Labor of Love: ‘Big, Big’ $3M Renovation Planned for S.F. ‘Painted Lady’ by New Owner

Pink painted lady in San Francisco makeover

After Leah Culver, a tech entrepreneur, decided to buy her first home, she hunted for a turnkey house in San Francisco for about a year and a half. She wasn’t thinking of putting in a ton of work on the home, but she also wanted something unique. A place with flair.

Her home-buying plans were scrambled when she noticed that one of the famous “Painted Ladies“, on what’s known as the city’s “Postcard Row,” had appeared on the market earlier this year.

“When one came up, I was so excited,” she says.

Once the initial excitement wore off, she needed to tick the boxes. Yes, this was an opportunity to buy a home with plenty of panache. But finished? Not so much.

And despite the home’s decrepit state, Culver says, there was plenty of competition for the popular landmark, and she had to undergo a grueling bidding process that involved multiple offers. 

While she didn’t have the highest bid, the deal was sealed thanks to her all-cash offer with no inspection or contingencies, as well as a tight, seven-day close, she recalls.

“They were expecting a certain sale price, which was much higher than what they had listed. And as soon as that sale price was met, they liked the conditions,” she says. 

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Hello from Postcard Row! 💌 #pinkpaintedlady

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Property records show that Culver paid $3.55 million for the place. It was sold in early January, just three weeks after listing for $2.75 million.

As stressful as the buying process was for Culver, it’s now that her real work begins. The three-floor residence, built in the 1890s, had been owned by the same family for decades. It is now in need of a major renovation, something that Culver has never undertaken before.

“I’m planning to hire a group of people to help me. It won’t be done alone,” she says.

She’ll need all the help she can get. The last time the home changed hands was in the 1970s, and at one point, the 2,800-square-foot space was separated into a duplex.

Culver’s Instagram account of the project at hand features charming original details, including a stained-glass window, decorative ceiling decal, and cornices, alongside peeling paint, ancient fixtures, and cracks in the ceiling.

“It’s a big, big project,” she says. “I’m on the side of saving it. I’d love to keep everything.” She’d even like to add more details in keeping with the architecture from the turn of the past century.

“We’re going to see if we can bring some stained glass into the facade,” she says.

Culver may also try to restore some features that were lost in the past few decades.

“Part of it is rebuilding. There are definitely some beautiful details worth saving,” she says.

The “Painted Lady” will get a major makeover.

Culver is the co-founder and chief technology officer of Breaker, a podcast app, and she’s sharing her renovation journey on social media.

“I’m someone who likes to do the unexpected, and I wanted my home to be unique,” Culver writes on her Pink Painted Lady Instagram account. “When this gem came on the market, I hoped I could make it something special.”

In addition to the attention on social media, she’ll have to get used to the scrutiny from the area’s constant flow of tourists. The street is one of the most photographed in the city, attracting all those who flock to the picturesque Alamo Square to take in the “Seven Sisters,” as the group of homes is also known.

“Postcard Row” in San Francisco

The photogenic block has appeared in movies and TV shows, most notably the sitcom “Full House.”

Culver has dubbed the home “the Pink Painted Lady,” although, for now, the abode will remain decidedly in the beige family and won’t blossom into its new color anytime soon.

Exterior paint will be one of the last steps of the estimated two-year, $3 million project. Culver selected the distinctive shade to match the current maroon trim.

“The goal is to have it blend in with houses on that row, but also look really nice,” she says.

Culver, who now lives about a five-minute walk from her new place, will wait until the renovation is complete to move in to her dream home. 

Right now, her priority is to find an architect to spearhead design ideas for a respectful renovation.

“My goal is to keep it an iconic house. To have it fit in. To have the tourists still be able to come, take photos, and have it look really great,” she says. 

Culver, who moved to San Francisco from Minneapolis in 2006, has been enthralled by the homes of Postcard Row ever since.

“When I first came to San Francisco, it was one of the first places I went,” she says. “I’m a little in shock. I feel so fortunate. It’s a dream come true.”

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