Tim Rempel was a woodworker before he was an architect, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the contemporary condo he designed, now for sale at 2413A Fifth St., combines an unusual amount of exotic woods with the usual steel and glass. Rempel also wanted to tread lightly on the landscape, so the house was built to be energy-efficient and exceedingly low-maintenance; he used recycled and repurposed materials whenever possible. It is offered at $1.395 million by Pacific Union International.
The four-story condo in West Berkeley is a freestanding building that Rempel originally built for himself. It is one of three structures on the site, and Rempel designed the exterior in collaboration with architect Patrick Sheahan. While the exterior of all three buildings is identical, the interiors have been customized for each owner.
Rempel lived at 2413A for two years before getting married and moving to San Francisco, but his attention to detail and handcrafted cabinetry remains in every corner of this airy home. The combination of wood paneling; custom-built staircases; built-in storage units and double-height windows make for an interior that is warm and expansive at the same time.
When the current owners purchased the house, it was a 1,603-square-foot, three-level home with one bedroom and a huge open plan work area on the first floor. They decided right away that they wanted Rempel to help them remodel the house and add two bedrooms on the first floor; a mezzanine on the second floor; and a small loft office as a fourth floor. The condo is now 1,937 square feet within the same footprint as the original house; there are now three bedrooms and two full baths. Mike Charlasch and his wife, Hélène Côté, also commissioned Rempel to add closets and storage space to every level of the house.
“We have always lived in architect-designed houses,” said Charlasch. “We knew we wanted Tim to do the renovation, with the original contractor team, because we wanted a singular vision. We have seen other houses where other contractors were used, and the work didn’t mesh.”
Charlasch said he and his wife purchased the condo for $850,000 in 2010 and spent six months renovating at a cost of $175,000. “Tim was here all the time: he practically lived here,” Charlasch said. The couple remained in a rental house until the renovations were finished.
The first floor is comprised of a large live-work area as well as two bedrooms and a full bath. One of the bedrooms has been converted into a soundproof music room, where Charlasch’s band rehearses every week.
The second floor includes the master bedroom, which is small even by Berkeley standards. Rempel said that he wanted his bedroom to feel like a ship’s interior, and this mahogany-paneled room is reminiscent of a luxury ship cabin. It has western views and German-engineered three-in-one windows. This floor includes a master bath finished with sandstone-colored marble; a walk-in closet with stacked washer and dryer; and a mezzanine that the couple used as a dressing area.
The living room, dining room and kitchen are on the third floor, which also has an open plan. The domed 14-foot ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows makes this the most breath-taking space in the house. There are windows on all four sides, with views of the Bay, Mt. Tamalpais and San Francisco to the west and the Berkeley Hills to the east. Charlasch said the sunsets are stunning, and can also be enjoyed from the adjoining deck.
The best views, Charlasch said, are from the loft, added during the remodeling phase. Rempel said he had plans for the loft in mind when he originally built the house, but he never got the time to build it. Charlasch used the loft as his office, but it can also be used as an entertainment or living area.
While the space itself is spectacular, the materials, craftsmanship and finishing touches are what make this modernist home so unique. Since Rempel built this house for himself — and intended to stay much longer than he did — he also built the cabinetry in his own workshop. He was able to find Guatemalan rosewood and mahogany, as well as bubinga, for interior paneling, cabinets and flooring. The rosewood was sitting in a friend’s warehouse, leftover from another job, he said. “I wouldn’t use that today, but it was already there unused and I was able to buy it,” he said.
Rempel used steel with high-recycled content for the framing of the house and stainless steel cabinets recycled from a lab as kitchen cabinets. The floor on the first floor is made from Vetrazzo, a locally invented material that uses recycled glass. “I put in high-efficiency radiant heat, and designed the house as passive-solar to use less fossil fuels,” he said. Rempel also designed the exterior of the house to require almost no maintenance. There is some wood paneling that can be refinished every couple of years, he said, or it could be allowed to gray.
Charlasch, who has been gardening since he was a child in southern California, added a drought-tolerant, sculptural garden of cacti and succulents to the front of the house. The garden can be seen through the two-story window on the first floor, bringing the outside in.
The remodeled house showcases the vision of Rempel, the architect, as well as the current owners, a musician and a painter. The rhythm, color, and sculptural elements that are found here were created by their joint vision, and are unique to this time and place.
Editor’s note: This article was updated to give Patrick Sheahan credit for helping to design the exterior of the building. Berkeleyside was not made aware until Oct. 3 that they had also worked on the structure.