parts ended up all over the house. A windshield from a 924 Porsche
juts over the plate-glass storefront door, bouncing light onto
the walkway. Volvo hatchbacks brace a stair railing. Red, yellow
and green road signs tile a bathroom wall.
Published in July/August 2002 issue of Natural
gas-guzzling automobile may not seem like a fitting theme
for a home renovated by two Berkeley, Calif., eco-architects,
but it makes sense if you know Cate Leger and Karl Wanaselja.
Given the couple's penchant for creative experimentation and
commitment to ecological design, it's no surprise they'd spend
their weekends rescuing cars from the junkyard and recycling
them into a fixer-upper project. "Karl always dreamed of creating
a 'crushed-car' house," says Leger.
years ago, the couple decided to move their home and business
a small redwood cottage in the Berkeley hills into a century-old,
Victorian-era house and adjacent shop on Adeline, one of the
city's bustling commercial streets. They had a lot of work
to do first, though -- the two-and-a-half-story home was "basically
a wreck," says Leger. From roof to foundation and wiring to
plumbing, the building had barely been worked on since it
was built in 1900. "But the place fit our budget, and it had
a good mix of potential, charm and room for our own creative
input," she adds.
tending to the house's ailing structure, Leger and Wanaselja
took the opportunity to modernize its aesthetics, materials
and function. They jacked up the house and built a new commercial
space below, replacing the brick foundation with reinforced
concrete, adding 25% fly ash (waste from coal burning) to
reduce the use of energy-intensive Portland cement. The result
was a compound of two street-level commercial spaces (the
annex and the bottom story) and two residential units (on
the second and third stories). The couple sold two units and
kept two for their home and business.
addition, formerly an antique shop, is now the couple's architecture
and general contracting firm. Leger Wanaselja Architecture
has designed, constructed and/or remodeled about 25 projects
in the San Francisco Bay Area, including a Feng Shui house,
a rammed-earth art studio and garden, and two "treehouse"
team's own home and office exemplifies their design objective:
to make architecture functional, beautiful and ecological.
"With this project, I would like people to really consider
the impact of remodeling a house or building an addition --
or even just buying cabinets or staining the floor," says
Wanaselja. "It's getting people to think about the big picture
in every little thing they do."
More with Less
provided the team with creative challenges and opportunities,
particularly in trying to maximize the use of light, space and
energy. Double-pane windows and blown-in cellulose insulation
made from old newspapers and phone books not only conserve energy
but also block out street noise. "We barely turn the heat on
in the winter -- we get a lot of solar gain on the south, and
the bottom unit has an insulated slab floor that helps keep
heat in the building," said Wanaselja. "If we were designing
this from scratch, we could have used a passive solar strategy
with all daylighting, but you have less control over things
like that with a remodel."
1,000-square-foot top unit, now the family's home, was originally
chopped into several small rooms. The couple took out six
walls, added nine windows, and raised the roof, merging the
living room, dining room and kitchen into one open space.
(A local glass-blower turned old vinegar bottles into orange
pendant lamps, hung above an elm-slab table to create a "dining
zone.") The former bathroom became a deck: the railing is
a collage of red, white, yellow and black truck tailgates;
its awning, a Mazda RX7 windshield.
gestures went a long way in making the place sunnier and more
spacious. The architects flared a bathroom window jamb to
bring in more light; to expand and brighten a tight entryway,
they carved out a nook and added a bay window. In the former
attic, the couple raised the ceiling and put in a deep, curved
skylight to create a small but light-filled bathroom. A new
window above the tub looks out onto Marin County's crown emerald,
Mount Tamalpais; Wanaselja uses a former Volvo rearview mirror
for shaving. The couple also constructed an adjacent mini-bath
(3' by 5') with a skylight, cutting floor tiles lengthwise
to elongate the space.
unit's compact size helps the family keep their "stuff" in
check, says Leger. "Our society is so focused on accumulating
stuff, and houses are getting bigger to accommodate it," says
the architect, who is now designing units as small as 300
Reduce, Reuse, Recycle
In renovating the project, Leger and Wanaselja put the three
Rs to work, using recycled products and reusing components
from the old building to minimize the need for new materials.
While it was much more time-consuming to take the building
apart, "our approach was to disassemble rather than demolish
the building and then save all the pieces," says Wanaselja.
couple and their construction crew sorted and reused or recycled
several tons of debris, which would normally end up in the
dump. All the Victorian trim, fixtures, windows and doors
were salvaged and reused; old redwood wainscoting became built-in
bookshelves and cabinet doors.
couple found creative ways to honor the property's history
through reuse. They nestled a piece of the old wrought-iron
fence into a magnolia tree in the front garden, turned an
old water heater from the project into a rainwater catchment,
and laid bricks from the old foundation into the garden patio.When
reuse wasn't possible, the pair bought sustainably harvested
wood, including oak, bay and walnut slabs sliced from storm-downed
trees. The only conventional wood they used was for the kitchen
cabinets, as they couldn't find sustainably harvested maple.
"Making choices of materials is a really hard thing," says
Wanaselja. "You have to wrestle with what's available, what
you want, what's ideal, what's the cost, what will work."
hard to say how much money Wanaselja and Leger saved by salvaging
and recycling, given the extra time and care involved. They
hired a welder to customize fittings for the car parts, for
example. Being their own architects and general contractors,
however, the couple didn't have to worry about their own labor
costs running up the budget, which gave them more room to
play. Wanaselja spent many a leisurely Saturday with his tool
box at local car yards combing through acres of junked cars
looking for good finds.
a Sense of Place
The couple connected the project to its place on many levels,
working with local craftspeople, companies, and materials
as well as the local ecosystem. Berkeley-based Counter Productions,
for example, supplied a "terrazzo tile" kitchen counter from
old bottles, windshields and dinnerware. Even their choice
of auto parts was "site-specific" -- many came from Volvos,
which are the "badge of Berkeley," Wanaselja jokes.
and Leger also worked with the sunlight and weather patterns
of the site. In several bathrooms, for example, a trapezoid
was cut into the floor, mimicking the sun's stream through
the window near the Summer Solstice, and stained it with Livos,
an organic, earth-based pigment. They also put more windows
onto the south, orienting them to views whenever possible.
keeping with the local ecology, the couple planted their garden
with drought-tolerant natives, including sages, bunch grasses
and a coast live oak. Leaves from the plants were pressed
into the concrete paths as a tribute to nature's designs.
All the rainwater was kept on-site to feed the plants and
percolate into the groundwater, defying local building codes
requiring a pipe to carry the water out to the street. (They
drew the pipe in the architectural plans but never put it
in, knowing from experience the run-off wouldn't be a problem,
especially since it had already been flowing into the site
for the past 100 years.)
the rain fall freely is just one example of how the architects
let nature dictate the project's design rather than trying
to subdue it. Leger is now working with the City of Berkeley
to weave such green measures -- including using salvaged parts,
energy efficient materials, and native landscaping -- into
its design guidelines to make it easier for homes like theirs
to be built in the future.
challenge is getting over the status quo," says Wanaselja.
"In the meantime, be persistent, optimistic and patient --
don't let people tell you you can't do it."