louis XV, Blondel is the major historical reference of the 18th century. I have an eye on a first edition available in a remote area of Paris.
DDS: Favorite source for design books?
AS: In San Francisco on Montgomery Street, from William Stout, a treasury of architecture books from around the world. Stout is also a wonderful architect and a publisher. This bookstore is a landmark in a city known for its architecture.
New Villa in the Georgian StyleDDS: You and your wife Françoise entertain with great flair. Who would be your dream dinner guests?
Interior Design by Tucker & Marks
(includes the opening image of the Entry Hall)
Interior Design by Tucker & Marks
(includes the opening image of the Entry Hall)
AS: This is my best opportunity to discuss politics/power, in relation to aesthetics/talent, regardless of period. We'll have Catherine II of Russia and her architect Charles Cameron, Jackson Pollock with Peggy Guggenheim, and in the same spirit, for Françoise's pleasure, Cary Grant and Barbara Hutton.
DDS: Favorite restaurants?
AS: Yacout in Marrakech for its location in the Medina, great authentic decor and the best chicken in the world. Le Train Bleu, in Paris at the Gare de Lyon, for its exuberant Belle Époque décor and fresh churned butter — sit in the gold room, with 30 foot ceilings, it's not so bad.
Margaux in Berlin for it's hot pink and red murals by princess Ingeborg zu Schleswig Holstein. La Veranda, near the Vatican in Rome: dine with cardinals and bishops in a frescoed and vaulted Renaissance setting.
DDS: Favorite architectural period?
AS: NeoClassicism. While the proportions and symmetry of classical architecture are respected, there is something idiosyncratic about them. The personality of the architect shines through. For instance, in St.Petersburg the Cameron Gallery named after Catherine the Great's Scottish architect Charles Cameron was built in 1780-1785. There is a lightness to the structure, like an acropolis in the sky, for viewing the surrounding Catherine Park.
DDS: Favorite piece of furniture?
AS: A dressing table and accessories in steel, silver and gilded bronze, in the Pavlovsk Palace, St. Petersburg. It was made by the Tula Imperial Armory, one of the few examples of "beating swords into plough shares". As a member of the European Decorative Arts Council of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, I am proud of having contributed to the acquisition of a piece of Tula furniture.
DDS: Favorite painting?
AS: The Ideal City, by Piero della Francesca, in the Galleria Nazionale, Urbino, Italy. And I would like to quote his contemporary, the 15th century architect Leon Battista Alberti: "The city should not be only for the convenience and the necessity of homes, but should also be laid out in such a way that there are pleasant and honest places."
DDS: Favorite destination to see architecture, and why?
AS: Paris, walking the streets and window shopping. I love the density, the consistent height and style and palette. When I arrive, I like to go on "my tour". After visiting each gallery of the Carré des Antiquaires, in the 7th, I go "up" as they say, this is away from the river, on the rue du Bac to the Conran Shop. They have the most innovative objects for the home.
DDS: Where are you traveling next?
AS: A swing through Italy for research in hospitality work. Starting at the Villa Feltrinelli in Gargnano on Lake Garda, beautiful interiors by BAMO, in San Francisco. Down to the hotel Lungarno in Florence on the Oltrarno side of the river, on a high floor with a view over the Arno and the city. Then to La Posta Vecchia, J.P. Getty's former home on the sea, which still feels like his personal residence, in Ladispoli, half an hour from the Rome airport.
DDS: What do you enjoy most about being an architect?
AS: Meeting clients with whom it is possible to create beautiful designs. They are often extraordinary people and together we give birth to really great projects.
DDS: What advice would you give to young architects and designers?
AS: Hard and good work follows you all your life. When I was working in a big firm, I was the project architect for an office building client who was happy with my work. Years later, after I had established my own firm, he remembered me and hired me to work on his five star resort.
Do what you are good at, and success will come. There is no such thing as luck. Well, there is, but you create your own good fortune.
Andrew Skurman Architects
3654 Sacramento Street
San Francisco, California 94118
thanks for sharing this glimpse into the workand influences of a great architect! I have long been a fan or Mr. Skurman, and I appreciate his nod to Schinkel, whose work at Potsdam really took my breath away.
D.D.S. -You are brilliant and fantastically refreshing. Thank you for sharing this information, and uber-talented architect. I'm absolutely smitten.
This was a magnificent post. You should be his agent for the wonderful job you did.
His work is beautiful. I love the round dining room, I love it all. Thank you.
What an inspiring man and such brilliant advice. xv
Gorgeous post! Not only is Mr. Skurman a great talent but he is a lovely person. All the photos are superb and I am particularly enchanted by the Lakeside Villa in the Mediterranean Style. Thank you Diane.
Have seen and admired his work. great post. Authenticity in any form is elusive. Daniel
it is so hard for me ever to determine if my heart is really in 'georgian' or 'french.'
these are particularly beautiful examples of 'georgian' in this post.
but i think i love it all !
thank you & happy new year
Wonderful interview with an icon! Of course I would love to see even more contemporary art!
Dear Lynne, Scott (welcome), Yvonne, Vicki (welcome back), and Marcy, Daniel, and Renee and Karena-
HAPPY NEW YEAR!
THANK YOU so much for your kind words about Andrew Skurman.
I'm so pleased to hear your wonderful and insightful comments about both Andy's work and himself, the private person, the life-long student of everything chic.He is a rare person.
I can't help thinking that one reason you are so enthusiastic--is that while he has a lifetime of wonderful work and a great body of knowledge--he is not often in magazines and he is not as 'known' as his equals like John Saladino or someone like Robert Stern.
I posted this link on FACEBOOK (I hope you are all members) and have also had applause for Andy's wonderful houses.
Daniel: you make a wise point that 'authenticity in any form is to be admired'.
Andy's knowledge comes from a lifetime of work and study.
He has studied and visited all the Palladio buildings, every villa--and has been to Postdam to see Schinkel's work, and has traveled throughout Europe. He has studied and seen all the great English houses as well...Georgian...and all the great French in Paris and beyond. This is what passion and obsession does--he has a fantastic eye for proportion and authentic detail.
Note: whenever I am about to travel on a work project--Morocco, or Istanbul or Rome etc--I always shoot an email to Andy to get his advice. Though I know each place--he always has a great and insightful--and essential place--to see, a library, a room at the Vatican, a stairway in Florence, a building noone knows about in Paris.
I am sure I'll post again on Andrew Skurman. He has a lot of teach us all.
Cheers and onward...some great new posts in the works, DIANE
I can't thank you enough for this gorgeous article and interview with Andrew Skurman! I am so delighted to see an unbelievable talented architect as Andrew is!!
I feel the European classicism much more in his architecture than in the most European architects of today!
Wonderful work! Exquisite! I wish he lived in Belgium! The classicism is also my favorite architectural style.
Diane, I am so thankful that you introduced us to Andrew!
Great feature and interview. These houses are truly spectacular, not just in style but in quality and authentic constructions. I wished their firm built more houses in Greenwhich, Connecticut where most mc mansions are show only and no substance....
Lovely profile, fascinating interview...as always. My brain cells have been enlightened and my soul enriched...but I have come to expect nothing less from the Divine DDS!
GREET-I loved your comment that Andrew Skurman is 'more European than the Europeans', in effect. Your are right. California clients do want their pure Georgian or their pure classical interior and exteriors.
Europeans live surrounded by classical and historical buildings--so perhaps for their new architecture it's understandable that they want a jolt and an infusion of modernity and the 21st century. Here, there is reverence for tradition and classicism and looking to the past for inspiration--and Andy is the architect for these clients.
FRANCINE--Yes, we are fortunate to have Andrew's refined architecture, though in truth most of his houses are hidden away on large estates on the Peninsula, south of San Francisco, ultra-private--so they are not visible except to the owners.
I hope he will inspire other architects and especially younger architects and they have the confidence to insist on the best materials, the finest quality work, and all the right proportions, not a pastiche.
LISA--You are the great one. Thank you! Your recent posts on London are among the greatest ever. Your feature on 'as snowy day in London' with a stiletto-fueled to Highgate to visit George Elliot...I have read it three times at least, and will read it again. Photos are so poetic and tone is witty and insightful and brilliantly original and evocative. Bravo to you. I can't wait until you arrive in sunny North Africa. Cheers...and here's to your brilliance and wit (and mothering and Champagne and fires on arrival).
cheers to all, DIANE
Happy New Year. Thank you so much sharing th is amazing architect. I ABSOLUTELY love his design and his houses. If I could have a house as big and luxurious as this, I would definitely like to design like his houses. I love the window shutters which look so French and a great contrast with the classical design. It's amazing that he loves Piero Della Francesca's paintings and the Italian town, Urbino because I love it too!! ASD
PS. My dear, I've been away and just got back so I'm slightly behind the posts in here but I'll be catching up soon. Take care.
Diane~ thank you for another stellar post! I've always admired Skurman's work and glad we can call him our own. I'm such a huge fan of Palladio and Vitruvius, so it makes sense that I'm drawn to current architects who carry the tradition.
Happy New Year!
Hello, Super Dilettante, and hello, Denny-
Thank you so much for your enthusiasm and for such a passionate response to Andy's work.
I think I will have to make another post in future on ANDREW SKURMAN.
He has viewed these comments and is thrilled beyond words. I can't tell you how encouraging this is to an architect. Residential architects don't really get the recognition or immediate understanding that interior designers receive, I think.
Yes, there is a line from Palladio--to Andy's work, and Vitruvius and his harmony and balance and proportion is very much at work here.
Andy's work is the result of a lifetime of work--and study of the best examples.
So very pleased you saw it all...and noted that to be a great architect means to study art and living and architecture and the history of architecture. Denny--love your new bird paintings.
cheers and all best, DIANE
It is great to see photos of Andy's work which is so beautiful and so private. Your interview gives us a new look at the man behind that work
His dedication to his craft is really awe inspiring. I was amazed at his quote "spend months and years refining each detail".
A wonderful post with such beautiful photo's.
Thank you so much for your encouraging comment, I really appreciated it. In regards to credits, thank you, I do enjoy giving those who worked so hard on the sets credit (If I have not listed them it means I really couldn't find that information).
Have a beautiful weekend Diane,
It is interesting that Skurman said he was most inspired by Parisian architect Le Corbusier, the greatest of all modernists, for his poetry of the free plan. Don't get me wrong - I love Le Corbusier. But Skurman's houses don't make him look like a fan.
Art and Architecture, mainly
Hello, Dear Dustjacket-
Yes, i agree with you. Perfection follows hard work and devotion and study. Andy told me he even makes AND carves and mocks up models of wood trim and pediments and columns and other interior architecture to be sure it is right.
Thank you for your note.
Hels: Thank you for your wise and insightful comment.
I do understand that it might seem incorrect or certainly surprisingand confusing that Andrew Skurman would both admire Le Corbusier ('for the free interior plan and its poetry) and still be a practitioner of classical architecture.
To be the best architect (or writer or designer or ... anything) it is essential to study the history of that art or craft and to know every expert's theory, and to understand the evolution of the art and craft. A classicist should study modernists. Modernists (who reject classicism) should understand the history of architecture (Palladio, for example) before moving in a new direction.
Don't forget that Andy worked with IM Pei, one of the great modernists.
Hels--loved your comment and enquiry. Stay tuned and let us hear your voice. Much appreciated.
so wonderful! Thanks! diane , you are a wonder!
I didn't think I wanted to build another house........now you are tempting me!
what a wonderful architect! Proportion is everything that is good. And mostly lacking in the McMansions.......spreading far and wide.
I think the economy has slowed them down. This man's houses look like those in Northampton, Mass....where I went to boarding school!
Gorgeous......classical architecture.......great proportions.........beautiful!
Bravo to you!
What an absolutely fabulous read.... oooOOOOOOoooo.... thank you.
your post is wonderful....mr skurman is brilliant and i love how clean everything is... so refined and elegant... hope this finds you well... x pam
Mr. Skurman has an incredible combination of talent and knowledge... which was revealed through your well thought out questions and wonderful conversation.
Lovely photographic choices, and a wonderfully personable interview. Thank you for a few moments of introduction into Andrew's world. Though a modernist, I truly admire his work.
What a wonderful glimpse into the mind of a truly talented architect. Thank you for sharing this as well as all of the other great content you have here on your blog.
It is always nice to read such a great interview such as this. And the amazing photos that you posted were just an added bonus.
Andrew Skurman's work is beautiful not only for its aesthetics but for its thought out concept and "honest" traditional design. I find it fasinating to see a traditional architect who is incorporating green design into their work.
I've always been fascinated by spectacular architecture and I have to say these homes/photos are truly breathtaking. Thanks for sharing
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