By Tom Leach

Ever since I can remember, I have always loved to draw the outsides of houses. As a fourth-generation native of San Francisco, I think that the visual stimulation I get from the unique architecture that surrounds me here provides constant inspiration for how to dramatically transform and adorn an otherwise plain and boring box. That inspiration not only fueled my passion for San Francisco architecture but also led to a career as a residential designer. I soon found myself being commissioned to restore the facades of Victorian and Edwardian homes that had their original fronts removed years ago in the interest of “modernization.”   

Back in 2009, when the economy tanked, I had very few projects to work on, which meant very few reasons to draw these ornate facades. I quickly realized that I missed the joy I felt while creating their gingerbread details and whimsical flourishes. Whenever I was drawing, I was in a zone. Hours seemed like minutes. I felt like I was tapped into an endless supply of creative energy. 

I quickly realized that I missed the joy I felt while creating their gingerbread details and whimsical flourishes. 

I missed that rush, and I needed a way to feel it again. It finally occurred to me that I didn’t need to wait for a client to give me a reason to create these drawings. I could dip back into the inspiration I had as child from just living in San Francisco and seeing the beautiful architecture every day. So I began taking walks around Noe Valley and the Mission to photograph facades that had been stripped of their original moldings and covered with asbestos or stucco. I then used those photos to create drawings that restored those homes to what they could have looked like in their former glory.

Each of the hand drawings in this series, “What Used to Be,” was created using graphite, a straight edge, and architectural markers on white paper. To me they are a result of the combination of the inner joy I find through drawing and the beautiful architectural environment that surrounds me. I’m grateful to the Bold Italic for giving me a space to showcase my labors of love and look forward to making many more!