written by:
photos by:
October 10, 2011
Originally published in Smaller & Smarter
as
Clad Romance

Persistence paid off for this Cali­fornia couple who worked overtime for two years to tackle their all-in-one loft renovation.

modern wooden storage box unit
The wooden box is as functional as it is finely crafted, with room for clothes up top. Each niche holds treasures from travels, family keepsakes, books, and more.
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Modern bookshelf in a renovated home
The bedroom—accessible via the living room—is where the couple will place a bassinet for their newborn.
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hidden closet in wooden box
The wooden box features hidden storage.
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family pet hanging out by wooden stairs
Ando, a Shiba Inu, was in the first Puppy Cam litter.
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plywood opening separating living room from kitchen
Peter lined the pass-through’s opening with plywood.
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living room with glass windows
The picture wall is adorned with images collected from family, colleagues, and estate sales. ”I kill plants, so cacti are our friends,” Peter says of the suc­culents along the low table behind the Design Within Reach sofa, just over which an Established & Sons Font clock keeps time.
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Exterior view of modern loft in Emeryville, California
The loft had no overhead illumination when the Benoits moved in, so they added a George Nelson Bubble lamp, mezzanine uplighting, and an Ikea pendant.
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Modern decorated office desk with leather chair
The Steelcase desk in the living room was a lucky streetside freebie discovered outside their old Oakland apartment.
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Living room with steel case desk and succulents
The typewriter shown here was a flea-market find.
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Modern encased bookshelf bedroom
The bedroom is tucked away within the wood box, with room enough for a bed and dresser (and bassinet once the baby arrives). The Styrofoam bust of Mr. T (in the upper right corner of the image) was made by a friend who works at a 3-D modeling company.
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Young couple setting the dinner table
The dining room table is often used for rousing games of cribbage, but cleans up nicely when it's time to eat. The small balcony outside is home to a collection of plants (which get watered more often than the succulents inside).
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Modern home office with wide desk
A familiar scene in the Benoit home: Peter paints at the Steelcase desk—"I do all my work here," he says—while Ando sits nearby, waiting for attention.
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Preparing food in the kitchen
The kitchen, accented with the blue flooring and tiled backsplash, looks much sleeker than it did when the Benoits moved in.
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Storage area with multiple bins
Lynda's knick knacks and crafty supplies are kept in the kitchen's metal shelving system, which came with the couple from their previous apartment.
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Modern kitchen with wooden shelves
Freshly baked cookies can go directly from oven to eager eaters in the living room via the pass-through.
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Dining room interior with modern scandinavian wood table
The Blues Are Still Blue Grinding down the concrete floor was too costly, so the Benoits had it painted blue with inexpensive Benjamin Moore latex floor-and-patio paint and then sealed with Zinsser shellac—a natural, nontoxic product that brushes on and can be easily touched up. It darkened the blue paint a bit and gives the floor a hand-worked luster.

benjaminmoore.com

rustoleum.com/zinsserhp.asp

Scandinavian Grace The Benoits bought their Scandinavian modern table from Klassik Living in Berkeley. “Their prices are very reason­able for the uniqueness and quality offered,” says Peter. They chose teak since it darkens nicely and naturally when exposed to sunlight—–helpful since their table gets blasted by morning rays. klassikliving.com
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Clutched window roller shades in living room
Shelter from the Sun Peter and Lynda opted for Hunter Douglas clutched roller shades with a medium-opacity black cloth because the material filters the sun but still reveals the view when drawn. At night, it blends with the black steel frame. They worked with the Alcatraz Shade Shop in Oakland.

hunterdouglas.com

alcatrazshade.com

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Top view of wooden box with uplight
Light Box Peter created a simple uplight at the top of the wood box by wiring together energy-efficient fluorescent fixtures typically used under cabinets and coun­tertops. “The cheaper magnetic models hum unacceptably loudly, so make sure you get the electronic ballast types,” he warns. He then painted the cavity white to reflect light and covered them with quarter-inch-thick acrylic from TAP Plastics.

homedepot.com

tapplastics.com

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Textured tiled wall with fixtures in kitchen
Second ComingIt took multiple weekend trips, but the couple finally landed upon enough green tiles to cover their kitchen wall. Overstock tiles and seconds can be purchased from Heath Ceramics in its Sausalito showroom. Though the surfaces aren't as uniformly colored nor as flat as first-run tiles, they offer a unique tone ans texture when the tiles are laid out.

heathceramics.com

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Photo by 
19 / 19
modern wooden storage box unit
The wooden box is as functional as it is finely crafted, with room for clothes up top. Each niche holds treasures from travels, family keepsakes, books, and more.
Project 
Benoit Residence
Architect 

In 2007, Lynda and Peter Benoit bought a 1,100-square-foot unit in the historic Besler Building, a former steam-engine factory in Emeryville, California. The San Francisco Bay Area loft was suffering from a case of poor planning; a previous owner had broken up the open area with an ill-conceived elevated storage space directly over the entryway.

Over the span of two years, the couple—she’s a communications special­ist at Lucasfilm and he’s an architect at Melander Architects—lived and breathed a clever overhaul, transforming their once-dim home into a sunlit space housing Peter’s masterwork: a completely customized 16-by-17-by-10-foot wooden box that accommodates a bookcase on the outside, a bedroom on the inside, and a dressing-room mezzanine above.

Lynda:
The day after escrow closed, we came over and pulled up this cheap vinyl that was on the floor. It took us 45 minutes to get it all off.

Peter: We knew there would be concrete under there, somewhere.

Modern bookshelf in a renovated home
The bedroom—accessible via the living room—is where the couple will place a bassinet for their newborn.
Lynda: We wanted to sand down the floor but that was too expensive. Instead, we had it painted blue before we moved in. Then we waited about five months before we did any real work, which gave us time to appreciate how we used the space and to figure out what changes would suit us best. And I was terrified about putting holes in walls.

So we started small. The first real mark we made was to cut a square pass-through from the kitchen to the living room, which just happens to fit beer and wine bottles perfectly. I was resistant, so Pete did it while I was away for a weekend. I came home  and said, “Okay. This is really amazing.” After that, the demolition began.

Peter: Our main goal was to open the space up to the light. We have a 13-foot-high ceiling and an entire wall of windows, but the previous owner had built a lofted storage structure that stretched across the entryway, essen­tially dividing the living room and block­ing most of the view.

Half of the elevated unit had to be dismantled. A friend came over and we tore away the drywall with sledgehammers over a couple of days. Once the drywall was gone, I began to cut apart the frame, piece by piece. I thought this was going to be done so fast…

Lynda: But it took eight months just to knock it down. It got very, very dusty. Pete set up sawhorses, the washer-dryer doubled as a workbench, and everything was out in the open. We did a lot of tarping.

living room with glass windows
The picture wall is adorned with images collected from family, colleagues, and estate sales. ”I kill plants, so cacti are our friends,” Peter says of the suc­culents along the low table behind the Design Within Reach sofa, just over which an Established & Sons Font clock keeps time.
Peter: Once we got into the groove, it became second nature: Put the tarps up on Friday night, turn on the saws Saturday morning, and work through Sunday. Then we’d clean up, mop the floor, vacuum, and get it livable for the week again. We’d stack all the materials and equipment by the front door, out of the way, but we were living in a construction site.

Finally I was able to start on the wooden box itself. I got the plywood framing up—which I learned how to do when I worked for a carpenter in college—and took down the stairs. Lynda told me I had 48 hours to build them again, because she didn’t want to climb a ladder to get to all our clothes.

Lynda:
About that time we also decided to tile the kitchen. We went to Heath Ceramics and bought boxes of overstock based on the square footage and the green color we liked. Laying out all the tiles was the most fun for me. I organized them into batch one, for the high-visibility areas; batch two, which I knew I’d have to cut a por­tion off of; and batch three, for ones up high and not as visible. I used a cheap plastic brush from a drugstore in Mexico as trowel teeth, which gave the thinset mortar just the right kind
of lines.

Exterior view of modern loft in Emeryville, California
The loft had no overhead illumination when the Benoits moved in, so they added a George Nelson Bubble lamp, mezzanine uplighting, and an Ikea pendant.
Peter: I clad the box with Douglas fir because it has a nice, clear vertical grain and it was inexpensive. I cut all the boards in our place—even the framing, which was a royal pain in the ass to maneuver because of its size.

I started paneling at the floor, went all the way across, and just kept layering up. Things slowly started to take shape. I had originally planned to cover the entire box, but my friend Joe came over and suggested cutting a few windows in the frame to get light into the bedroom. I was a third of the way done and thought, “A week later that wouldn’t have been possible.” In the end it was the best idea. If you stand on the bed you can see straight through to the hills.

When the entire structure was done, we had a carpenter install the bookshelves.

Lynda: We taped up where they’d go multiple times to figure out the right spacing.

Peter: I think in lines, and I like things to be rectangular and architectural. Lynda is….

Lynda: Chaos.

Peter: And I love that. Her taste grows; it has life; it takes over places. So Lynda has always been in charge of the shelves, organizing the books and mixing up what we display: a lips phone, rock collections from our travels, molds of her siblings’ teeth, a giant Styrofoam bust of Mr. T.

In the end, even though building the box drove us crazy and took forever, it’s added so much texture to the place. There was no texture when we moved in here.

Lynda: It was so unfinished for such a long time, but now I love it. I love looking at it every day.

For more images of the project, please view our slideshow and follow the renovation from day one in our extended backstory.

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