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Creative Re-Use in Oakland

Stephen Shoup is the kind of person to see potential in things that others might miss. In 2005, looking for a property that would house himself and his design/build firm, building Lab inc., he happened upon a roughly 6,000-square-foot lot in north Oakland, California. Undeterred by the condition of the building (it had served as a shop for the late master woodcarver Miles Karpilow) or the neighborhood (Shoup calls it “transitional”), he imagined what the property could become.

Shoup, his wife, Taya, and daughter, Hannah, relax on the deck off the kitchen with their dog, Stella. “For a high percentage of the year, we just roll open the door, and everybody hangs out in the kitchen, where we can keep an eye on Hannah,” explains Shoup. “There’s kind of a leathery quality to it,” he says of the door, which he fabricated of steel, with glass salvaged from an old sliding door. The sandstone sculpture is called “Mother and Daughter.” Photo by Aya Brackett.

“As with all my buildings, I enjoyed working with something existing,” says Shoup, a certified green building professional and a contractor who studied architecture at U.C. Berkeley. “The challenge and interest is finding out what it can give to you. It’s like the proverbial Louis Kahn brick: What does the brick want to be?”

Early on, Shoup determined that he would stick close to the original building envelope, setting living space for himself into an L-shaped portion of the 2,000-square-foot structure and leaving a 950-square-foot shop for his various construction projects. “I put in a couple skylights and windows, but basically decided I was not going to expand that basic footprint.” Throughout, he’s incorporated reclaimed, non-toxic and sustainably-sourced materials and installed a solar thermal system that services both the residential hot water and hydronic radiant heating.

“We’re trying to create a sense of enclosure and privacy in an urban area without putting up a walled city,” says Shoup. Photo by building Lab inc.
The property has evolved along with Shoup’s needs—“a luxury,” he says. First up was office space for staff, which now occupies a refurbished 3- by 6-foot shipping container located opposite the residence. A year later he added a second container for himself. By then, Shoup was no longer a bachelor and he and wife, Taya, had a baby on the way.

Two converted shipping containers (left) now house offices for Shoup’s design/build firm. “Perhaps the most successful aspect of turning this into a place to live and an office rather than just have this shop space was moving it towards real indoor-outdoor living,” he says. Taya Shoup, a landscape designer, has refined her husband’s vision for the property with a courtyard and plantings. Photo by building Lab inc.
Shoup has gladly watched as the character of the neighborhood has changed shape around him. Lofts and rentals have taken root in former industrial space, a school now occupies a once-vacant warehouse and children now play in the adjacent park. “The most tangible concerns in this neighborhood tend to be more immediate than carbon footprint,” he acknowledges. “But I would like to believe that a small business, getting by in tough times in a toughish neighborhood can contribute positively to a sense of possibility.”

In the kitchen and dining area, Shoup used ipe wood and installed an energy-efficient hydronic radiant heating system in the concrete floor. “There’s a minimalism that drives the basic design gestures,” notes Shoup. “I tried to temper that with a complementary materials.” Photo by building Lab inc.


To see more photographs of the project, please view the slideshow.

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