Artist's Victorian

Alameda, California

This beautiful 1881 Alameda Victorian cottage, wonderfully embodying the Transitional Gothic-Eastlake era, had most of its original features intact. Our clients, one of whom is a painter, wanted to preserve the beauty of the historic home while modernizing its flow and function.

From several small rooms we created a bright, open artist’s studio. We dug out the basement for a large workshop, extending a new run of stair in keeping with the existing original staircase. While keeping the bones of the house intact, we combined small spaces into large rooms, closed off doorways that were in awkward places, removed unused chimneys, changed the circulation through the house for ease and good sightlines, and made new high doorways that work gracefully with the eleven foot high ceilings. We removed inconsistent picture railings to give wall space for the clients’ art collection and to enhance the height of the rooms. From a poorly laid out kitchen and adjunct utility rooms, we made a large kitchen and family room with nine foot high glass doors to a new large deck. A tall wood screen at one end of the deck, fire pit and seating give the sense of an outdoor room, overlooking the owners’ intensively planted garden. A previous mismatched addition at the side of the house was removed and a cozy outdoor living space made where morning light is received. The original house was segmented into small spaces; the new open design lends itself to the clients’ lifestyle of entertaining groups of people, working from home, and enjoying indoor-outdoor living.

Energy and other ecological upgrades to an historic house require careful consideration of the real benefits and costs of the potential upgrades and the impacts on the older structure. Building less is a good place to look for ecological design. Here we kept and fixed up existing materials where possible. The lovely original Douglas fir subfloors were patched, stained dark and sealed. Existing plaster was retained, patched and matched where practical. Structural change was kept to a minimum. Original details were retained, repaired, and treated to preserve them into the future. Salvaged materials were used for ecological and aesthetic reasons. The house was insulated well top to bottom, new hydronic radiant floor heating and hydronic wall radiators were added throughout the house, an efficient gas fireplace was installed in the dining room next to the table, and additional glass to the south and west helps warm the house – these measures provide comfort and efficiency in what was previously a cold, expensive-to-heat house. We chose to keep the original tall single-paned windows; we decided that the cost of replacing them, the environmental impact of throwing away perfectly functional windows plus embodied energy in new windows, and the loss of an historic asset, did not make sense for the incremental improved energy efficiency that new double paned or triple paned windows would give. Large rainwater catchment tanks under the high deck provide for an intensively farmed garden.

Photography: Kurt Manley

“Alexandra was the architect for a major renovation of the 1880’s Victorian home I purchased in Alameda. The house was built in 1881 and had essentially not been updated. We replaced the foundation, the roof, the electrical and plumbing systems, the kitchen, and baths. We reorganized the layout. We added a large contemporary deck to extend our living space.  

Alexandra did a great job. She understands how to work with the Alameda planning and building departments which really came in handy. She knows a lot of contractors in Alameda which was an invaluable source for contractor referrals. She was flexible in our working arrangement which saved me quite a bit of money. It was a pleasure to work with Alexandra and her team. They were always being patient with me and came up with good solutions to problems we ran across. I highly recommend Alexandra and her team.” – Client