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October 22, 2010

In 2006, architect Nathan Lee Colkitt, whose firm has designed affordable, modern housing, a challenged athletes foundation and a conceptual Cuban immigrant museum, was in search of a live/work space in San Diego he could make his own, so he consulted architect Ted Smith, who Colkitt calls “the grandfather of San Diego design/build.” Smith had a space in his multi-unit building in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood that housed tenants ranging from architects and designers to video-game creators, musicians and a hair salon. Especially appealing was the fact that the available unit was a 750-square-foot concrete tabula rasa that Colkitt could rework to accommodate both his private living space and his firm’s office. “Like every designer, I tried to find the one with the most problems, because that brings out your creativity,” says Colkitt. “This unit is oddly shaped, with every wall at an angle, and I wanted to do something more interesting than just putting up a wall in the middle.” His solution was to create two small lofts, one for reading and one for sleeping, anchored among several existing concrete columns running along one wall.

Along a busy street in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood stands the mixed-use building in which architect Nathan Lee Colkitt and a diverse array of tenants inhabit their live/work spaces. “It’s hard to describe—it’s really funky,” says Colkitt of the
Along a busy street in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood stands the mixed-use building in which architect Nathan Lee Colkitt and a diverse array of tenants inhabit their live/work spaces. “It’s hard to describe—it’s really funky,” says Colkitt of the building. “It looks like a giant aircraft carrier landed in the street.” Rental units inside range in size from about 400 to 3,000 square feet. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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Nestled between an existing concrete wall at right and the new reading loft at left is the entrance staircase, which Colkitt sheathed in rusted steel panels. He used Homasote, invented in 1909 and made from recycled post-consumer paper, for the work board
Nestled between an existing concrete wall at right and the new reading loft at left is the entrance staircase, which Colkitt sheathed in rusted steel panels. He used Homasote, invented in 1909 and made from recycled post-consumer paper, for the work board at right and elsewhere in the space. “You can drill on it or tack onto it, and it’s more flexible than drywall,” notes Colkitt. Beneath the new reading loft, which is clad in drywall and set between the wall and the staircase, is a new hallway and dressing area leading to the bathroom. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay.
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Colkitt tucked the ladder entrance to the reading loft behind the existing concrete structural column. He kept the loft open to maximize light and space. Photo by <a href="http://www.ramsayphotography.com/">Cheryl Ramsay</a>
Colkitt tucked the ladder entrance to the reading loft behind the existing concrete structural column. He kept the loft open to maximize light and space. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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Just beyond the horizontal redwood slats at right is a mirrored closet area, which makes the small corridor to the bathroom seem larger. Colkitt chose yellow for the walls to warm up the small space. Photo by <a href="http://www.ramsayphotography.com/">Ch
Just beyond the horizontal redwood slats at right is a mirrored closet area, which makes the small corridor to the bathroom seem larger. Colkitt chose yellow for the walls to warm up the small space. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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An interplay of geometries above the dressing area and hall to the bathroom. “The ceiling is open to let light in, but nobody can see in,” notes Colkitt. Photo by <a href="http://www.ramsayphotography.com/">Cheryl Ramsay</a>
An interplay of geometries above the dressing area and hall to the bathroom. “The ceiling is open to let light in, but nobody can see in,” notes Colkitt. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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“The kitchen didn’t really have a home,” says Colkitt. His solution was to build the sleeping loft directly above it, giving the kitchen some architectural congruity, and implement recessed lighting into the dropped ceiling, also the underside of the floo
“The kitchen didn’t really have a home,” says Colkitt. His solution was to build the sleeping loft directly above it, giving the kitchen some architectural congruity, and implement recessed lighting into the dropped ceiling, also the underside of the floor of the sleeping loft. Like the reading loft, the sleeping loft is open on both sides to bring in light and air, with a single ladder leading up to it. “The sleeping loft ‘fold’ is a complement to the reading loft ‘fold’—they balance each other out,” says Colkitt. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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The sleeping loft “is kind of a parallelogram,” says Colkitt. “At first it’s disorienting, and takes a little getting used to. It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, with all the angles making the room seem like it’s growing.” Its redwood screen echoes tha
The sleeping loft “is kind of a parallelogram,” says Colkitt. “At first it’s disorienting, and takes a little getting used to. It reminds me of Alice in Wonderland, with all the angles making the room seem like it’s growing.” Its redwood screen echoes that of the reading loft. Photo courtesy Nathan Lee Colkitt Architects.
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Colkitt hung the sleeping loft from the concrete ceiling using five steel rods—often used to support heavy mechanical equipment—hidden in the wall. The rods, each of which can hold 1,000 pounds, allow for the loft’s open, almost floating, construction. “I
Colkitt hung the sleeping loft from the concrete ceiling using five steel rods—often used to support heavy mechanical equipment—hidden in the wall. The rods, each of which can hold 1,000 pounds, allow for the loft’s open, almost floating, construction. “I wanted nothing enclosing the space,” says Colkitt. Photo courtesy Nathan Lee Colkitt Architects.
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A view from the office area toward the main entrance; behind this area is a second entrance with a small concrete patio. “When we are working on a project around the clock, we can put two people in the sleeping loft, one in the reading loft and a couple d
A view from the office area toward the main entrance; behind this area is a second entrance with a small concrete patio. “When we are working on a project around the clock, we can put two people in the sleeping loft, one in the reading loft and a couple downstairs, and it’s still pretty comfortable,” says Colkitt. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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Colkitt built the plywood desks and implemented bookshelf to temper the awkwardness of the wall jutting out behind it. More Homasote work boards are illuminated by fluorescent lighting. Photo by <a href="http://www.ramsayphotography.com/">Cheryl Ramsay</a
Colkitt built the plywood desks and implemented bookshelf to temper the awkwardness of the wall jutting out behind it. More Homasote work boards are illuminated by fluorescent lighting. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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Near the office area is the open living area (with Mies furniture), which doubles as relaxation or meeting space. “I’m glad that Ted hadn’t been able to rent this unit yet,” says Colkitt, pointing out that it can get a bit boisterous, given that it is sit
Near the office area is the open living area (with Mies furniture), which doubles as relaxation or meeting space. “I’m glad that Ted hadn’t been able to rent this unit yet,” says Colkitt, pointing out that it can get a bit boisterous, given that it is situated between the practice space for owner-architect Ted Smith’s acid jazz band and the recording studio for Smith’s son’s band, Pinback. “It’s definitely an interactive building.” Photo by Cheryl Ramsay
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Along a busy street in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood stands the mixed-use building in which architect Nathan Lee Colkitt and a diverse array of tenants inhabit their live/work spaces. “It’s hard to describe—it’s really funky,” says Colkitt of the
Along a busy street in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood stands the mixed-use building in which architect Nathan Lee Colkitt and a diverse array of tenants inhabit their live/work spaces. “It’s hard to describe—it’s really funky,” says Colkitt of the building. “It looks like a giant aircraft carrier landed in the street.” Rental units inside range in size from about 400 to 3,000 square feet. Photo by Cheryl Ramsay

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