El Cerrito

The Gelston Place house was a dream come true for the owner and his family. They had previously lived in Albany, where they had bought their first home with the intention of providing their children with a good education. They were happy with the quality of the public schools in Albany, but they felt constrained by the high prices and low availability of houses in the area. They decided to look for a bigger and better home when their children grew older and their priorities changed.

They found their ideal home in El Cerrito hills, on a cul-de-sac that offered a breathtaking view of the bay. The original house was not very well designed or built, as the contractor had ignored the site’s shape and slope. The lot was irregular and had strict building-setbacks, which made it difficult to construct a functional and attractive house. However, the owner saw the potential of the site and hired an architect to transform it into a modern and spacious residence.

The Gelston Place house had a garage that took up a lot of space on the main floor and was hard to access from the street due to a steep driveway. The house was also built too close to the property lines, so we could not expand it beyond allowable building setbacks. We had to think of a creative way to make more living space inside the existing building envelop and structure.

The kitchen was in a bad spot that made the living room too small and inflexible. The bedrooms were isolated from the rest of the house by a dark and narrow corridor and stairs. The house had a very poor flow and functionality.


We decided to get rid of the garage and turn it into a living area. We broke up the rigid layout of the main floor and rearranged the rooms to improve the movement and comfort in the house.

We decided to dig out the crawl space under the living room, which was on a raised floor and sloped site, and make it into a new garage with standard height and easy access from street. The new garage had a flat driveway to the street, which was very convenient. We also added an indoor staircase from the east side of the garage to the main floor of the house. This way, after parking the car, one could go up the stairs and reach the kitchen, the living room, and the bedrooms.

The staircase also acted as a light-well with skylights that opened up to the sky. This created a vertical connection and a focal point for the living spaces around it. Moreover, we moved the kitchen to where the old garage used to be, next to the old driveway. This gave us a chance to make an outdoor dining area that the whole family could enjoy.

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