Three Berkeley homes featured on architecture tour

Architect Kerstin Hellmann created a new rooftop addition with bedrooms and a view deck for this 1920s Berkeley home. Photo: courtesy AIA

Three Berkeley homes are featured on the American Institute of Architects’ second annual East Bay Home Tour which takes place on Saturday August 11. There are seven homes to explore in total: along with those in Berkeley, two are in Lafayette, one in Albany and one in Emeryville.

Not all the homes eligible for legitimate snooping have been realized with lavish budgets, although most have. The 2012 homes include an award-winning prefab house, two “transformational” renovations, and “net-zero” energy houses.

There follow snapshots of the three Berkeley homes:

The Courtyard House in the Berkeley hills, designed by David Wilson of WA Design. Photo: WA Design

Courtyard House
Completed: 2006
Designer: WA Design
Berkeley’s David Stark Wilson designed this 4,900 sq ft home (pictured above) in the city’s hills and was involved with everything from the selection of the lot through construction. The owners, who wanted to build their dream retirement home, had lived in a Wilson-designed home before. The design begins at the curb, moves uphill past rusting steel planter beds, and springs from its double lot in a forest of slender steel columns supporting deep roof eaves. The emphasis is on views, building angles and material compositions. A central pool establishes the main axis from the outdoor fireplace at the rear of the site through what the architect has termed the “zinc canyon” of house volumes, then out to San Francisco Bay. A studio space perches above the garage.

A growing family wanted a rooftop perch to capture views of the Bay. Photo: courtesy AIA

Urban Rooftop
Originally Built: 1925
Remodel Completed: 2011
Architect: Kerstin Hellmann Architecture
After living in their 1,225 sq ft home for two decades (above), the owners of this 1920s home on a busy Berkeley street needed room for a growing family and they wanted a rooftop perch to capture views of the Bay. Architect Kerstin Hellmann replaced a bedroom with a beautifully crafted 3d puzzle of library, stairs and railings that lead up to a new 650 square foot rooftop addition containing bedrooms and a view deck. The original house was preserved below and the kitchen was remodeled. A rooftop addition sits above the remodeled kitchen in this 1920s home on a busy Berkeley street. Modern space rides comfortably on top of the traditional home’s base. The architect celebrated vertical connections inside with a double height library and staircase that link the original house with a view deck above. Large doors, trellises and an outdoor kitchenette give the feeling of a small storefront café that has opened for lunch on the roof.

This Berkeley hills home was designed by architect Charles Debbas for his own family. Photo: courtesy AIA

Berkeley Hillside House
Completed: 2008

Architect: Debbas Architecture
Designed by architect Charles Debbas for his own family, this house (above) appears deceptively solid and simple from the street. But once inside this 3,200 sq ft home, the visitor realizes that basic geometry is employed for maximum results. Each void punctured or carved from the solid cube-like building and each pillar or balcony extruded from it achieves a powerful and sculptural effect. At the rear of the home most rooms become entire balconies themselves, with glass walls that fold open and railings that border the interior space. When all of these are open, the house feels like a series of open “shelves” for living in the sun, breeze and view of the bay.

The AIA East Bay Home Tour is on Saturday August 11 from 10:00am to 4:30pm, rain or shine. Tickets are $40 ($50 day-of) and may be bought online at AIA East Bay or at its office in downtown Oakland, 1405 Clay Street, after July 30, or at the Doyle Street Café in Emeryville on the day of the tour. Advance-ticket holders are invited to attend  a complimentary Meet the Architects reception and presentation on August 1 st at 5:30pm. The architect for each home will be on-site for questions and discussion on the day of the tour. A self-guided, self-driven format allows  visitors to explore and become inspired at their own pace. Visit AIAEast Bay for details and tickets.

David Stark Wilson: Design rooted in the great outdoors [07.12.12]
Berkeley buildings are winners in architecture awards [05.03.12]
Berkeley developer sees future in small, smart apartments [03.08.12]
Five Berkeley homes feature on new architecture tour [07.25.11]

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  • Charles_Siegel

    “This Berkeley hills home was designed by architect Charles Debbas for his own family. ”

    Which is a very good reason not to want an architect in your family.

  • The Molecular Foundary at LBNL immediately comes to mind. I wouldn’t want to live in that but then again I basically live at the lab already.

  • serkes

    A machine for living

  • Charles_Siegel

    Good quote.  That was Le Corbusier’s definition of a house in 1923. 

    And, in fact, today’s architectural avant garde prides itself on being new and different but is really repeating gestures that are about a century old. 

  • design aficionado

    This reads as a very mean spirited and unnecessary comment; I rather doubt it comes from first hand experience. As one who has been in the house I understand why it was chosen for the tour; the design and craftsmanship are impeccable, showcasing the site and thoughtfully chosen materials. It may not be to your taste, but to denigrate the hard, honest work of another is a low blow. I’m sure Mr. Debbas’ family is happy to have him as Berkeley should be.

  • PragmaticProgressive

    We all stand on the shoulders of giants, Charles. Is there really nothing that you like about these designs? Nothing?

  • serkes

    I like all of these – I’ve noticed it’s easy to do a contemporary home poorly, and very hard to do to them well.  The two contemporary homes look like they’re done very well (and we’re fans of David Stark Wilson’s work)

    The David Stark Wilson home made me think of the Salk Institute

    The rooftop garden looks like a lot of of fun ….and a perfect place for Cafe Rouge II

    Berkeley Hillside House – would love to see interior photos


  • Just Sayin

     why u hatin?

  • Chrisjuricich


    Wish I could afford a super remodeling job on our house, but with the recession knocking me out of my corporate job, I’m now in retail and other than our Ikea kitchen remodel this spring, we will never make it to Architectural Digest.

    We do hope to build a dream retirement home in the Philippines, though: can’t afford to do it here in Berkeley!

  • Guest

    I’m sure Mr. Debbas’ family is happy to have him as Berkeley should be.

    We (Berkeley) are happy to have him.

  • The Sharkey

    It has all the warmth and coziness of a classic industrial warehouse.

  • The Sharkey

    Neat stuff. I’m not a fan of all these styles, but it’s nice to see a wide range of styles on display. A little something for every taste.

    I’m curious about how the 1% live in Berkeley, but $40 per person seems awfully steep for a self-guided “tour” like this.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Read more carefully.  I was only talking about one of the three designs – the one that would only appeal to someone who has been indoctrinated in modernism.

    We should stand on the shoulders of giants, but modernists of the early to mid twentieth century rejected all the principles that had been the basis of architecture before their time.  

    Have you ever read any history of architecture?

  • Charles_Siegel

    I hate the way that modernists have uglified our cities. 

    Look at all the houses built through history until, say, 100 years ago, and I don’t  think you will find a single house as cold and sterile as this one.

    Or take the Arpeggio building as another typical example of modernist architecture.  If you look at all the apartment houses built in Berkeley before, say, 1930, I don’t think you will find a single one as ugly as the Arpeggio building.

    The difference is that earlier architects worked in a tradition that had been tested by time.  Modernists rejected everything before the twentieth century and tried to invent a totally new esthetic from scratch.

    Not all contemporary architects are modernists, and there is a lot contemporary architecture that I love.  See, for example, my recent article at

    Tell me, would you prefer to live in a city that looks like the pictures in this article?  Or would you prefer to live in a city where all the buildings look like that Debbas design?

  • PragmaticProgressive

    Read more carefully.  I was only talking about one of the three designs – the one that would only appeal to someone who has been indoctrinated in modernism.

    Write more clearly — I was responding to your sweeping generalization about “today’s architectural avant garde.”  

    Surely the concept of “postmodern pastiche” has come up in your extensive reading about the history of architecture?  Intertextuality?

  • EBGuy

     Standing on the shoulders of giants leaves me cold…

  • Just Sayin

     U mad!

  • Charles_Siegel

     I discussed the idea at length in my book on architecture:

    The most common objection to reviving traditional architecture is
    the old modernist dogma that architecture should be an honest
    expression of modern materials and functions, without any “pasted-on”
    historical style. Today’s avant gardists often make this point that
    historical styles are dishonest by saying that neo-traditional
    architecture looks like a “pastiche” of historical styles or that it
    looks like it belongs in a “theme park.”

    Yet a glance at architectural history will show that this
    objection does not apply to all historical styles. “Pasted-on”
    historical detailing did not look dishonest before the nineteenth

    For example, renaissance architecture used pasted-on
    historical ornamentation based on classical models, but no one would say
    that it looked like a theme park. It looked honest because it was an
    expression of larger cultural ideal of its time, the revival of
    classical civilization.

    By contrast, the eclectic architecture that became popular
    during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was designed to be
    picturesque, and it was not an expression of the real ideals of a
    rapidly industrializing society. This is why it looked dishonest.

  • Charles_Siegel

     Thanks!  I appreciate that.

  • Kurt

    First off, full disclosure: I am involved with this tour and I think each of the houses has something to offer. I’m also an architect so perhaps I have a bias toward architecture that pursues an idea rigorously, to an artistic end, but remains a good place to live daily. It’s actually a pretty challenging puzzle to solve if you don’t simply repeat what has gone before. With that said I invite you all to attend the tour, see the houses in their full 3d, real life, fallible, lovable, and beautiful condition and then decide what you like and don’t like. Then perhaps consider the impact that the buildings had on you and what you felt when you were inside them. There is much more to architecture than photographs and clippings from history. Some very talented people put some serious effort into these homes and the results are worth experiencing, live. That’s the opportunity available here…

  • The Sharkey

    I don’t think Charles is mad, I think he’s just disappointed.
    If you saw your field stagnating and lacking focus for decades, I think you’d be pretty disappointed too.

  • Just Sayin

    Being disappointed is one thing, but poo-pooing every Berkeleyside article that in someway features a contemporary design, is another…

  • guest

    What does this have to do with the housese on display on this tour?!