This start-up factory loft in San Francisco has a secret room

It was built by a less than secret tech company

by James Tarmy / pics source: Sotheby’s International Realty

Stephen Perlman, an inventor and tech executive, sold one of his first companies, WebTV, to Microsoft in 1997 for about half a billion dollars. At roughly the same time Perlman decided he wanted to create an incubator where artists, scientists, and engineers could create new technology.

He purchased two properties in a converted loft building in San Francisco’s South Beach neighbourhood for what he estimates was about US$1.5 million (RM6.15 million), and hired the architect Jim Jennings to convert the space. Given that he was building a space where people could invent things he’d never thought of (“you never know when you start out,” he says) it had to be both flexible and welcoming. “This wasn’t just going to be a workshop,” Perlman says. “It was going to be a beautiful space.” The aesthetic component was particularly important, because he wanted it to be a loft where people could actually live for extended stays.

The space has hosted more than 700 people at a time

The interior modifications, over the years, cost roughly US$2.5 million to US$3 million (“I’m taking a wild guess,” he says as a disclaimer), though that pales in comparison to how much money the space generated: “About US$400 million or thereabouts has been put into the companies that were incubated there,” he says.

As his company Rearden continued to grow, though (among the companies it spun off is Mova, a facial animation company that won a technical Academy Award in 2015), Perlman began to run out of space. Now, nearly 20 years after he first moved in, he’s putting the property on the market, listing it with Gregg Lynn of Sotheby’s International Realty for US$4.5 million.

The loft, which comprises about 4,000 sq ft, took about three years to be completed. After it opened in 2000, an article in Town & Country soon followed (“Digital Domain”).

The article is striking, 18 years later, for its breathless list of Perlman’s “High Tech Toys” which today can be found in any middle class home. The article mentions a US$20,000 HDTV, a “digital VCR recorder that can store movies”, video-conferencing equipment, a 3-D printer (“the printer fabricates a physical object,”) and “several” DVD and VCR players.

“In some way,” the article continues, “the loft could be considered a prototype for the living room of the future”.

There are TVs and projectors throughout the space

Scratching the Surface

But, Perlman says, the article only scratched the surface. “I put in a 200 inch projection screen, and when we built it, HD was brand new; projectors cost US$200,000 each,” he says. “Now they cost about US$3,000.”

Another thing the article missed was the loft’s hidden room. “Every place I’ve built has one,” Perlman says. “I like things like secret rooms and hidden doors, and Jim (Jennings) loved the idea.”Perlman will often challenge visitors to find it, and while the prospect of the home’s future buyers stumbling across it by accident is an appealing one, Perlman is happy to disclose that the loft’s secret room can be accessed by pulling a bookshelf “just the right way”. Currently, the room is occupied by a safe and the loft’s security system.

The master bedroom also has a lounge and full bath


The catwalk is supported by cables


Perlman never lived in the space, but plenty of other people have stayed there for extended periods. There’s a master bedroom, whose accompanying bathroom has a hot tub/steam bath/shower equipped with an HDTV and waterproof speakers (“they were made for boats”) so that whoever’s living in the loft can relax after hours in the bathtub and watch TV. (A separate shower in the loft merely comes with surround-sound speakers.)

The dining area doubles as a conference room

There’s also a kitchen with marble counters, and lounge areas, plus a dining room that doubles as a conference space.

In addition, there are rooms that can be (and have been) repurposed as sleeping areas. “We have an audio room and recording room,” Perlman explains, “and because when you’re doing an audio recording you want the room to be dead, it has anechoic walls.” That means, he continues, that when people used air mattresses to camp out in the audio room overnight, they got to sleep in a room that was blessed with “dead silence, like you’ve never had”. The core of the loft is a massive lounge/entertainment area, which has hosted performances, screenings and experiments.

He says that he has mixed feelings about selling the loft. “A lot of my heart and soul went into the creation of it,” he says, adding that with its built-in tech and massive screens, the loft was host to “the best Super Bowl party in San Francisco”. — Bloomberg

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