bringing dreams to reality

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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stephen and taya at home 

click here to see interview by dwell video.

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oakland, ca 94608
t: 510.420.1133

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