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The Hardest-Working House in Town

The Pacific Heights manse of Canopy founder Amir Mortazavi houses a trio of apartments—and a many-layered past.

SLIDESHOW

Muscular charred-black structural beams and a ribbonlike sculpture by artist Philippe Decrauzat stand out among the white walls and clean lines in the home of Amir Mortazavi.

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The rear exterior features unfinished wood slats that are meant to patinate with age.

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A giant motor controls an industrial window in a basement-level bedroom.

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Mortazavi standing beside Sam Falls’s sculpture Sine/Cosine in his backyard.

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A child’s piano in the sunny living room.

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In the bedroom, architectural cutouts complement works of art by Nick Van Woerst (on window), Eric William Carroll (on box), and Rene Ricard (on wall), as well as a lamp by Jean Rispal.

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A chair Mortazavi crafted from salvaged birch.

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Mortazavi ascends the steps from the lower level, surrounded by artworks by (from left) Davide Balula, Peter Sutherland, Wyatt Kahn, Liz Deschenes, Toulu Hassani, and Pedro Reyes.

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For the first time in decades, Amir Mortazavi’s house is just, well, a home. It’s a novel situation for the art collector and real estate developer, who eight years ago took the three-unit Pac Heights Edwardian down to the studs and reimagined its ground-floor apartment as a multi­functional space comprising a furniture showroom, an art gallery, and his own living quarters. “When people would come for appointments, it was like, ‘Time to clean up the kitchen!’” he recalls. Even after the showroom and the gallery were converted back into more traditional living areas, the house remained the headquarters for Mortazavi’s real estate development firm, M-Projects.

Alas, even that enterprise was finally served with an eviction notice—of sorts, anyway, courtesy of Mortazavi’s wife. “Justifiably so,” Mortazavi admits. Now he works five days a week out of Canopy, the collection of high-design coworking spaces he operates around the city. All of which means that, at long last, home is where he goes to unplug.

That’s not to say that the place has been stripped of the creative energy that seems to propel Mortazavi. The first thing one notices on entering is the art collection. International and eclectic, the works include a ribbonlike wall sculpture by Philippe Decrauzat, a large-scale diptych by Davide Balula, and a concrete woman shouting into a megaphone—Protester, by Pedro Reyes. The furniture blurs the line between art and design, including a chair constructed out of raw birch branches, bundled together and sawed methodically into shape, and a three-foot-long walnut coffee table hand-carved into a blocky topographical map of Versailles, Missouri—“a place where walnut actually grows indigenously,” explains Mortazavi, who designed both pieces and built them out of leftovers from construction sites. Otherwise, the home is a study in clean, modern lines—seamless corner windows, smooth white plaster, and sturdy, charred-black structural beams. Moldings, he explains, are intended to conceal the kinds of imperfections that well-built houses shouldn’t have.

Mortazavi’s aesthetic is all the more intriguing when you contrast it with that of his father, Mohammad Mortazavi, the Peninsula developer behind so many sprawling Beaux-Arts mansions and Tuscan-inspired compounds in Atherton. Mortazavi grew up learning the trade at his father’s side but seems to have left the showy architectural flourishes behind.

Despite its address on a leafy residential block in Pacific Heights, Mortazavi’s abode has been home to commercial endeavors as far back as its records go, he says. It was a ballet studio in the 1960s, then evolved into a cotillion training ground for upper-crust teens. When he bought the building in 2009, the ground floor was being used as a photo studio. For Mortazavi and his wife, who’s also an avid art collector, the plan to turn their living room into an avant-garde furniture showroom and their basement into an art gallery was born out of “a shared interest and a crazy idea we concocted. It was great to activate the space and give an homage to what was here before,” he says.

But the vagaries of time and life being what they are, Mortazavi and his residence have once again pivoted. The sunny living room corner that long served as his home office is today outfitted with a child-size piano and a colorful heap of Magna-Tiles—property of Mortazavi’s son, age five. “My son built a shipyard the other day,” he says proudly, pointing to the tiles. “I think he wants to go into industrial real estate.”

 

Originally published in the November issue of San Francisco

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