Small Is the New Big in Bay Area Home Design

Small Is the New Big in Bay Area Home Design


Conscious Design for a Cozy Craftsman

When one has the good fortune of partaking in the American dream—especially in the Bay Area, where even the smallest homes fetch upwards of $500K—maximizing your economy of space is key to living in a densely populated area.

After trying L.A., the South Bay, and SoMa on for size, Ashley Turner and Cliff Williams found the perfect fit for their low-impact lifestyle in the form of a tiny, 750-square-foot Berkeley Craftsman. Soon to be parents, the couple knew they would need more space for baby, but designed their home to purposely, and ingeniously, use every area within while adhering to a strict “no clutter” code.

No easy feat with a newborn.

“We added approximately 300 additional square feet to the interior of the house, and lots of livable outdoor space,” said Turner, architect and principal/founder at Berkeley-based Workshop 30. “This indoor/outdoor aspect gives us flexibility in where and how we spend our time at home.”

Once construction got started, some serious structural problems were discovered, forcing the couple to re-engineer and rebuild from the “studs up.”

“The only thing we retained from the original building was the façade,” said Williams, a UX designer for “It was important to us to maintain the house’s relationship to the neighborhood.”

Fortunately, the savvy couple anticipated the worst-case scenario and set aside 10 percent of their budget for contingencies. They would end up using every dollar.

“A lot of money gets eaten up in mistakes,” said Andrew Gregor of Blue Dog Construction and Renovation. “Once we knew how extensive the foundation issues were, it was important to slow the whole process down and be very deliberate in our approach.”

Gregor also minimized costs through his long-term relationships with subcontractors who all pitched in, or “worked his magic,” as Williams put it.

The new floor plan, drafted by Turner but collaboratively conceptualized by the couple, divides the home into physical halves. Entering the home’s bright orange portal, the small landing opens to an unexpectedly expansive and modern galley kitchen. Vaulted ceilings give the room visual and physical height, and Nana folding glass doors open on to 300 square feet of decking and provide an unobstructed view from front door to backyard.

“When the weather’s nice, we move the dining room table outside,” said Turner. “The area becomes a play space for our daughter.”

A strategically placed pantry/laundry room/garage was central to the redesign. “Our goal was to have one location within the house for things we didn’t want to see. It was a big lifestyle decision to stay small, and this design makes us commit to that way of life,” Willliams said. “We didn’t give ourselves a way out for storing more stuff.”

Tidy and remarkably spacious, the pantry allowed for the subtle omission of eye-level kitchen cabinets, which minimized visual clutter in the sleek kitchen, and showcased vaulted ceilings and accent lighting. It also serves as a laundry room and garage for tools and bicycles, while foodstuffs, linens, and other necessities are neatly displayed on wire shelves for easy access and clutter accountability.

The other half of the home is divided between two bedrooms—a master bedroom and the nursery; an Asian-inspired bathroom (where the couple admits to indulging themselves on costs); and a comfortable, sunny, living room at the front of the house. There are no closets in these rooms. Storage areas amount to dressers, bookshelves, and a modern industrial clothing rack for the couple’s wardrobe in the newly added master bedroom.

With all the deliberation and addressing the minutiae for the interior of their home, the couple was embarrassingly baffled at what to do with their yard. “It was uncomfortable being so clueless about our landscape options,” Williams said. “We knew we wanted a water-wise, natural plantscape. A little feral, nothing too organized or tidy.”

They turned to friend and neighbor Andrea Hurd of Mariposa Garden & Design who specializes in permaculture and habitat gardens to attract pollinators. She’s also a master stone artist who creates sublime garden sculpture and fountains from stacked stone. The pieces are left rough or hand-shaped to smooth, golden mean proportions.

In the backyard, the couple wanted to blend their outdoor “bistro” with the landscape. Hurd incorporated an existing apple tree into the overall design by connecting various “rooms” with stone pathways and various sitting areas throughout the spacious backyard. A Hurd stonework sculpture doubles as seating and surrounds a pebble-filled fire pit. In the front yard, nestled among low-maintenance greenery including meadow grasses, shrubby citrus and colorful quince, a Hurd sculpture anchors the home to its environs.

The home’s tiny footprint belies its roomy interior, but provides proof positive that with conscious design, less can truly be more, and small might just be the new black.

Faces of the East Bay