A Printmaker’s Colorful 1909 Edwardian Flat in San Francisco

by Sabrina Smelko

After graduating from UC Berkeley across the Bay, Jen Hewett first made the move to San Francisco, CA in 1996 — during the city’s first highly competitive rental market. Hundreds of people would show up for any given open house, and Jen struggled to find a place, wondering if she had made a poor choice in moving. It wasn’t until her friend discovered an apartment building undergoing renovations in the foggy Inner Sunset neighborhood that Jen’s interest (and hope) was piqued. After chatting with the landlord’s father who happened to be there that day, she was thrilled to sign a lease, despite the price. “The rent was more than I could afford at the time, but we somehow made it work,” Jen explains. Looking back, almost 20 years later, she’s thrilled she signed on this 1909 Edwardian flat which she — and her Italian Greyhound mix, Gus, — call home.

Jen is a printmaker, surface designer, textile artist and teacher who has run through multiple careers in her life so far, before discovering her true calling with printmaking in 2008. Her work combines her love of loud prints and saturated colors with the textures and lightness of the California landscapes she grew up surrounded by. So it’s no surprise that her apartment, especially after two decades, exudes her personal style and reflects her own life journey. “The evolution of my flat into a home really follows my path from a recent college graduate to an adult woman in her 40s,” Jen explains. In her early 20s, her space consisted of mismatched and often scavenged furniture; In her 30s, she became more conscious of the look and feel of her space and began investing in quality furniture and editing out pieces that didn’t fit her more mature taste or needs. As she neared her 40s, the goal was less clutter, and to celebrate the work of her friends in the artist community she fostered. She adds, “I did a huge purge at the end of last year, creating a calmer, lighter home, filled mostly with things I love.”

Just as Jen and her tastes have changed over the years, so too has the building itself. The patchy hardwood floors tell a story of the flat’s original open-concept layout. Jen suspects that in the 1930s or 1940s, the layout was altered and the units were used as a boarding house. The dining room (which was previously open to what is now Jen’s bedroom) was enclosed, and in it were locking, numbered cabinets, which Jen has since removed. There was also once a fireplace in her bedroom, where her bed currently sits, and all of the doors to the bedrooms and living space had deadbolts on them. Additionally, Jen thinks that the tiny 54-square-foot room which Jen uses as a studio space was once a balcony.

Change has been a theme in Jen’s life, and through it all, the stability her home has offered her is what she’s most thankful for. “Yes, my home is spacious and light-filled and in a great neighborhood,” Jen reflects, “but I’m most thankful that it’s been my stable, home base for almost twenty years. I’ve been through a lot of career changes, a few relationships, and have done a lot of growing up in the time I’ve lived here. My home has provided me with some much-needed stability. I don’t think I could have made the choices I’ve made about my career if I constantly had to worry about my housing.” –Sabrina

Photography by Stefanie Renee Lindeen

Jen's favorite room in her flat is her living room. Though it looks like it's painted directly onto the wall, the bright, geometric art piece is actually a large piece of Marimekko fabric that Jen found at a yard sale and then stapled to stretcher bars. The armchair and couch were purchased over 10 years ago from a friend.
A family portrait of Jen and Gus.
When Gus isn’t sleeping under the pillows on Jen's bed, he’s perched on the back of this chair, keeping an eye out "for his nemesis," Jen laughs, "the German Shepherd who lives across the street." The inlaid trunk was given to her by her mother on a trip she took to The Philippines (where she was born).
Jen screenprinted this pillow years ago for one of her collections. "It didn’t sell well," Jen explains, "but it really complements my Marimekko print, so I’m glad I got to keep it."
More of Jen's printed pillows rest on her sofa. Every month this year, as part of her monthly project titled “Print, Pattern, Sew,” Jen has challenged herself to print fabric and then sew it into a garment. The fabric on the blue pillow was leftover from a blouse she recently made.
"I don’t have a green thumb," Jen says, "so I only have plants that thrive on benign neglect!" The chartreuse planters, which were found at IKEA, sit atop a tray inlaid with carabao horn, another souvenir from the Philippines.
"What I love most about my home is..."
Jen's dining room is only about 52 square feet large, but the high ceilings and skylight help make it feel more spacious. She painted a charcoal grey feature wall to give the room some depth.
One of the quirky features of Jen's dining nook is this cut-out window that looks into the hallway. This is the view from the hallway into the dining room. Most of the art pieces on the wall were created by Jen's friends.
I personally love mixing and matching pieces versus buying furniture sets, which is exactly what Jen did in the dining room. These Danish chairs, purchased from a neighborhood yard sale, pair beautifully with this IKEA table.
Long, narrow hallways seem to be a staple of Victorian and Edwardian San Francisco flats. Jen uses hers to showcase her collection of antique textiles (which need to stay out of direct light), as well as photos and prints by other artists.
Jen's kitchen off of the dining nook. "The most challenging aspect of my home is that it’s a rental, and I can’t make all the changes I’d like to, like in the kitchen," Jen says. "I’ve just learned to live with the imperfections and instead be grateful for the apartment I do have." The stove is a vintage Wedgewood.
For someone who cooks daily, Jen's kitchen has held up well, thanks to the super-durable Corian countertops.
"All my misprinted tea towels eventually end up in my kitchen," Jen says, "I don’t like anything to be too precious, so I regularly use linens that I’ve printed."
The printed IKEA curtains become the focal point of Jen's bedroom. "I had planned to buy or make curtains myself," Jen explains, "but when I saw these, I had to have them...They remind me of a Josef Frank print." Inspired by the curtains, Jen then designed and hand-printed her own pillows in complementary colors.
When he was just a year old, Gus was found wandering the streets of West Sacramento, CA before being taken in by a rescue organization. "He was a delicate, high-strung dog who went through a number of foster homes before I adopted him, but he’s (mostly) mellowed out now that he’s three."
Jen's mid-century modern desk was found on the side of the road along with the alabaster lamp.
Every time Jen comes home, the pillows on her bed are re-arranged, thanks to Gus. "He likes to build himself – and sleep under - pillow forts," she laughs, "I always have to be careful where I sit, because he’s often nestled himself under a pillow, cushion, or blanket!"
Jen's dresser was another sidewalk find. "The garbage removal guys were about to haul it away, but I convinced them to lug it to my front door." Her plans are to add even more artwork to the walls, but she's collecting it very slowly and only picking her absolute favorites.

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  • I love this story. So many people no move from apartment to apartment. Very few stay as long as 20 years, but she’s turned it into such a beautiful home. It’s evident that her work is reflected in her personal zone. I thought about the last apartment I moved out of and how much growing I had done that. Definitely connect with this piece.

  • Longtime lurker, compelled to comment finally because I liked this so much – not just in terms of aesthetics, but as a kindred long term renter in an expensive housing market. This post hits that sweet spot between the dream house renovation storyline and the short term camouflage that’s endemic to a lot of rental decor. Loved the good bones and beautiful prints in this one. Thank you!

  • This tour made me so happy, in part because it reminds me of my former SF Edwardian apartment. I also remember those Ikea curtains, and they look so pretty and happy in Jen’s room. Thanks for sharing :)

  • Jen! I couldn’t help myself…so nice to see you here. I love your story and see the changes you’ve made as you grew up into an adult woman. It’s serene and beautiful! You’ve made it your home. So good to see Gus too! Oh, Dash said hi! – your old neighbor

    • Hi Yoshko – so good to see you here, too! I miss having your shop in the neighborhood. Hope you, Kai and Dash are well.

  • Lovely house tour and lucky Jen still in the same spot! Jen’s a good friend although we were neighbors we didn’t meet until years later. I had no idea you moved into the same neighborhood in the same year as us? I remember the long lines at the open houses back then, and I thought those were crazy times. And a little wave to Yoshko! We miss your shop! And Dash!

  • Your work is so beautiful and so is your home. It’s so light and airy and what a wonderful space to imagine and create in.

  • What a lovely home, I’m filled with a sense of calm looking at these pictures. The light filled rooms are so appealing.

  • Had to comment when I spotted your kitchen floor…it’s the same as my bathroom floor! And as I am also a long term, 20 yr renter (in Brooklyn), there’s no changing it(!) but I too appreciate the stability my apt has allowed me in my creative life. Thanks for sharing yours with us.

  • There’s nothing not to love about Jen, Gus, Jen’s work, or this beautiful apartment. I feel so positive and inspired just looking at the photos, and, though if I’m not an adult by now I never will be, I’m moved by the idea of a space granting room to grow up.

    This is a perfect home tour.

  • Definitely an inspirational story for me…I too love fabrics and especially linen, colors, scavenge things that fit into my life at the time from “curbside, inc.”, rented for many years – although I now have a place to call my own, along with two cats – one black and one white.

    Jen, I hope you keep on living a life that is an inspiration to others until your very last breath! :-)