The House That Google Built

© JASON HENRY FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Visitors to Wesley Chan’s 105-year-old San Francisco home are never more than 12 steps away from USB outlet, a wireless charging outlet or a beverage.

Mr. Chan, 37, was an early employee at Google—in his 12 years at the company he launched Google Analytics and Google Voice, and later was a general partner at Google Ventures—and the influence of the search giant is evident throughout the house he shares with his partner, 25-year-old brand marketing consultant Pat Blute.

All of the house’s light switches, window shades and music can be controlled by smartphone. One app, reconfigured by Mr. Chan triggers colored lights to sync with whatever music is playing in a room on the main floor.

The home’s technology is mostly invisible, with no bulky built-ins or control panels. Mr. Chan says that mirrors a principle he learned at Google of masking the complex with simplicity (think of the search engine’s minimalist home page).

Google’s “egalitarian” principle—the idea that everyone has access to information—inspired Mr. Chan to program the home’s automation system, so that visitors can access on their smartphones through an app. Guests can play their own Spotify music mixes, or program a YouTube video to play on the home’s TV. “At Google, they teach you to be maniacal about details so people have delightful experience,” says Mr. Chan, who admits to being a stickler for the tiniest details, particularly the kind that help make guests more comfortable.

Completed in January, the sunny three-bedroom home features white oak floors and modern furniture, some of it custom-built by artists they found on Etsy, the online marketplace that went public in April. The open-plan main level has a living room and kitchen that opens to a two-level patio with ipe wood walls, a hot tub and a rectangular fire pit.

Downstairs is a studio apartment that the couple has cheekily dubbed “the CEO suite”—it is where they often put up visiting startup founders. Mr. Chan, who left Google about a year and a half ago, is now a managing director at Felicis Ventures, a venture-capital firm. He and Mr. Blute frequently host tech executives looking for investors.

The couple say they frequently host dinner parties with tech industry titans and up-and-comers. On a recent evening, a friend came over to give a practice TED talk. The couple has also hosted presentations from startup founders looking for investors. “We’ve inked deals here for startups on everything from whiskey to doorbells,” Mr. Chan says.

Santa Monica-based Jamie Siminoff founded Ring, a startup that makes a smartphone-accessible video “doorbell,” which serves as both an intercom and security system. Mr. Siminoff says he’s spent many nights in the home’s CEO suite. “We kind of used [Mr. Chan’s] place as a test place,” he says, installing early versions of the doorbell, which records audio and video, on the front door. Mr. Chan says he gave feedback that helped guide later versions.

The installation led to an investment by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson. Messrs. Chan and Blute say they were at a business conference on Necker Island, Mr. Branson’s private Caribbean island resort. While there, Mr. Chan used Ring to communicate with a package delivery carrier at his doorstep, which he says he showed Mr. Branson, who became curious about the product and decided to invest. Mr. Chan also recently became an investor. “The CEO suite has been very profitable for me,” says Mr. Siminoff.

During his time at Google, Mr. Chan (who says he can’t disclose his employee number) co-founded Google Analytics as well as Google Voice, and later was a general partner at Google Ventures, which has made early investments in companies like Nest and Uber. He met Mr. Blute, who has a background as a travel writer and host, while living in Seattle. They purchased their San Francisco home in 2013 for $2.25 million, according to public records. They estimate they’ve spent between $500,000 and $1 million on the renovation, which took a year and a half.

Since their renovation, the couple has likely seen the value of their house grow, as the city’s real estate has been transformed by the influx of tech executives and entrepreneurs. The home is in Eureka Valley, and the nearby, formerly middle-class neighborhoods of the Mission, Noe Valley and the Castro are now the networking and social hubs for the city’s growing techie crowd and, of course, real-estate prices have risen dramatically in the process.

Mr. Chan says they chose Eureka Valley not because they wanted to be near other tech workers, but for its authentic San Francisco feel, diversity and the fact that it still doesn’t feel like as tech-centric as the bordering areas.

The couple says they never intended to undertake such a project. Mr. Chan, who was still working for Google Ventures at the time, was drawn to the location in part because of its proximity to a corporate shuttle bus pickup spot. Both dealing with busy work schedules, they liked the fact that the home was basically move-in ready. They had the home inspected before they purchased it, but later discovered problems. They hired a contractor who ended up doing work that wasn’t up to code. When they realized they would have to tear up multiple walls to fix it, they then decided to hire an architect and undertake a total renovation to give the home a more open floor plan and reconfigure the layout.

First, Mr. Blute says, they interviewed dozens of architects, eventually hiring Antje Paiz of Berkeley-based firm Raumfabrik. The process was collaborative, with Mr. Chan diving into each decision—from choosing light bulbs to kitchen cabinet handles—with his typically scientific mind-set. “We A/B tested everything,” says Mr. Chan, describing the process of narrowing down many choices to groups of two for decision-making. Mr. Blute, the more artistic of the two, handled most of the furnishing, interior design and art-purchasing decisions.

A centerpiece of the home is a 1936 Steinway grand piano in the front living room. The couple purchased it after a Facebook recommendation from a friend led them to a man in upstate New York who had spent a year refurbishing it. The seller made Mr. Chan and Mr. Blute promise that they would play it regularly.

Using an iPad app, Mr. Chan taught himself to play in three months. On a recent evening, he played a Chopin piece as a YouTube video of a crackling fire played on a TV in the next room.

Written of Candace Jackson of The Wall Street Journal 

(Source: The Wall Street Journal)

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