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remodeling a marin mid-century for a young family

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September 2017 Newsletter

a simple and sophisticated transformation

Just like people, some architectural projects communicate really well in person but not so much in pictures, others are more photogenic. Occasionally, we have a happy result that is successful on both counts. For this issue, we talk to our own Stephen Shoup and Hide Kawato (principal and senior designer respectively) for just such a project: a tired mid-century-modern house has been thoroughly transformed in a recently completed remodel. There are indeed many things to like about this job. Let's get the scoop from the source: 

Located in a desirable bedroom community in Marin County, this home is designed for a professional couple with two young boys and their pet Percy, a 6-month-old mini-poodle cattle dog mix. In the outset, the homeowners expressed their desire to maintain the character of the house while modernizing the interior. In general, they favored open floor plans, but also wanted a sense of coziness with natural materials. They liked casualness and comfort, but with clean lines. Needless to say. these sounded like Stephen's cup of tea. He happily obliged by identifying these design goals: to optimize the existing spaces for the residents by activating the common areas; to improve lighting, function, and flow by opening up the interior; to create warm elegance by way of natural materials and refined details.

activating the common areas

The original kitchen was a dark galley connected to the dining room with one narrow door. The dining room was also separated from the living room with a transom partition and a pair of accordion doors which were the first things to be removed. The concept for the new kitchen is that it is open and connected to the dining/living areas but defined as a distinct volume. Originally an enclosed rectangle, a short L has been cut out to expose the kitchen to the dining/ living areas. Most of the long side walls are maintained for cabinets, and for screening the kitchen from the entry hall. Stephen explains that the cutout of the corner with the top being hung from the ceiling structure was technically challenging. Together with the dropped soffit, this hung corner helps sculpt the shape of the kitchen so that it anchors one corner of the great room. "Note the paint color of the kitchen is Benjamin Moore Silver Chain which is a pale blue, whereas the rest of the common areas are painted with Benjamin Moore Simply White."

Other highlights in the common areas: opening up the wall between dining and the back patio with wall-to-wall glass and sliders to let in more natural light; doing the same at the breakfast nook; one side of the kitchen has a continuous glass window as backsplash, while the other side has white tiles; all custom cabinets have white conversion varnish; recessed LED lights in living and kitchen; the original wood burning traditional fireplace is replaced with a new gas insert; new fireplace surround and bench are clad with porcelain tiles in mid warm grey.

to panel or not?

Stephen recognizes this is a question many owners of MCMs have to wrestle with when they are thinking of updating their house. In this case, our clients really disliked the original faded mahogany panels that covered the interior everywhere. They had a dated 50’s look and they made the house feel dark. The clients wanted white painted drywall instead.

"From our aesthetic standpoint, we tried to push back with installing new walnut panels since we liked the reference to this mid-century theme. When this house was built, paneling was thought of as an interior skin, so they were installed everywhere from floor to ceiling. In this re-design, we aimed to have a reinterpretation of paneling: echoing the original concept, but making it more strategic." Stephen wanted the panels to align with the top of windows to emphasize the horizontality and expansiveness. The precise alignment he wanted was more time-consuming than expected. But at the end, the placement of walnut panels judiciously has turned out to be a happy compromise. Now the clients really love it!

what to do with the ceiling?

Since the existing interior was dark, the designers looked at all surfaces for ways to improve lighting. The original ceiling was a wood tongue and groove supported by exposed beams painted dark brown. Hide recalls that the owners had installed a new roof not long ago. "In order to comply with Kentfield’s Green Building Code, we decided to add solid insulation panels in the infill spaces between the existing ceiling beams instead of changing a perfectly good roof." A new tongue and groove ceiling was then installed to conceal all existing roof beams (except for the top one) and the whole ceiling was painted white for a simple and modern look. This slightly lowered ceiling also made installing recessed can lights (all LED) easy.

The new tongue and groove ceiling is definitely a nod to the typical mid-century practice. The treatments of windows and doors also help reinforce the style: the sliding doors and the awning window in the dining room are aluminum framed, while the window over the sink and those at the front door are stopped in glass to maximize site lines (as was the practice when the house was originally built).

the all important entry

Again, the original entry hall was clad with mahogany panels from floor to ceiling on all sides. Now, there is a new walnut accent wall only on one side. The other walls are drywall painted white which lead the visitor up and around to the living room. The intention is to create a distinct vertical volume that marks the entry, while at the same time, enables a fluid and smooth movement onto the main level. The original entry stairs were of equal width both going up and down with a space in between. The new up stairs are much wider to establish a hierarchy. All stairs, half walls and handrails are new. The frame of the entry is existing, but the glass and the entry door have been replaced. A small mud room with a bench and pegs for coats is accessible from the garage. Not seen in the photo, a new laundry is located to the right of the mud room, tucked neatly under the new stairs.

the breakfast nook

The wall with a built-in bench and shelving is walnut. This custom feature anchors this end of the kitchen and creates depth. The space for the breakfast nook was coopted by relocating the existing laundry to the lower level (sort of against trend as most people prefer having the laundry close to the bedrooms). The designers felt the additional space gained for the kitchen was important. New glass sliders here continue with the opening up of this back side of the house to the patio with nice natural light from the north so it won’t get too hot in the summer.
Photos by Scott Hargis (captions L - R) 
Profile image: View of great room with kitchen, dining, and living areas. Stairs down to front entry are around the half wall.
1.Before: From the living room looking towards the corner of the enclosed kitchen   
2. Before: Transom partition and accordion doors separate dining from living room
3. Open and connected living, dining, and kitchen
4. View of dining area from kitchen (Note glass backsplash with no frame; awning window framed in aluminum.)
5. Walnut paneled wall integrates T.V. with fireplace    
6. Front entry (original Douglas Fir frame is wrapped in new 3/4" stock to allow for deeper stops for new insulated glass windows.)
7. View of front entry at night
8. Breakfast nook

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Summer 2017 Newsletter

thinking about furniture

Like many people who have gone through a major remodel, we tend to get totally absorbed in the design and building processes. By the time the project is completed, we may feel at a lost about how to furnish our wonderfully shiny and somewhat unfamiliar living spaces. For some, their old and beloved sofa and chairs may also appear to look lost. For others, having to furnish a new space from scratch can be overwhelming, akin to an artist confronting a blank canvas. To gain some insights about the art of furnishing, we turn to Lisa Russell and Bill Kehrer, proprietor and account executive respectively of our local (Berkeley) Design Within Reach studio.

modern is an attitude

The most important takeaway from our lively conversation is that a good interior consultant approaches furnishing very much like an architect does with building design. Lisa says she follows the classic modernist approach: she first asks about how the clients live (relax, work, and play) at home, then she studies the entry point, the traffic, natural and artificial lighting, the views, etc. Along the way, she has an understanding of the clients' needs and tastes, and she custom-tailors the furniture selections for their particular lifestyle. For example: if a couple loves to entertain all the time, then the kitchen is the most important element. Her goal will be to make it organic for friends and family to cook and enjoy the space together. 

Certainly, believing in form follows function does not mean neglecting the aesthetic concerns. Lisa feels strongly that the furniture should carry on where the architecture has initiated. That means it should deepen, enriches, and accentuates the architectural intentions. If architecture is like the plot line of a film, then furniture is like the sound effects without which the whole movie experience would be dull.

design for an open and rectilinear floor plan

In many of today's remodels, clients favor opening up the spaces to improve the flow and enable an indoor/outdoor connection. When working with such an open great room or loft concept, Bill's favorite approach is to select a few key items to anchor the room. "If a family enjoys hanging out together, start with a sofa grouping or dining set where they will be spending the most time." Furniture groupings are also very effective in defining more intimate spaces (for conversation, reading, watching t.v., etc.) in an otherwise wide open room.

Purchasing quality furniture is a significant investment. Most people pay much attention to the construction, fabric and finish. But Bill and Lisa like to emphasize the importance of silhouette and personality. They also believe having a few iconic pieces can make the design pop. Sometimes, introducing some curves in a straight rectangle will also add unexpected delights. Lisa reminds us that a piece of art can sometimes drive the whole design and pull it together.

make it your own

Both Lisa and Bill say they enjoy working with real people and realistic spaces. And they encourage clients to put a personal stamp on the design. Within an overarching theme of clean lines and timelessness, they love to incorporate handcrafted elements such as hand forged metal hardware against concrete, smooth pillows with raw edges, sleek and chunky chairs, fuzzy sheepskins, and eccentric upholstery. 

tips for homeowners

  • Be selective: invest in a few key pieces instead of filling the house with furniture.
  • Edit your existing furniture and incorporate them with the new: 'mix and match' creates unexpected visual delights. Bill likes to visit clients and help them with editing without charge. DWR will also let you borrow new pieces and try them at home.
  • Make sure you try the furniture before buying. Some may have the pre-conception that modern sofas and chairs are not comfortable since they look sleek and thin. But the most important factor is the construction and ergonomics. The Eames Lounge Chair is very comfortable because the contour is so well designed. 
  • Children can learn to respect and appreciate good design too. No need to really dumb it down.
  • Think about furniture early in your remodeling: think of it as the treat you deserve at the end of a long process.

design within reach

Design Within Reach exists to make authentic modern design accessible. When it was founded in 1998, consumers simply weren’t able to buy the classics at retail. To find them, they had to visit Europe or work with intermediaries. DWR changed that by making innovative works from iconic designers accessible for the first time, and they have continued to provide the best in modern design ever since. Accessible means that it can be seen and touched (taken for a “test drive,” as they like to say) and that it’s in stock. At DWR, they are passionate about design – past, present and future.
All project images are provided by DWR. To learn more, please visit http://blog.dwr.com/category/architecture/  
Profile image: L.A. Modern Santa Monica, house built in 1949 
1.    Furnishing plan custom tailored for client's lifestyle  
2-3. L.A. Modern Culver City, house built in 1939 
4.    L.A. Modern Santa Monica, house built in 1949  
5.   Mix and match - L.A. Modern Fairfax "SpanishModern", 1927
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Stephen Shoup in Oakland, CA on Houzz
" src="https://gallery.mailchimp.com/b22f1a835e0c44c83832766c5/images/61eba09f-6a20-4dcf-b469-bacd37201447.png" width="160" style="max-width: 160px;border: 0;outline: none;text-decoration: none;-ms-interpolation-mode: bicubic;vertical-align: bottom;" class="mcnImage">

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the art of metal fabrication

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March 2017 Newsletter

the shiny stuff: architectural metalwork

To design aficionados, exquisite metal details are like icing on the cake, or more appropriately accessories for an outfit.  From the maximalist bronze canopy in St. Peter's to a minimalist steel garden gate, beautifully crafted metal elements project strength, durability, and above all an aura of dignity and glamour. Works of metal are also extremely diverse: depending on the process and surface treatment, they can look rough and industrial, or smooth and elegant. To learn more about this important craft, we visit our favorite local collaborator Henry DeFauw, founder and lead designer of a custom metalwork studio in Berkeley.

design studio and workshop all in one

Tucked under the elevated segment of University Avenue, DeFauw Design+Fabrication is housed in a cavernous warehouse dated from the 1920's. In the beginning of our tour, Henry proudly shows off his two vertical bend saws and a large panel saw for ripping aluminum. He explains that the tools he has acquired cost upward of one million dollars, but they are still not enough to accomplish everything he wants to do. Basically, what he does here are fine architectural and furniture metalwork: he often purchases large sheets of materials made in other factories, and he and his team do the cutting, machining, welding, and polishing in order to create custom pieces. Case in point: he is consulting with his fabricators on the stainless steel panels they received and are just about to clip and weld them together to make a custom range hood. Part Raf Simons, part production manager, Henry is both exacting and practical. Here, he is trying to figure out if a light scuff mark can be touched up enough so it does not register to the eye at the specific height and light condition.

seamless collaboration: how a fire pit takes shape

In this recently completed patio for a San Francisco residence, Henry worked closely with the bL designers in refining and fabricating a fire pit which is the centerpiece of the urban outdoor space. Starting with a concept sketch and an outline of dimensions provided by building Lab, Henry and the DeFauw team gave input on how best to achieve the desired look, build to last, and minimize weather erosion. After some back and forth, they presented a proposal to explain how they were going to build it and how much it would cost. After signing the contract, the DeFauw team would work out a set of approval drawings. Then finally, they would complete a set of production drawings for their fabricators.

In this project, blackened stainless steel (with patina created by an acid process) was used to achieve that industrial chic appearance of hot rolled steel minus the rust. Henry's team went to the site to make exact measurement: using a laser level to plot the topography. Four steel laser cut plates that conform perfectly with the contour of the concrete patio were ordered from another factory. Then, the edges were bevelled and the plates were welded together to form a single perfect unit.

about the raw materials

Perhaps the most interesting part of the tour is the back of the shop where metal pieces of all kinds are stored. We learn that there are several main types of ferrous and non-ferrous alloys most often used in architectural metalwork:
  • Ferrous
  1. Mild Steel (or carbon steel) contains less than 2% carbon. It is the largest part of steel production with a vast range of applications. It is strong and easy to weld but has poor weather resistance. Cannot be used outdoor unless it is coated. Hot Rolling is the milling process in which steel is rolled at high temperature when it can be formed and shaped easily. Cold Rolling is the secondary process of rolling hot rolled steel at room temperature. Cold rolled steel has superior dimensional tolerance and straightness, and smoother surface finish.
  2. Stainless Steel contains very little carbon, a minimum of 10.5% chromium, and small percentages of other elements such as nickel, to improve its mechanical and chemical properties. Stain, corrosion, and rust resistant. Can also be surface treated to suit different environments.
  • Non-ferrous
  1. Aluminum is made from refining bauxite and combining with metals such as magnesium and non-metals such as silicon. Relatively light weight, ductile, and malleable, and has excellent corrosion resistance.
  2. Bronze contains copper, tin, aluminum, and other trace elements.
  3. Brass is an alloy of copper and zinc.
At the conclusion of our tour, we are definitely looking forward to working with the DeFauw team again in the near future.

designer and maker

Henry DeFauw has been creating architectural and furniture metalwork for 21 years. As the principal of DeFauw Design & Fabrication (founded in 2003), he strives for beauty and flawless function in the execution of his firm’s designs and the creations of architects and designers with the use of metal, wood, glass, stone, concrete and more. His shop fabricates all metalwork and relies on an extensive network of vendors and craftspeople for other materials and fabrications. Growing up in Michigan, he learned woodworking in his father’s woodshop, and went on to earn a BA in commercial illustration and graphic design at Detroit’s Center for Creative Studies. Before delving into metal design and fabrication in 1996, he had worked as a commercial illustrator, created props and sets in the film industry, shown sculpture in the United States and Europe, and performed architectural restoration. 
Photo captions  
Profile image: Fire pit in the back patio (blackened stainless steel)
1. Henry DeFauw with fabricators Dan Hamilton and Willem Evett-Miller   2. Hot rolled 10 gauge mild steel, usually made as a large coil, then cut and sold as 4'X8' or 5'X10' sheets. 
3. Center group: cold rolled and hot rolled pipes and tubes, cold rolled bars, and cold rolled round bar (solid)   4. Bar and tube (tiger stripe 954 alloy aluminum bronze), square tube (silicon bronze)
5. Conceptual sketch by building Lab    6. Drawing with dimensions by building Lab
7. Detailed production drawing by DeFauw   8. In progress: Steel fire pit with aluminum frame to support the wood bench   9. Ready for al fresco entertaining   10. View of patio from the main level terrace.   11. Henry DeFauw with draftsperson, designer, and estimator Rachel Cloyd
Presentation photos by Scott Hargis Photography
Many thanks to the Houzz community for voting us Best of Houzz for Design 2017!

a bold art piece sets the tone for a master bath

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secrets to remodeling success

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February 2017 Newsletter

conversation with clients Lee Byron and Ash Huang part 2

In the January newsletter, we discussed how our clients' wish to have a spacious in-home studio helped shape the trajectory of their home purchase and remodel. For this edition, we are moving our conversation to other favorite parts of the house as we follow Lee and Ash upstairs to the second level. 

from an awkward puzzle to a light-filled retreat

Ash explains that the original bedroom was rather oversized but the master bath was quite small and awkward: being bisected by a dominant and unattractive glass block wall. Both Lee and Ash remember having reviewed many iterations of the floor plan during the schematic design phase. The final plan has vastly expanded the footprint of the master bath by coopting an existing closet. The result is a spacious room neatly organized into a calming and elegant grooming area, a floor-to-ceiling steam/shower enclosure, and a private toilet space. Custom sized mirror panels that match the height of the ready made LED lighting strips give the room a tailored look. 

Lee and Ash particularly relish the memories of the fun they had choosing the finishes and fixtures curated and presented by the designers. With all white cabinets and walls and floor completely cladded with pale grey porcelain tiles, this room perhaps best expresses the ethos of less is more. On his blog, our photographer Scott Hargis has this to say:

"Take a close look at the tile work in this master bath designed by building Lab -- you won't find better craftsmanship anywhere. Those tiles are not a millimeter out of place, even as they wrap up from the floor, even in the shower enclosure where they wrap over the threshold, into and out of the wall niche and onto the ceiling. Amazing! The slot skylight over the vanity makes this space glow -- and the glow is carried throughout the bath with panels of frosted glass."

last but not least: the kitchen

Going back to the main level, we get to enjoy once again the walk down those dramatic stairs mentioned in the previous newsletters. The living, dining, and kitchen areas in the great room form an arc which is paralleled by the panoramic view of the city outside. This space is articulated with building Lab's trademark details such as slim profile Blomberg window frames in anodized aluminum, invisible baseboards, super white painted walls; it terminates with an all white kitchen at the corner.

Looking at this well proportioned and fabricated kitchen, it is hard to believe it was not included in the original remodeling plan. Lee and Ash initially only wanted to replace the cabinet doors of the existing kitchen. When the remodel was well underway, more problems started to surface: the existing countertop was too high, and several cabinets were in bad shape. Once the decision to remodel the kitchen was made, the designers immediately went back to work. The idea of relocating the kitchen to the middle of the great room was considered and then ruled out. The final agreement was to keep the original footprint and everything was made to be more functional and refined. 

Highlights of the new kitchen: white Krion® countertop and white conversion varnished cabinet faces; cabinet doors have been custom cut to accommodate an existing undulating ceiling; corner wall cabinets next to the range have special bi-fold doors that improve access; corner base cabinets have special hardwares and accessories to utilize the storage spaces; Miele dishwasher door opens with a double knock.

survive and thrive in a home remodel

This being one of our largest and most challenging projects in recent years, it involved our entire staff and many specialty sub-contractors and artisans who were all grateful for the opportunities to expand their creative potential. At the end of our interview today, our clients Lee and Ash offer a few tips to those who may be planning a home remodel:
  • The sooner you plan for things, the better.
  • Have a comfortable margin in your budget to allow for contingencies and project expansion (Lee thinks doubling the estimated budget would be best, while most past clients were happy with a 10-20% allowance.)
  • Definitely move out of the house if you have an extensive remodel.
  • Be picky when you are selecting a design and building team.
  • Be patient and open-minded during the process. 
We agree that the secret to remodeling success is to be discerning and trusting at the same time. Lee and Ash enjoyed being part of the process: reviewing a ton of sketches and discussing the pros and cons of various solutions, witnessing the famously difficult San Francisco permitting process, and winning the cooperation and approval of their neighbors. 
All presentation photos by Scott Hargis Photography:
Profile image: great room with panoramic view
1. Before: existing master bath  2. During: construction of master bath
3. Entry to master bath   4. Vanity and makeup counter
5. Steam/shower enclosure  6. Kitchen
Superb tiling done by Rafael Anaya.  

a big thank you to the houzz community for voting us Best of Houzz 2017 for Design!

a bold art piece sets the tone for a master bath

Click here to read an article on Remodeling Magazine.

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creative decentralization

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January 2017 Newsletter

a different perspective: our clients' take on their home remodeling

In the two previous editions, we discussed the structural design, the craft of building as well as the management and scheduling of special trades in a unique residential project in San Francisco. Hope you will enjoy this unfolding as we bring you to the very beginning (the conceptual stage) and find out what were the needs and desires that helped shape this project. For this edition, we are super excited that we get to sit down with our clients Lee Byron and Ash Huang and hear their take on this year-long experience.

creative decentralization

It is not often that someone would tell you he decided to buy a house because of the basement. Lee and Ash recall having looked at many properties. When they came upon this one in Bernal Heights, they recognized the value of the fantastic location and the views, and sort of ignored the 'builder's grade' finishes of the interior. But what really clinched the deal was the potential they saw in the barely finished space at the bottom level of this four-story building. Being creative and tech savvy (he works at Facebook and she is an independent artist), the couple wished to have a spacious in-home studio where they could engage in a variety of digital and analog works. So, they asked a contractor friend to inspect the property and assure them that their remodeling plans were realistic. Originally, one had to go down a flight of stairs from the main level, pass the small laundry area, and double-back to the back of the garage to enter an in-law space, then go down another narrow set of stairs to access the lowest level which is connected to the back patio through a small door. That explains why they had never gone down there during the first year after they moved in, except when they gave a tour to their friends.

So, when building Lab's designers suggested flipping all the stairs to the opposite directions to improve the flow up and down to different levels , Lee and Ash jumped at the chance of radically transforming the building. The result is an open interior with distinct and yet connected spaces spreading through all four floors. Tailor made for a young professional couple's lifestyle, the house serves multiple functions as dwelling, work stations, artist studio, as well as entertaining venue. Elegant sets of stairs become the star features that seem to enable the burring of the boundaries between work, play, and relaxation.

what happens to that basement?

According to Lee and Ash, everything seemed to have fallen into place after the stairs were flipped. A portion of the original extra wide garage has been coopted as a new hallway that provides access to the laundry, a half bath, and a closet. The floor of the original in-law space is cut back from the exterior wall and the entire mezzanine is suspended from the ceiling with a steel rod. This technical feat allows the bottom level to be clean and without structural obstruction, and the entire back wall to be filled with glass windows and sliding doors. A custom built work top along the full length of the mezzanine is fitted with all the techie bells and whistles. Ash expresses much delight when she tells us she is really happy to have a real desk. Working from home, she does all of her digital stuff at this level, overlooking this dramatic space with a two-story wall of glass. The lowest level is where she does her physical studio art. She has her tools, books, and samples strewn all over the concrete floor. From this level, 10' high NanaWall® folding glass doors (inspired by similar setup at the Facebook headquarters) open up the entire space to the outdoor patio. Simple planting and seating, a custom fire pit, and strings of lights complete the picture for easy al fresco entertaining. Looking back up, the suspended floor above with the minimalist glass railing seems to have a dialog with the sleek dark wood stairs gracefully flowing down to earth. For both Lee and Ash, this realm below street level is obviously their pride and joy. They feel it has turned out exactly as they had imagined it, truly a dream came true.
Stay tuned to hear about other favorite parts of the house, and Lee and Ash's tips for homeowners who are planning a remodel.

lee and ash with nuri

Lee is a design engineer. He joined Facebook eight years ago and is responsible for designing some of their coolest apps. He credits his aesthetic sensibilities to having an architect mother. He has to travel quite a bit, working and coordinating with engineers at many different locations all over the world. He says that with this new house, he wishes to stay put more often.

Ash is a writer and artist. She has done product design and brand work for Pinterest, Twitter, and Dropbox. Her essays have been featured in Fast Company, Offscreen Magazine and Lean Out. Her first novel, The Firesteel, won First Place for literary fiction in the 3rd Annual Writer's Digest Self-published e-book Awards.
Photo captions L - R 
Profile image: a mile-long desk floating above the mezzanine floor
1. Before: existing garage   2. Before: existing in-law space
3. Before: small door to the patio at the lowest level   4. New stairs to the bedroom level
5. New stairs from mezzanine to main floor and bedroom level   6. Mezzanine   7. Artist space at lowest level   8. View from patio 
Presentation photos by Scott Hargis Photography

bL welcomes evan bowman to our design team

a bold art piece sets the tone for a master bath

Click here to read an article on Remodeling Magazine.

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happy 2017!

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December 2016 Newsletter
Several years ago, my sister and her partner, both avid art collectors, introduced me to what's often referred to as 'outsider art,' created by artists living with mental, developmental, or physical disabilities. Here in Oakland, Creative Growth Art Center is an incubator of sorts for such artists. The Center, the people who run it and especially the artists are truly inspirational. As we take a moment at year's end to express our thanks to our clients and associates, we wish to share this inspiration with you.  

May we all enter the new year with the same sense of whimsy, rigor and awe that we see in Ed Walter's piece below.

Gratefully, 

Stephen
This image of an untitled piece by Ed Walters is generously provided by Creative Growth Art Center in Oakland. It serves artists with developmental, mental and physical disabilities, providing a professional studio environment for artistic development, gallery exhibition and representation and a social atmosphere among peers.

EDWARD WALTERS
BORN: 1958
EDUCATION: Creative Growth Art Center, 2000-present; Berkeley High, Martin Luther King Junior High School

Edward is an architect of space in his art. Modular and geometric forms reminiscent of skyscrapers present like a Bauhaus metropolis, handily realized through Edward’s affinity for rulers and stencils. His latest work incorporates letter templates, using the stencil to piece together original maxims like, “Say In Your Office” or “Creative Need To Leave Me Alone”. What began as colorful typographic drawings have since expanded into three-dimensional wooden signs that appear perfunctory and instructional; however, upon closer examination they too read like a mismatched phrase with a wry sense of humor.

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS: 2015 Outsider Art Fair, New York Art Fair Tokyo, Tokyo, Japan Extra Celestial, Crosstown Arts, Memphis
portfolio: http://creativegrowth.org/artists/edward-walters/

Ed was selected for this year's first print edition collaboration with SF's Park Life, which can be purchased at the Creative Growth Art Center shop or online.

More original pieces of Ed's will be on view at the next iteration of the series of shows produced by Creative Growth at 836m gallery in SF. All shows are open to the public and Ed's works are available for sale starting Dec. 19. 

If you like to make a donation to support this amazing organization, you can mail a check to

Catherine Nguyen
Gallery Manager
Creative Growth Art Center
355 - 24th Street Oakland, CA 94612
or you can donate online

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2016 grand award winner 

click here to see interview of stephen by remodeling design magazine

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stairway to heaven

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November 2016 Newsletter

the building arm of a design-build firm

For everyone who works at building Lab, 'building X design' is more than just a marketing soundbite. We take pride in being able to deliver a seamless process from concept sketches to construction details driven by our interest in modern design. If you are an architecture fan, you probably already know that the cleaner and simpler it looks, the more complicated and time-consuming it is to achieve it. Just like the efforts required in creating that perfect moment in a stage performance, our behind-the-scene work involves both the vision and millions of artistic and technical decisions. To shed some light on this mystery, we turn to our long-time lead carpenter Marciel Dornelio who has tackled some of our most challenging projects.

stairway to heaven

In a radical remodel of a multi-story residence in a narrow hillside lot in San Francisco, flights of stairs form a spine that connects all four levels of living spaces . The original staircase to the upper floor was located at only a few feet from the street level front entrance. Behind this was another flight of stairs that went down to the basement. All of these were removed and the new stairways were flipped to the opposite directions. The new layout allows a viewer to enter slowly into the home, pausing at the entry foyer a bit, passing a guest room and bath on the left, while encountering a smooth and shiny stairway flying upstairs on the right, and arriving at a threshold where one can either stroll into the open living area, or turn to go up to the second level bedroom floor, or down to the mezzanine and garden level. 

In our September issue, engineer Nate Williams described how this marvelous floating stairway was designed. Marciel explains that he and his team was responsible for crafting the new treads to match the existing Brazilian Cherry floors. He also coordinated the scheduling and assisted in the proceedings of different special trades who fabricated the parts. Bob's Iron made all of the steel elements. After their crew assembled the stringer plates and the suspension rod, they had to leave the assembly loosely bolted. Then, Marciel and his team had to take off the outside plate, helped inserting the glass railing and gaskets (with precut slots to accommodate the bolts) inside and re-positioned the plates and tightly bolted the whole assembly. For a final touch, a 1" strip of black painted wood was inserted in front of the steel rod and also along the underside to cover the gap. 

celebrating the thresholds

Besides the irresistible stairs that compel one to go exploring up and down this house, Marciel wants to point out other special features that celebrate transitions from the public to the private realms. As the viewer heads upstairs from the main level, he will be facing the street side of the house. When he turns and approaches the master suite, he will pass a guest bath and a guest bedroom, both simply and elegantly furnished. An oversized pivot door is swung completely open to greet him. The door is bolted down to a receiver on the floor (with a wood cover plate stained the same color as the floor) and it can be swung open in both directions. Marciel explains that much care was taken to ensure the walls, the floor, and the ceiling were perfectly aligned. When the door is closed, it looks like this part of the corridor is magically sealed with no visible gaps.

Next is a small foyer where one can enter the master bath on the left, or enter the master bedroom on the right. Guarding the latter is another floor-to-ceiling door: a sliding one mounted on a special track that offers soft close at both ends. That means you can push the door real fast, and it still closes gracefully without slamming into the wall. 

where materials interact and trades intersect

When dealing with a remodeling project, homeowners sometimes wonder if the hardwood floor should be installed before the walls and baseboards. And what about painting? It's a mystery how different building trades can be orchestrated without one's work destroying another's. Here, at this entry to the master bath, Marciel reveals to us how things were put together. First, they had to make sure all the sub-floors were prepared such that the tiles and wood floorboards would make an even surface. Then, the wood floor was installed with the floorboards left extending into the bathroom. The area near the border was sanded. At the same time, the pale grey hexagonal tiles were installed. At the border, the hexagons were placed on top of the floorboards and their outlines were traced onto the wood. The floorboards were cut in place to make a perfect match. 

In the rest of the room, sheetrock was nailed with a 3" gap from the floor. The floorboards were installed and a 6" border around the perimeter of the room was sanded. After our trademark invisible baseboard (flush with the wall) was put in place and plastered smooth, the whole floor was then sanded. At this time, only a light bluffing was needed in the area close to the baseboard and the tile floor. The floor was then finished with multiple coats and the walls were painted last. 

the man from brazil!

Marciel moved to the Bay area from a small town in Brazil twelve years ago when he was only eighteen. After a stint in demolition work, he met Stephen and has been working for bL ever since. Marciel remembers fondly that in the early days, Stephen trained him in carpentry mostly with hand gestures and sketching since his English was not proficient. Marciel would get up at 5am every day to get ready. Stephen would show up in his pickup truck with his dog and the two would head to the lumber yard and then the job site. Being a quick and enthusiastic learner, Marciel always finished everything well at the end of the work day. Working from the ground up literally, Marciel did everything from shoveling, hammering and nailing, and eventually leading a whole field crew. He is getting married this December in Brazil. Non-stop partying is being promised and you are all invited!
Photo captions L - R 
Profile image: Stair railing detail 
1. Floating stairs   2. Looking down to main level landing and lower levels 
3. Steel plate stringers, suspending steel rod, and glass railing   4. Underside of stairs showing metal tread supports
5. Pivot door   6. Sliding door at master suite 
7. Entry to master bath   8. Brazilian Cherry flooring and invisible baseboard 
Profile, #1 and #2 by Scott Hargis Photography

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a bold art piece sets the tone for a master bath

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cool structures

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September 2016 Newsletter

cool structures and hot designs

As you may already know, the building Lab team does not shy away from geeky details. In fact, we embrace every opportunity for pushing the envelope both aesthetically and structurally when it fulfills the client's wishes and needs. From serious excavations and foundation works, to seemingly impossible cantilevers, floating stairs, and wall-to-wall glass, we relish the design and construction with much enthusiasm and glee. Certainly, we do have a secret weapon: in the person of structural engineer Nate Williams. In this issue, Nate takes time off from his busy schedule to chat with us at his Berkeley office.

what does a structural engineer do?

The short answer: "I make sure buildings stand up, or more importantly, don't fall down." Nate and his colleagues at Mosswood Engineering take the architectural plans and create a set of structural plans which delineate the bones of the building, sort of like x-ray images. They usually include the foundation, framing (columns, beams and joists which support floors and walls), and the lateral system. The lateral system is important in California as it deals with shear walls which resist earthquakes, and in other parts of the country, hurricanes.

stairs that not quite touch the floor?

In a dramatic remodel of a San Francisco residence, glass railing grows out of two steel plate stringers, and the whole set of stairs hovers a few inches above the landing. On the outside (facing the corridor), the smooth metal face of the stringer shows no signs of any fasteners. This effect is achieved by threading the pre-welded studs of the outside plate through the inside plate and angle tread supports (with pre-drilled holes). With the glass panel sandwiched in the center, the two identical plate stringers are fastened together tightly with nuts on the inside face (facing the wall). Near the bottom end of the stairs, a steel rod (welded to the inside steel stringer) suspends the whole ensemble from the joists of the floor above. Stay tuned for the photos of the finished stairs. You will see all the fasteners and supports disappear under the hardwood treads.

mezzanine suspended from the ceiling!

Another interesting feature in this project is found at the lower mezzanine. Instead of being supported with a column below, one corner of the floor is suspended from the ceiling. The above drawing shows how a steel rod is attached to the joists above with a special metal holdown and secured to the floor beam below with a nut, steel plate washer, and countersink. Again, a continuous steel plate with welded thread rods is attached to each side of the floor structure to secure the glass railing. The mezzanine and the garden level (bottom) in this multi-storied residence are characterized by ample ceiling heights and shallow depths. By eliminating visual distractions such as columns, the overall space feels cleaner and more expansive.

expand design possibilities or rein in wild schemes?

"In California, residential building designers are allowed to do remodels according to what are laid out in the code. Since the code is really restrictive, design possibilities may appear rather limited. With the help of a structural engineer, it is possible to obtain permits for unconventional features: extra large open space with beams supporting the joists; or long expanse of glass from wall to wall." We have exactly such a case at the garden level of this residence where a two-story-high wall is composed with fixed glass windows and glass sliders that open out to the patio. Nate has designed a custom fabricated moment frame (for earthquake resistance) consisted of steel columns and beams welded together on site. There is a double height glass expanse on the side and a wood beam between window systems in the middle to allow for the glass sliders (see drawings above).

Nate believes that almost any designs can be built nowadays. Most of the time, it is a matter of cost. He can advise on a solution which can achieve the desired effects and still work within the budget. In the case of the aforementioned custom moment frame, it is rather expensive. But it suits the situation better and allows for more flexibility.

mosswood engineering

Nate Williams has been working as an engineer in the Bay Area since 1998. His experience in existing wood construction makes him familiar with local building practices and adept at combining new with existing designs. He started his business in 2006 under his own name and rebranded as Mosswood Engineering in 2010. The name comes from a local park where he often practices personal balance and equilibrium as a proficient juggler and slackliner.
Photo captions: L-R
Profile photo: steel moment frame for a two-story-high space 

1,2,3,4.   details and construction photos of hanging stairs 
5.            details of suspended mezzanine floor
6, 7.        field crews attaching steel plate to floor structure
8,9.         details of steel moment frame

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hardwood flooring

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August 2016 Newsletter

hardwood flooring: a warm backdrop for your cool furniture

Together with the wall treatment, the material and finish you select for your flooring can affect the overall quality of your space greatly. While there are endless choices of flooring materials in the market, hardwood remains a perpetual favorite in residential remodels. Among its many advantages, it is often chosen for its resiliency, warm touch, and its ability to match with existing floors seamlessly. For the design-conscious, hardwood can be transformed into different personalities with the latest finishes and techniques. To learn more, we turn to Or Dobrin and Mark Whatley of Amber Flooring.

two main types of wood flooring

Or, owner and manager of the firm, starts with showing me 2 samples: one is a 3/4" thick piece of solid wood flooring , another is an 1/2" engineered wood plank.

He explains that a traditional solid hardwood floor is usually made with solid wood pieces 2 1/2" wide and 3/4" thick, with tongue and groove sides. Other thinner gages such as 1/2" or 5/16" are also available. Despite its being a solid piece of wood, only the top 1/4" of the board is really useful (available for re-sanding multiple times.) You cannot sand the wood down below the groove. In the East and West Coasts, where there are older traditional buildings, narrower solid strips (2" wide by 5/16" thick, attached to the sub-floor with top nails) are popular. In this type of flooring, about half of its thickness is useful, capable of being re-sanded four to five times in its life.

Another type of flooring that is gaining popularity is called engineered hardwood flooring. It is constructed with a hardwood veneer (ranges from paper thin, to 1/8" and 1/4" thick) laminated with multiple sheets of plywood laid in opposite directions. This "cross-ply" construction makes a hardwood floor that is more dimensionally stable and is less affected by temperature and humidity variations when compared to traditional solid wood floors. Engineered wood floors are very versatile; they can be installed in almost any interior conditions, including below grade, and on top of concrete slabs. They also come in a wide variety of widths and thicknesses, making a custom look possible.

installation and finishes

Mark, project manager and certified inspector, has worked on many highly refined projects with building Lab. In this type of custom work, unfinished hardwood strips or planks are first installed, then sanded smooth by using a drum sander (from rough to fine grits). An edger is used for the borders. Finally the surfaces are brought together into one consistent whole by using a buffer. Depending on the design, stain can be brushed or mopped on, and then three coats of clear finish are applied on top. He explains that the resistance to scratches and dents depends on both the hardness of the wood specie and on the finish. As examples, he points out that sand and grits on the shoe can scratch the finish, while a pebble embedded in the sole can dent the wood, and also scratch the finish as the foot drags it out of the dent. Obviously, spiky heels can easily dent the wood.

In terms of finishes, there are two main kinds in the market: oil-based polyurethane and the newer water-based urethane. Traditional poly has a rich amber color and is often selected to match existing flooring. Many clients with modern interiors prefer Bona® (a leading water-based finish) for its clean natural look that doesn't yellow with age. It is better for the environment and indoor air quality since it has lower VOC (volatile organic compounds). With less of an off-gassing problem, homeowners can move back to their house soon after their hardwood floor is completed. About 80-85% of the sanding and finishing pros at Amber Flooring are certified by Bona®.

tips for homeowners

  • One important trade secret that Or and Mark shows us is called acclimatization. They take raw wood into the project house to let it get used to the typical condition of the house. The strips or planks are stacked in a 'matchsticking' (crisscrossing) fashion so that air flow can get through. This is to minimize expansion and contraction after installation.
  • For the same reason, it is good practice to maintain a consistent indoor environment if you are going to be away for an extended period. A stale interior with a drastic change in temperature and humidity can cause warping or buckling.
  • Select the wood specie and finish to fit your lifestyle and budget: oak, maple, and American walnut are all versatile; harder exotic wood species and strand woven bamboo are slightly more expensive to install; Bona® Traffic HD is one of the most expensive finishes but it may well be worth the expense in the long run.

Amber Flooring

Founded in 1992 by Ilan Zamir, Amber Flooring grew from a one-man operation into a well known company of fifteen employees today. They specialize in custom wood flooring, intricate staircases, and offer carpet, vinyl, and Marmoleum® flooring products and installation service. They source their products from North America, South America, and Asia, either with direct importation or through other local suppliers.
Photo captions: L-R  (interior projects designed by bL, photos by Scott Hargis.)
1. Quarter sawn oak solid hardwood plank  2. Clear American Walnut
3. Solid wood plank (top 1/4" useful)  4. Engineered wood plank (top 1/8" useful)
5. Solid white oak select custom finished on site  6. Engineered pre-finished hardwood flooring  
7. Amber Flooring showroom  8
. L-R: Or Dobrin, Mark Whatley

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design as a performing art

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June 2016 Newsletter

how design happens

Being a creative process, architectural design evolves from intuition, artistry, experiences, and most of all a shared discovery between the designer and the client. Sometimes, a client would come to building Lab with a pretty detailed vision. Very often, he or she would start with a vague idea: about something not working in their existing floor plan, or a wish to open up the space. In this edition, we chat with bL's senior designer Hideaki (Hide) Kawato to get more insights about how a modest request blossomed into a treetop retreat for grownups.

floor plan as the plot line

The client, a venture capitalist, art collector, world traveller and sportsman, approached us about a new powder room for the top story of his family residence on the north slope of Russian Hill, an exclusive neighborhood of colorful old buildings, some dating back to the 19th century. The existing master bedroom, a small office, and adjacent family room and sitting room all shared one dark and cramped bathroom located at the center of this floor. The family room and sitting room, with panoramic bay and city views, were used frequently as entertainment space for grownup friends. The teenage children have their own venues in other parts of this large residence.

Hide recalls that at first glance, the simplest solution would have been adding a powder room by enclosing a small roof deck off directly from the family room. Upon further investigation and discussion, it became clear that a much better aesthetic and functional outcome could be achieved by reorganizing the floor plan. Our design team (Stephen and Hide working closely together) carved out a part from the old bath to make a new powder room accessible from the hallway and main stairs. The remaining part of the old bath is combined with the enclosed roof deck to create an en-suite master bath with an adjoining dressing area.

glimpses and bounces: playing the light like music

Hide and Stephen got quite a bit of inspiration and cues from the site and the client himself. The floor-to-ceiling entryway is in keeping with the grand scale of the residence. The play with the variegated light in the foliage creates an indoor/outdoor shower experience. Blue sky and lush trees are visible from the shower through a large picture window, while light filtered by the greenery splashes over the counter through a long, low view window. A new skylight straddles the master bath and the powder room. Transom glass around the perimeter of the powder room allows glimpses of light bouncing through both the bath and the powder room as well as the new dressing area.

materials and details are the main actors

White walls form a quiet backdrop for the bold modern art and rich teak cabinetry. An 8-foot-long custom concrete countertop with integrated dual sinks anchors the space with its earth tone and sculptural feel. Handmade tiles add to the room’s warmth with their natural color variations and pleasant tactile quality. Our partner Jeff King & Co did a fantastic job in building and fabricating. Custom details such as cabinets with no visible pulls (touch latch), sliding glass doors with tracks that disappear into the ceiling and a handle carved directly into the sandblasted glass allow the materials to speak for themselves. See more photos...
 

taking a shower is a heightened experience

From a simple idea of adding a powder room to reorganizing the entire top floor as a retreat and entertainment area for grownups, our design team worked closely with our client every step of the way. Indeed, the selected color palette and materials had a lot to do with the client's preferences. Without the benefit of a big view, the master bath is now a private oasis nestled in the trees.

best of east and west

Hide's passion is to help clients to realize their visions in creating custom modern homes that elevate everyday activities to special experiences.

He credits his early interest in architecture to his having an engineer father and a Martha Stewart inspired mother. Growing up in Japan, he also developed a deep appreciation for simplicity, beauty, and nature. These instincts were further enriched by his experience of indoor/outdoor living in an Eichler home after moving to California. After college, Hide did a stint in traditional design/build, wearing a tool belt on job sites during the day, and designing on the computer at night. He joined bL's modern and design focused practice in 2008 and the rest is history.
Photo captions L - R 
1. View of master bath from dressing area  
2. Bold modern art sets the tone   3. Skylight straddles both bathrooms; transom glass allows glimses of light bouncing through the rooms
4. Entryway with concealed pocket door   5. Powder room
6. Before: old bathroom with no views or light  7. Close up

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t: 510.420.1133
e: info@buildingLab.com

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bringing dreams to reality

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May 2016 Newsletter

dissecting a success story

For some, hiring a design-build firm for a home remodel is a straightforward business: you take a list of the client's needs and wishes, and through planning, drawing, and construction, give it physical shape in the form of spaces and structures. While this is true in the general sense, oftentimes a great project is the result of a complex collaboration among the client, the designer, and the key field crew on the job. For this edition, we get to chat with building Lab’s own Stephen Shoup to find out more about how one beautifully completed project came into being.

it begins with a dream

In this design and construction of a garden level great room which won a 2016 REMMIES AWARD from the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, our clients were a busy professional couple with two young children. They initially came to bL with a rather modest wish of creating a multi-purpose family space/guest quarters with a full bath and a laundry. The project area was the unfinished basement (with a 7' ceiling) of a traditional residence with three bedrooms and one bath on the main level. 

Stephen recalls having identified 3 important design goals immediately after the initial consultation with the clients:
  • The transition from the main floor down to the new space is smooth but unfussy.
  • The space will not feel like a basement.
  • The outdoor patio will not feel sunken.

problem solving

Along the way, the clients made several courageous decisions that were critical in shaping the final result. Originally, the major electrical panel and meter were mounted on one end of the wall where the glass sliders were going to be located. Moving these unsightly obstacles to the garage was not an insignificant expense item. Secondly, a steel beam had to be inserted above the ceiling line such that a floor-to-ceiling glass wall effect could be achieved. Stephen credits the clients for being engaging and decisive: "They could digest lots of information in a timely manner and were able to respond." This is really important in a project that involves the demolition, excavation, and rebuilding of an old basement. 

from dreams to reality

The overall impression of this project is one of expansiveness, simple elegance, and warmth. There is a rich interplay of materials and articulation of details as one transitions from the traditional main level into the dramatic modern space below. Extensive excavation results in a 9' plus ceiling in the lower level. Wall-to-wall glass and sliders open up the space to the patio. The same tone of concrete floor throughout (with smoother texture in the interior) further enhances the seamless indoor-outdoor feeling. A layered horizontality in the landscape design leads the eye gently from the concrete floor up to the garden and the fence beyond.

As in any creative process, design is a shared discovery. The development of mutual trust between the client and the designer is key to success. In approaching each new job, the bL team usually works out several options for the client to decide, taking budget and timeline into consideration. Stephen then communicates his excitement about the possibilities and also fine-tunes it according to the client's sensibility and function requirement.
 
In this project, Stephen recognized early on that his clients were creative and entrepreneurial, and they were open to something more than just utilitarian functions being fulfilled in this home remodel. The scope had gradually expanded as a result of a deepening understanding and appreciation of the quality of the environment on the part of the clients. They wanted this to be their family home for a long time to come. See more photos…

a hands-on designer

With a background in architectural design and carpentry, Stephen is well versed in lofty design theories as well as geeky technical terminology. He has a hand in everything we do here in building Lab, from concept sketches, specific construction details, to business management. Nothing is too big for him to grasp the whole picture, or too small for him to try it on for size. Here, you can see Stephen squeezed himself into the play nook tucked under the stairwell.

Photo captions L - R 
1. Family space opens out to patio   2. Patio and garden beyond
3. Before: original doorway to backyard   4. Before: stairwell door and water heater
5. Enclosed stairwell with play nook   6. Landing with vertical stainless steel cable
7. Corridor flanked by bookcases   8. Night view from patio

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999 43rd street

oakland, ca 94608
t: 510.420.1133
e: info@buildingLab.com

Email  Website  Remodeling and Home Design  Facebook  

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the art of seeing

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March 2016 Newsletter