written by:
photos by:
May 13, 2009
Originally published in Think Smaller

In Oakland, California, two designers transformed a 100-year-old barn into a (very) cozy home of their own by redefining the functionality of walls and windowsills.

1 / 9
Even in the Stonorovs’ tiny first-floor room, the curse of the kitchen as the inevitable gathering place lives on—–though the two-foot space between the sink and metal island is less than ideal for the family of three and their blue heeler, Oscar.
Photo by 
2 / 9
Modern barnhouse transformation in Oakland
Outside, the couple clad the house with a rain screen of 1.5-by-1.5-inch strips of spruce to create a “modern rustic barn.” The extra-deep sills of the first-floor window become a bench on the outside and a shelf on the inside.
Photo by 
3 / 9
Self-proclaimed perfectionists Tolya and Otto “obsessed about making everything” themselves—–from the windows down to the beds.
Photo by 
4 / 9
Using simple and easy-to-maintain materials in innovative ways was a guiding principle in the Stonorovs’ design. The bathroom walls are made out of HardiePanel vertical siding, which they also used to clad two of the exterior walls.
Photo by 
5 / 9
Tolya and Otto's handiwork, such as the cabinetry in the master bedroom, helps keep the lines of the house clean and the rooms tidy.
Photo by 
6 / 9
The Stonorovs couldn’t find a crib they liked and that fit their budget, so Tolya custom-made Niko’s sleeper out of walnut plywood and 3form plastic circles laser-cut by East Bay Laser & Waterjet. Otto made the sliding changing table out of solid walnut. Worried that their dog, Oscar, was feeling neglected, he built a Japanese-style water and food dish for him.
Photo by 
7 / 9
The kitchen island—–an equipment stand purchased from online restaurant supplier Serv-U—–is essential in providing much-needed counter space. The bottom shelf creates additional storage and the outlets mounted underneath allow it to become a coffee and toast center. Because it’s stainless steel, the family can put a hot pan right on the surface without worrying about trivets—–which are hard to keep handy in such a small place.
Photo by 
8 / 9
The stairway features built-in shelving that's accessible from both sides.
Photo by 
9 / 9
stonorov house outside portrait thumbnail
Stonorov Residence

Three years ago, Otto and I wanted to start doing more of our own work, so we quit our jobs at big architectural firms and started our own office, Stonorov Workshop. Our first project: Renovate our home.

We started in August 2006 but didn’t finish until April 2007. It all took much longer than we expected and we worked on the house nonstop for those eight months, even after I became pregnant with Niko in October.

When we opened the walls, you could see straight to the outside. The framing was nonexistent and the floor dipped down a foot in the bathroom; we didn’t know how it was standing. When I pulled the first piece of drywall off the ceiling, rat feces came pouring down on me. It was awful.

We had to replace nearly everything, except the upstairs floor, which was one of our few wonderful finds.

I was walking up the stairs one day and because the former owners
never put on a trim board, I couldsee a section of the flooring. I looked and said, “Oh my god, that’s wood!” The Pergo flooring came up in half an hour, and we did very little to finish the wood that was underneath.

The parts of the house function as very different areas, even though they’re all within the same tiny space. We don’t have a TV, but when we set up our laptop across from the sofa, that becomes the hangout area. When we’re at the table, it’s very much the eating area. Being able to open both doors to the patio makes a big difference in extending the space. We’ve been able to host dinners with six adults without feeling too closed in.

The fact that the house is two stories is really important. You walk up the stairs and suddenly you’re in a 16-foot-high space, which makes it feel really big. Upstairs is the bedroom and our quiet space. We fantasize about moving to the country and wanted to have our own little oasis up there, so we placed each window in a way that allows you to see only trees.
Niko loves the house. He climbs up the stairs, does laps around the kitchen island, and really likes throwing things out the custom dog door. There are no corners, so it’s pretty kid-proof, but sometimes the energy gets overwhelming with Niko and Oscar both  running around and balls all over the floor. That’s when we go for a walk.

The only way we can live in 400 square feet is because we thought out each detail and tried to make every space usable when we were designing the renovation. Everything is built in so there’s nothing jutting out into any rooms. We have an inset bookshelf along the stairs with the exact space for our photo albums, cookbooks, and favorite architecture and garden books. We made the window ledges extra deep so we can put our keys and wallets somewhere when we come home. We also have to keep it really clean. When things start getting everywhere, it becomes claustrophobic.

It was really important to us as home designers to do the building ourselves. You spend time drawing plumbing and electrical systems and you know in theory how it works but you don’t know how it actually goes together. Now when we draw something, we know the implications of our design and if it’s going to work or not.

We won’t live here forever—we will have another kid eventually—but it will transfer into a studio for our firm pretty easily. Working here will be great, and later someone like my mom could live in this house.

Overall, it’s pretty perfect for what we’ll want in the future—–we’ll just add another room that way or push it out this way. The only thing I would change is the six-inch-wide concrete kitchen sink. It’s too damn small and if you drop something in it, it’s a goner.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

two of a kind padua italy matching family homes facade green roof doors color
For Dwell's annual issue dedicated to interiors , we visited homes from Haiti to italy. Here, we introduce you to the photographers and writers who made it happen.
April 30, 2016
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
April 30, 2016
W House living room
Our best reader reactions this week.
April 29, 2016
Vineyard house illuminated at night
Rammed-earth construction fuses this Portuguese house to the environment.
April 29, 2016
vintage Scandinavian furniture Kathryn Tyler
In southwest England, interior designer Kathryn Tyler built her home around her ever-expanding furniture collection.
April 29, 2016
steel facade home Seattle
On the sandy shores of Fauntleroy Cove in Seattle, renowned firm Olson Kundig Architects crafts a subtle home with striking steel accents.
April 29, 2016
seperate piece renovated guesthouse eames storage unit cork floor tiles living room
An architect and an interior designer put the tools to the test for this impressive renovation.
April 29, 2016
Ceramics by WrenLab
Manhattan doesn’t get to have all the fun during NYCxDesign. Brooklyn is set for the return of BKLYN DESIGNS at the Brooklyn Expo Center in Greenpoint from May 6-8, 2016. Here are just a few exhibitors we are excited to see this year.
April 29, 2016
n0a6974 dxo
Architect Diego Revollo refreshes an apartment with a standout kitchen.
April 29, 2016
img 8652 1
The city of San Francisco has been eagerly awaiting the reopening of SFMOMA for years—and as the May 14th opening approaches closer everyday, the anticipation continues to build for art enthusiasts both near and far. This morning, we were given the opportunity to explore the newly expanded space before the crowds roll in. After a series of speeches, remarks, and tours, we left the grounds feeling thoroughly inspired and excited to share what we discovered.
April 28, 2016
gramercy 1 ar53319
A family doesn’t have to travel far for a private oasis away from the busy city.
April 28, 2016
Renovation of 1967 Hamburg apartment with Vipp kitchen.
In our April issue, we showcased an apartment in Hamburg, Germany, with a striking, matte-black kitchen from Vipp. The 77-year-old company became famous for its iconic pedal trash can before venturing into kitchens and other tools for the home. This isn't the first time that the Danish company's products have graced our pages, and here we've gathered additional examples from our archive that show how the brand's minimalist black kitchens are always a win in modern interiors.
April 28, 2016
Zafra residence living room.
A man and his wife make an emotional return to an apartment building he loved as a kid.
April 28, 2016
the garden inside concrete dining pavilion indoor outdoor custom cabinets thermador dishwasher refrigerator
A skylit conservatory doubles as a verdant dining parlor in Sonoma County, California.
April 28, 2016
Details of the Calico collection.
Calico Wallpaper founders Nick and Rachel Cope showed us through their home in our March Issue, now step inside their studio.
April 28, 2016
william krisel pow 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
April 27, 2016
Dwell on Design and designjunction at ArtBeam
It's all part of Dwell on Design + designjunction's three-day event, featuring a program of talks chock-full of leading figures in design, architecture, urbanism, and beyond—coming up May 13-15 at ArtBeam in New York.
April 27, 2016
seattles mariners floating house prefab facade exterior fiber cement panels
A prefabricated floating home drops anchor in the Pacific Northwest.
April 27, 2016
royan treatment living room stone fireplace vintage new furnishings
French designer Florence Deau effortlessly mixes the old with the new.
April 27, 2016
modern netherlands 13 noordeinde schoolhouse parquet herringbone floors stove
Take a lesson from this school-turned-home.
April 27, 2016
The sidewalks of Copacabana in Rio De Janero, Brazil, designed by Roberto Burle Marx
The Jewish Museum in New York City takes it outside with a celebration of the Brazilian landscape architect Roberto Burle Marx.
April 26, 2016
Waterfront home in Belvedere, California
A 1960s home infested with powderpost beetles had to be sacrificed before this this Zen-inspired house could happen.
April 26, 2016
dialogue house
At the base of Echo Mountain in Phoenix, a geometric home by Wendell Burnette opens up to the surrounding desert landscape.
April 26, 2016
street smarts kitchen full view
A creative couple transforms an old Toronto storefront in Dundas West into a home and studio.
April 26, 2016
hald strand
This architect thinks of everything for his summer escape, pizza oven included.
April 26, 2016
gans turin residence living room
Thanks to a contemporary interior that she’s been updating for a decade, modern architect Abigail Turin has learned to love her traditional 1925 San Francisco home.
April 25, 2016
Johannesburg-based design studio Counterspace was founded in 2014 by young architecture graduates Sumayya Vally, Sarah de Villiers, and Amina Kaskar. Their projects are collaborative, research-led investigations into possible futures and ideas of otherness in Johannesburg.
April 25, 2016
through living room
A second-story addition and a new indoor-outdoor focus revive a nondescript house in L.A.
April 25, 2016
Modern living room with Flexform sofa and Jens Fager candelabra
An Antwerp home blurs the boundaries between art and design.
April 25, 2016
hillside haven  1
This backyard is its own modern retreat in the Berkeley Hills.
April 25, 2016