An architect and an academic, Charles Debbas visited us in May 2016 to share a wide variety of images and projects from his successful and varied career. From the earliest project he shared, a flower shop in Berkeley, to the child care centers and preschool he designed for a community in Zimbabwe, to his forays into product design, each project he shared assumed its own identity, clearly catered to the client at hand. Yet, the driving principals behind his work – a belief in the strength of simplicity, a delight in shaping the spatial experience of users, and a commitment to creating designs that activate all human senses – stood out as common across the board. We are grateful that Charles, who has been an architect in Berkeley since 1989 and teaches at the University when not working in the studio, took some time out of his busy schedule to share his story with us.
Flower Shop, Berkeley CA
Giza Museum, Egypt, 2002
Child Care Centers/Pre-Schools, Zimbabwe, 2006
“Don’t do what’s hip. Do what’s you,” advised one of the owners of a recently renovated SoMa loft as he stood in his new kitchen. An executive coach to early age start-ups, he and his wife, an attorney, use the loft as an urban pied-a-terre after downsizing from Silicon Valley, splitting their time between the city and their weekend wine country home.
Their new loft strikes a balance between modern minimalism and the kitsch of the accoutrements they’ve collected over years of travel. It features both the crispness of uninterrupted lines in its casework and the curves of conch shells gifted from relatives, as well as an all-white palette integrated with coins of color. These complimentary design elements are a result of extensive collaboration between the architects and the owners, and prove that strong relationships are the foundation for good design.
At the core of the collaborative design process was Steven Stept, who designed the project with his previous partner Irit Axelrod and saw it through construction at Feldman Architecture.
“Steven and I are a lot alike,” explained the start-ups coach, who situated himself at the heart of the design discussion by managing the project with the help of a superintendent in lieu of hiring a general contractor. “We are focused and unafraid to disagree. I can tell if something is off by an inch from 50 feet away. It comes down to attention to detail, and Steven is absolutely zealous about that.”
Indeed, the project’s success as a coherent whole is built from thoughtful details, from a slight lift in counter height to accommodate the stature of one of the clients, to a discreet corner designed specifically with the needs of the couple’s cat in mind.
“When you’re anticipating a vision,” explained the attorney, “you see the pieces of the design, but you can’t know the usefulness of their whole until you live in it. The design functions exactly as we had intended it.”
When the couple, first encountered the space, they were attracted to its “warehouse vibe,” reminiscent of the 1924 building’s previous stint as a printing business. The loft’s high ceilings and abundance of concrete kept it from being a “cookie-cutter space,” but its maple floor was worn and warped, and a lack of storage would leave personal belongings exposed and the space cluttered with trinkets. With an initial vision centered on simplicity, balance, and symmetry, the couple and their design team set out to bring the space to its full potential.
To do so, Axelrod + Stept Architects crafted a precise plan to integrate the concrete structure into a fluid design, where carefully orchestrated spaces behind a horizontal sliding door would offer privacy for the bedroom, master bath, and laundry. The successful execution of their design incorporated carefully selected products and materials, proving the clients’ and designers’ commitment to design excellence from design vision to reality. The end result was a striking design, based on precision and expertly executed.
The remodel pulled one of the long, narrow apartment’s walls back from its previously angled position, allowing natural light from the space’s largest window to wash down the entire length of the apartment. The new wall is covered in sleek custom casework, whose elongated lines accentuate the loft’s length and flow into the kitchen and whose bright white offers a striking contrast to the dark wood of the loft’s floor.* Across from the casework, horizontal slatted aluminum and glass sliding doors from the Italian designer Adielle hide the master suite and a powder room when closed, creating defined spaces within a coherent whole. When open, the doors allow one space to flow into another, adding a sense of agility to a home characterized by rigid lines. So, too, an Ecro-USA track fixture with LED lights running the length of the corridor, splashing spotlights onto the doors and casework, can be adjusted for both intensity and angle. Throughout the apartment, the design team devoted careful thought to the integration of the space’s interior design and lighting, tapping into the expertise of local lighting designer Tali Ariely.**
With a new laundry and utility room, a guest Murphy bed that recedes into the casework, and extensive storage, the space remains free from clutter, and its sight lines stretch uninterrupted from one end of the apartment to the other.
“The casework is a wonderful looking piece of architecture,” commented one of the clients. “But, more importantly, the space just became more usable.”
Just as the architects brought a design centered on white casework and dark floors and the clients added animation and dimension through souvenirs and select art, the character of the neighborhood had a role in shaping the loft’s design. Just a few blocks from South Park, the loft is immersed in the energy of its growing neighborhood. New office buildings stretch towards the sky, and at street level lines for hole-in-the-wall lunch destinations stretch around the block. The modern aesthetic of the design anticipated the new life the past few years has brought to the neighborhood. Yet, while it reflects the freshness of its environment visually, the loft’s thick envelope keeps the space quiet. And, just as they find the minimalism of the space as calming rather than cool, the clients find a serenity in the apartment that sets it apart from its busy surroundings.
*The corridor casework is a custom linear cabinet by Bartlett Cabinets in Oakland, CA. The kitchen cabinetry comes from Downsview Cabinets.
** The ultimate lighting design warms the modern loft with surface mounted wall washers from Kreon, recessed linear lighting from XAL, bath wall sconces and pendant fixtures from Vibia, and wall uplight sconces from Leucos.
Happy Spring from Feldman Architecture, where the warm(er) weather has brought fresh faces to the FA team, new projects to our firm, up-to-date photos to the website, and extensive progress on job sites across the Bay Area.
In recent news, our Palo Alto Lantern House was featured in the April 2016 edition ofSan Francisco Magazine. The article, entitled “Venturing Outside the Box: A modern Palo Alto home that rounds out the Edges,” delves into the creative process behind the residence’s design, revealing how a combination of aesthetic preferences and perspectives contributed to the warm modernism of the finished home. Take a look at photographer Paul Dyer’s images of the house, newly posted on the Feldman website, to find out why it was dubbed The Lantern House (pictured above). This summer, keep an eye out for the July/August issue of Dwell Magazine for an exclusive feature story about Ranch O|H, a modern retreat in Carmel’s Santa Lucia Preserve!
We are thrilled to share three new projects with you via the ever-growing On the Boards section of our website: Project Miller, an all-family, inspirational nature retreat with a focus on the restorative powers of nature in the heart of the Salinas Valley; Vineyard Haven, a guest cottage in coastal New England; and the Pavilion, a residence perched on a ledge overlooking San Jose (pictured below). Stay tuned for more FA updates, including new images from our recent photoshoot of a San Franciscan loft, which capture the crisp lines and cool palette of the home (sneak peek below).
We would like to issue a warm welcome to the four newest members of our growing firm, including the talented Leila Bijan, Manli Zarandian, and Heera Basi, as well as Jeff Wheeler, Feldman Architecture’s third Associate (pictured below from left). We are grateful for the wealth of experience and skills that they bring to the team and excited to collaborate with them on current and future projects.
Adept as they are at the drafting table, our new staff members were no match for Tai’s sons at the pool table. The M.V.P. of our office excursion to Jillian’s was undoubtedly four-year-old Hayoto, whose knack for sneaking balls from the table brought new meaning to the concept of aggressive play (pictured below).
To learn which new hire wrote their undergraduate thesis on feminism and architecture in the 1960s, check out the new staff’s bios and portraits on Feldman Architecture’s website, and take a peek at our new group portrait, too. The wonderful Sarah Peet managed to produce a shot that showcases all of our good sides, even if it prominently features a pair of mismatched socks.
Be sure to stay up to date with the latest Feldman Architecture news via our Facebook and Instagram (@feldmanarchitecture), where we’ll continue to post construction photos and project updates.
Until next time,
The team at Feldman Architecture
When a venture capital firm approached Feldman Architecture in the hopes of renovating an office space in San Francisco’s Presidio Park, the architects faced a challenge: How could they design offices fit for a firm based in innovation, one that both shapes and reacts to the most striking ideas for the future? How would they create a space where the only constant is the constant advancement of the elusive cutting edge?
On a recent afternoon, the venture capital firm’s Director of Operations walked me through the architect’s solution: a light-filled office whose materials pay tribute to the surrounding Presidio Park, fostering both calm and creativity within. It was clear that, just as the design team had refused to view the space’s pre-existing concrete structural columns as obstacles and had instead embraced them as inspiration for the space’s organization, they had welcomed the challenge of the project as a chance for creativity. “What comes through about the design,” she told me, “was that elements that may have been challenges were viewed as opportunities.”
One of the office’s strengths is a profound connection to the building’s location, where ferns cluster around the trunks of Coast Redwoods and wildflowers abound in the spring and summer. As the firm traded the dark, cramped spaces of their old offices for a space with more natural light, they were determined to create and maintain a strong visual connection with their natural surroundings. In the Presidio VC Offices, visitors are greeted in a high-ceilinged lobby, where sunlight washes in from the surrounding Presidio Park, coating the ivy of the room’s living wall with the sheen of natural light. In each direction, compression corridors branch off from the reception area. Private offices line the hallways, and the large windows on their exterior walls paired with the glass doors on their inner walls allow light to flow into the offices and through them, spilling into the compression corridor at their core. The complimentary textures of wood-paneled walls and ivy in the reception area and the trunk-like columns that progress down the office halls replicate the forest outside and its dappled glades of towering trees. The office fosters a calm productivity, void of the frantic energy that so often settles over industrious offices. “I love watching the look on people’s faces as they walk through the door,” the Director of Operations said. “Our lobby is striking and vastly different from most downtown office spaces.”
While the office’s effects are immediate, she believes it takes familiarity to fully appreciate the more subtle strengths of the design: the way it captures different views from the conference rooms and private offices, or how it frames the fog hovering over and retreating from the Golden Gate Bridge in the kitchen window. Staff members have noticed and embraced the clear visual language of the design, the dark accents repeated throughout the space, and the coherence of its palette. And, slowly, they have added their own subtle embellishments to its warm, clean canvas. A few pieces of art and silly décor elements personalize the space, but largely, the Director of Operations says, they allow the design and architecture to speak for themselves.
She appreciates that the office, created for hard-working, ambitious individuals, is anything but imposing. Its simplicity invites ideas and visitors, alike, and renders the space adaptable. For a past event in the office’s cavernous library, the firm rearranged the modular furniture to accommodate easels and cocktail tables, and, recently, they transformed the space into an intimate setting for a ‘fireside chat’ discussion. It’s an agile space, both adaptable for weekly events and prepared for the possibility of bigger changes down the line, tapping into the timelessness of the trees outside its windows.
– Abigail Bliss
In April, we had the pleasure of welcoming the two artists behind LC Studio Tutto, Sofia Lacin and Hennessey Chrisophel, into the office to speak about their large-scale public art projects. Members of the FA team enjoyed taking a break from comparing different shades of gray to learn about projects whose colors run the gamut of the rainbow. While LC Studio Tutto’s murals in tunnels, under freeways, and on the sides of silos were strikingly different from FA’s own projects in many ways, we were pleased to recognize a few shared core tenants: a careful consideration of site and integration, an attention to each client’s individual needs, and the use of natural light as a dynamic design element. Most notably, in LC Studio Tutto’s “Same Sun” project, three metal letters perched on top of a large water tank cast shadows onto its painted side below, their shadows shifting over the course of the day and throughout the year. Once each year, on the summer solstice, the shadow letters align with painted ones to spell out the phrase, “Sol Omnibus Lucet,” or “The Sun Shines Upon Us All.”
We are grateful for Sofia and Hennessey’s insights into the creative design process and the fantastic work it produces, as well as the meaningful discussion about collaboration and process that they struck up after sharing their portfolio.
Sofia Lacin and Hennessey Christophel
In addition to being a good friend of Feldman’s Ahlam Reiley, Christian Rodatus is the Executive Vice President of Enlighted, a company providing the technology to make smart sensors, networked lighting systems, and the Internet of Things viable options for commercial buildings. Forward-thinking and continually developing, Enlighten’s tools provide information about the activity in a building at given time and harness that information to enhance the experience of the building’s users. For example, sensors detect daylight and dim lights to reduce energy, or analyze the current temperature to scale back on heating or cooling. Christian’s presentation made clear the profound implications this technology has for the reduction of energy and resource consumption in large, commercial buildings, and it was exciting to learn how buildings are becoming increasingly responsive to their users.
PC: Getty Images/Ikon Images