3 Berkeley homes to see on AIA East Bay architecture tour

A remodel of a former Berkeley garage and art studio includes the creation of an interior courtyard with living wall and concrete tub. Photo: AIA East Bay

A home in Lafayette is rebuilt from scratch after a devastating fire, a Berkeley house originally constructed at the turn of the century to accommodate cars — and the chauffeurs who tended to them — is reborn as a family dwelling with a generously sized art studio. These are just two of the six architect-designed projects that will be showcased, and open to the public, on Saturday, Aug. 4, at the eighth American Institute of Architects, East Bay Home Tour.

Berkeley takes the lion’s share of the tour, with three homes on view, and Piedmont and Albany round out the one in Lafayette.

In 1905, after lumber baron Charles Axel Smith was informed he couldn’t house his cherished automobile collection in the Claremont neighborhood — too crass for public view, one assumes —  he cheekily erected his 7,000-square-foot garage that looks like a house just outside the neighborhood’s boundary gate, on Forest Avenue.

For artist Sally Smith and her husband, who bought the house in 2014, it was a dream come true. Not least because it had already been used as an art studio, including by the late painter and printmaker George Miyasaki. It was also a thrill for architects Studio Bergtraun to be asked to work on the remodel. Principal Alex Bergtraun remembers when he saw the house listed on the market and his wife, and partner in the firm, Michelle Segre Bergtraun, said how amazing it would be to buy the house. “We couldn’t afford to buy it,” Alex said recently, “but second best was getting to remodel it.”


The revamp preserved the historic nature of the house as much as possible and also created an indulgent interior courtyard with a living wall and concrete tub for semi-al fresco bathing, a sleek modern kitchen and several informal family spaces. Smith’s artworks are given pride of place in the home, including a current series in which she uses charcoal measured in calories from sources as diverse as ribeye steaks or peanuts.

Another Berkeley project on the tour saw the upstairs of a 1950s house transformed into a light-filled “tree house” by Buttrick Projects Architecture & Design, in partnership with Berkeley’s Jetton Construction. The remodel followed an earlier kitchen upgrade that was completed in 2010.

“The big driver for the project was this huge magnolia tree,” said Buttrick principal Jerome Buttrick. “We put in huge doors that open onto the tree, and three windows, and layering to screen out some of the light. Jetton got it done, they’re a great team.” The new stairs to the second story are inspired by the Japanese tansu cabinetry.

The 2018 AIA East Bay Home Tours is on Saturday, Aug. 4, 10 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tour-goers drive their own cars to the houses and find their own parking on nearby streets. Docents and often the architects are on hand to talk to tour-goers in the homes. For full information and to buy tickets ($50), visit AIA East Bay online.