Before & After: They Gave Their “Telescoping” Oakland Bungalow an Eye-Opening Renovation

Renovated in stages over the course of a decade, a home in the city’s Temescal neighborhood proves the power of thoughtful design using humble materials.

A ramshackle, bank-owned bungalow on a lot crowded with weeds and broken glass isn’t everyone’s idea of a dream project. But designers Kate Lydon and Anton Willis know a diamond in the rough when they see one. 

Fresh from earning their master’s degrees in architecture at U.C. Berkeley, the couple had been renting in the area and searching for a "weird and quirky" home to transform for themselves when they discovered the 1,150-square-foot, 1916 cottage in Oakland’s Temescal neighborhood.

Before: Exterior

Before: The 1916 bungalow had undergone two separate rear additions when the couple purchased it. "The house was long and skinny—12 feet wide for much of it—and quite cramped," explains Kate.

Before: The 1916 bungalow had undergone two separate rear additions when the couple purchased it. "The house was long and skinny—12 feet wide for much of it—and quite cramped," explains Kate.

"It had been extended like a telescope over the years, with additions of decreasing quality tacked on and a shotgun corridor that emphasized the length and the 12-foot-wide footprint," Anton remembers.

After: Exterior

The house, painted in Poppyseed by Behr, now features a second-floor loft for the couple’s sons and a newly vaulted living room at the front. The board-formed concrete foundation was an early change.

The house, painted in Poppyseed by Behr, now features a second-floor loft for the couple’s sons and a newly vaulted living room at the front. The board-formed concrete foundation was an early change.

"Everything had been stripped out of it—it was so decrepit," Kate adds. "But it had an interesting shape, and we thought, ‘We can do something with this.’"

Architect Laura Boutelle designed an addition that extends into the unused driveway to accommodate the stair to the new second floor.  

Architect Laura Boutelle designed an addition that extends into the unused driveway to accommodate the stair to the new second floor.  

They began by making the place livable: redoing the foundation with continuous, board-formed concrete (which instantly made the front facade feel more contemporary), replacing the roof, painting, and extending the front porch. Their approach to renovating was guided by three things, says Anton: "Use humble materials thoughtfully; quality of space matters more than quantity; and structural moves can be design moves too."

Before: Kitchen

Before: The couple made necessary changes before moving into the space—like redoing the roof and the foundation. Other renovations were made after they moved in. "Each time we changed something, we made sure that basic changes were also design moves," says Kate.

Before: The couple made necessary changes before moving into the space—like redoing the roof and the foundation. Other renovations were made after they moved in. "Each time we changed something, we made sure that basic changes were also design moves," says Kate.

Kate was pregnant with their eldest son when they redid the two bathrooms with slab counters fabricated by a friend and recycled Douglas fir vanities that they crafted themselves. Just before their second son was born, they turned the garage into a 250-square-foot studio/ADU for visiting grandparents.

After: Kitchen

Lee Buchanan of LeeBuild fabricated a screen of white ash slats beside the kitchen as well as the entry. "The stairs are beautifully integrated into the kitchen so the kids and I are always talking and someone is always sitting on the bottom steps," says Kate.

Lee Buchanan of LeeBuild fabricated a screen of white ash slats beside the kitchen as well as the entry. "The stairs are beautifully integrated into the kitchen so the kids and I are always talking and someone is always sitting on the bottom steps," says Kate.

Before: Entry

Before: Soon after moving in, Kate and Anton removed upper cabinets over the bar in the kitchen, but they retained the original red oak floors. Architect Laura Boutelle later added a whitewash stain.

Before: Soon after moving in, Kate and Anton removed upper cabinets over the bar in the kitchen, but they retained the original red oak floors. Architect Laura Boutelle later added a whitewash stain.

When their plans for additional renovations stalled, they reached out to a friend from Cal, Laura Boutelle. The Oakland-based architect strategized with the couple to reenvision the house for how they live while improving the flow and plan for future needs, such as if the couple’s sons each want their own bedroom one day.

After: Entry

"They were the lightest possible way to support the roof," says Anton of the raw steel rafter ties in the newly vaulted living room. It’s a detail they’d first used in their ADU several years before. The front door is painted in Behr’s Sun Ray.

"They were the lightest possible way to support the roof," says Anton of the raw steel rafter ties in the newly vaulted living room. It’s a detail they’d first used in their ADU several years before. The front door is painted in Behr’s Sun Ray.

To that end, Boutelle drew up a plan to add an upstairs bedroom and bathroom, situate a new stair and bedroom suite near the center of the house, and relocate the kitchen to better connect it to the living and dining rooms.

After: Living Area

Vintage chairs and a credenza are joined in the living room by a sofa from Article and an Offi coffee table. The rug is from West Elm.

Vintage chairs and a credenza are joined in the living room by a sofa from Article and an Offi coffee table. The rug is from West Elm.

"Anton and I had originally thought of doing the renovation ourselves," recalls Kate. "But we didn’t have the focus to do that because we were doing other things. So it was really special to work with Laura, whom we love and trust."

"We shared certain beliefs," she says, "like believing that circulation should be usable space—a stairway shouldn’t just be a stairway, but a place to sit as well as a place to walk. It should be a design element that you actually inhabit."

After: Dining Area

Throughout the interior, the couple emphasized simple materials, such as birch plywood and salvage yard marble. A pendant by Hay is joined by dining chairs from Design Within Reach. The black lights above the counter are by Andrew Neyer.

Throughout the interior, the couple emphasized simple materials, such as birch plywood and salvage yard marble. A pendant by Hay is joined by dining chairs from Design Within Reach. The black lights above the counter are by Andrew Neyer.

Expanding the house sideways into the long, unused driveway allowed for the creation of a private patio where the family eats dinner most evenings.

After: Side Yard

What used to be the driveway is now a private side patio where the family regularly eats dinner. Ikea chairs join a table the couple made themselves.

What used to be the driveway is now a private side patio where the family regularly eats dinner. Ikea chairs join a table the couple made themselves.

During construction, the couple would meet on-site with Boutelle and contractor Gustavo Portillo, who’d overseen the build of their ADU. On one visit they took note of how airy and open the front-facing living room looked without the old low ceilings and decided to vault the space and add two skylights. 

After: ADU

Kate and Anton turned their garage into a 250-square-foot ADU for hosting visiting family members.

Kate and Anton turned their garage into a 250-square-foot ADU for hosting visiting family members.

"There’s design that happens in drawings, but there are other design decisions that happen during construction as you see how a space is taking shape," explains Kate. "It was cool to work with an architect and a contractor who were really flexible and excited about that too."

After: Upstairs Addition

Working with his father, Anton designed and built a custom loft for the boys in the upstairs addition.

Working with his father, Anton designed and built a custom loft for the boys in the upstairs addition.

"The house feels spacious even though it’s small by most standards—without the ADU, it’s around 1,700 square feet," says Kate. "Anton and I both grew up in small houses, and we feel that helps families spend time together. We like small houses that are cleverly designed and that prioritize quality of space over quantity."

Featuring a vaulted, plywood ceiling, the kids’ room upstairs doubles as a playroom. "It’s a place where we all lounge in to build Legos and read stories," says Kate.

Featuring a vaulted, plywood ceiling, the kids’ room upstairs doubles as a playroom. "It’s a place where we all lounge in to build Legos and read stories," says Kate.

"It’s a joy to wake up in, to take care of, and to have friends over," she adds. "The house reflects how we live as a family."

Floor plan of Temescal Modern Craftsman by Laura Boutelle Architecture

Floor plan of Temescal Modern Craftsman by Laura Boutelle Architecture

More Before & After stories:

This Reinvented Monterey Bungalow Shows That Sometimes, Smaller Is Better

Think Your Renovation Took Awhile? Try 14 Years

They Loved Their Cozy Cottage, So They a Built an Annex to Match

Project Credits: 

Architect of Record: Laura Boutelle Architecture / @lauraboutelle_architecture

General Contractor: Gustavo Portillo, Timber Construction 

Structural Engineer: Radco

Landscape Design: St. John Landscaping

Cabinetry: Steve Chu, Custom Woods Design

Custom wood slatted walls: LeeBuild / @leebuildstudio

Photography: Bénédicte Lassalle / @benedicte_lassalle, @the.still.home

Kelly Vencill Sanchez
Contributing Editor
Kelly Vencill Sanchez is Dwell's Los Angeles-based contributing editor. She's also written about design and architecture for Architectural Digest, Coastal Living and Luxe.

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