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.

"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.

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.

"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.

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.

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.


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.

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

"Part of the idea was to take the geometry that was already embedded in the site and incorporate gravel to add texture and a place for water to percolate into the ground," Shoup notes. "One of the challenges in green building is to not only minimize water use but minimize what is getting into our storm drains." Photo by building Lab inc.

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Shoup chose Trex decking (which is made from reclaimed plastic and wood) for its environmentally friendly profile and ease of maintenance. Photo by building Lab inc.

"A lot of the design was aimed at creating a sense of oasis," says Shoup. Photo by building Lab inc.

The master bedroom occupies a long, slender space on two levels. "If I’d taken the platform out, there’d be no differentiation," Shoup explains. "I wanted some sense of definition without putting up walls." Bamboo was used for the stairs, walls and platform. Photo by building Lab inc.

Shoup accentuated the feeling of space in the master bath by opening it up to the full ceiling height. Ipe wood sheathes the sink and tub. "The tile has the appearance of stranding to play off the bamboo in the bedroom," notes Shoup, who sourced the tile at Heath Ceramics' seconds warehouse. "I pulled a bunch of their less-than-perfect tiles. They’re a little bent, and the glazing is a bit off, but the lack of perfection actually serves us well." The light fixtures are from Ikea. Photo by building Lab inc.

Shoup built a connector between the shipping containers and covered it with salvaged redwood. Glass panels from old sliding doors offer ample illumination in the workspaces. Photo by Muffy Kibbey.

The plan of the Shoup residence designed by Stephen Shoup of building Lab inc."

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