Noe Valley Voice December-January 2005

The House That Google Bought

By Corrie M. Anders

Okay, everyone. Hold onto your hats. A sleek contemporary house that took more than four years to build atop one of Noe Valley's highest vantage points has been sold to a former dot-com'er for an astonishing $5.3 million.

Frank Jernigan, a Google millionaire who retired from the search engine firm this summer, purchased the home in October. It's the most expensive home ever sold in Noe Valley, by far, and the deal has set off a buzz in real estate circles and among nearby residents.

The home is secluded at the end of a cul-de-sac in the 500 block of Duncan Street near Newburg Street. It sits on the precipice of an oversized lot that provides panoramic, 270-degree views from Twin Peaks to downtown San Francisco to across the Bay.

The three-story home has three terraces, an elevator, skylights, a three-car garage, and a parking court for six additional vehicles.

"It's the most beautiful house I've ever seen," said Jernigan, who moved in with his partner, Andrew Faulk, in mid-October. "I walked in and just fell in love with it."

The five-bedroom home sparked competition as soon as it was offered for sale in September. "We had two buyers who were highly interested in it," said Tony Oltranti, a real estate broker with Willis & Co. who was the listing agent. "We got a [signed] buyer within the week," said Oltranti.

Jernigan, whose offer was $50,000 less than the seller's asking price, paid cash for the property, and the transaction closed escrow in a mere 17 days. According to Oltranti, "it would have been hard to accept anything but a cash offer," because there were no similar homes in Noe Valley on which to base an appraisal.

Jernigan, who has lived in Diamond Heights or the Twin Peaks area since moving from Boston in 2000, said he was familiar with Noe Valley, frequently enjoying the cuisine of local restaurants and shopping on 24th Street. In November, he'd already met "quite a few" of his neighbors, and "they've been very welcoming and extremely friendly," he said.

The 61-year-old software engineer is delighted to have found his Shangri-la--a perfect place to relax and enjoy the view. But life hasn't always been so comfortable.

Jernigan has spent almost 30 years in the tech field, and his professional career over the past decade has been a roller-coaster ride. He lost one job when the company he was working for folded in the early days of the dot-com collapse. He joined another high-tech firm--only to get downsized 10 months later. He was out of work for two months before latching on with Google in 2001.

When the start-up firm went public in August of last year, hundreds of Google employees with sizeable stock options became instant millionaires. Google's stock, which first sold for $85 a share, reached $400 a share last month.

"I'm one of the luckiest people on the planet," said Jernigan. "I stumbled into a position at Google, and that just changed everything."

He began looking for a home to buy around the time he retired in June. He put the hunt on hold after initially failing to find anything to his liking. But his real estate agent, Jito Garcia of Pacific Union, called a few weeks later and said, "I know you're not looking anymore, but you've got to take a look at this."

Two young architects, Luke Ogrydziak and Zoe Prillinger, designed the home in a modern minimalist style with a lot of classical finishes. "We didn't want to do something that would look dated in a couple of years," said Ogrydziak.

The home has all the bells and whistles one would expect to find for $5 million. For starters, it's huge. It has 5,689 square feet of interior space, which is three to four times the size of most Noe Valley Victorians. Jernigan said he and Faulk, a retired physician, "hope to do a lot of entertaining," and that the space is perfect for large parties.

With Delta, their cocker spaniel, tagging along, Jernigan and Faulk gave the Voice a tour of the home, which, because of the topography, is shaped like the letter "T," unlike the traditional box-shaped home.

The formal entry opens to a solid glass wall that leads to a concrete garden with three sculptures: a welded assemblage of auto parts, a lead cast of a nude male torso, and a metal tree ("It's the only thing that will grow in this garden," quipped Faulk).

The home was designed so that views are everywhere, and are especially dramatic in several rooms with floor-to-ceiling windows. In particular, the living room has two mitered-glass walls that allow unobstructed views from the Marin headlands to the East Bay. Three bedrooms on the next level below also feature full-length glass walls.

The kitchen includes two subzero refrigerators, two dishwashers, countertops fashioned from Carrara marble imported from Rome, and cabinetry covered in a veneer of padauk wood from Southeast Asia. And not only does tongue-in-groove white oak embellish the floors in the kitchen, the dining room, and the living rooms, the same hardwood covers the ceilings and support beams.

The architects also chose Pietra Serena marble from Florence to create an inglenook for a double-sided, wood-burning fireplace. The master bathroom is austere but striking, with slate-colored marble and stainless-steel tub and sink.

Jernigan said he is still a bit awestruck by his new home. "The architecture and craftsmanship of the house was really a work of love by all the people participating and creating," said Jernigan. "It didn't take long for me to know I was in love with it."