Josh and Jen's Blank Canvas

Josh and Jen's Blank Canvas

Monika Gromek
Nov 5, 2009

Name: Josh Ganshorn and Jen Zahigian
Location: Oakland, California (near Jack London Square)
Owned/Rented: Owned
Size: 1650 sq. feet
Type: Loft
Years Lived: Owned 5 years, lived in 3+ years (took a couple years to build)

It's been said that finding the right home is a lot like falling in love, Hollywood style: The minute you cross the threshold, you just...know. You inspect every detail, you think about the changes and renovations, you imagine yourself living there. But what happens when you don't find that perfect home? You can keep looking--or take a risk. Josh and Jen did just that when they decided to take an empty 1920s warehouse with concrete floors and turn it into an ideal home for themselves.

When they decided to build their home, they embarked on the impossible mission of finding the perfect location. After an extensive search, they discovered an old warehouse in the Jack London District of Oakland where an empty floor was being parceled into ten live-work spaces. Already frequent visitors to the area, Josh and Jen were attracted not only to the industrial feel of the neighborhood, but also what it has to offer, like Yoshiʼs Jazz Club, and the Jack London Farmerʼs Market. They bought a north-east facing corner unit with an open view of Downtown Oakland and decided that it would be their first design-build project. Josh is a General Contractor and owner of Able + Baker Design, which builds and designs custom cabinets and furniture. With his shop near by and many creative ideas already flowing, they set to work.

Lofts typically embrace their rough industrial character and raw quality of materials; however, Josh and Jen chose a different approach. They loved the concrete walls and high ceilings, but they also wanted it to feel like home and have more of a traditional finish. They took their time to design every little detail, customizing it to their needs during the process. The result is a stunning, completely unexpected loft-like three bedroom apartment. Enjoy!

AT Survey:

The word "eclectic" seems generic and non-descript, but we heard it so often as people walked through the door, we might as well start there. Both of us have an appreciation for juxtaposition, and the seemingly new elements created by combining contrasting styles. In the case of our loft, we tried to take this stoic, 1920ʼs concrete warehouse and combine it with elements of a home built in the same era, rather than the traditional "loft" style found in similar buildings. While our loft was meant to be used as a work space, with plenty of tables, desks, and countertops to spread our projects, it was also our home, and main source of our entertainment. We like old, fun things, and have spent our lives shopping at thrift stores and yard sales searching for art, toys, books, records, and anything else with the right look.

We are constantly amazed by the chasm between peoples creativity and the status quo. Everything out there can be designed or even slightly altered in an infinite number of ways, yet the majority of homes, furniture, clothes, etc. are typically attempts to recreate designs that are already successful. This is fine, but uninspiring. We are inspired by unique things, from the slightest design variation, to more drastic departures from convention.

Favorite Element:
Our favorite element would have to be the kitchen. Packed with features, it is the core of the loft, and all-purpose social and workspace. The focal point is the large 7ʼ by 8ʼ island that wraps around a wide column. The food prep side with sink and dishwasher looks out to the open loft. The other side has seating for four and faces into the kitchen, and from the entry, a built-in, lit curio cabinet can be seen. We wrapped the column in Cherry panels to hide the rough plumbing and necessary electrical boxes, and to add some warmth to the space. The ceiling is one of the highlights. Itʼs arched beams and curved panels form a canopy which creates a sense of intimacy and visually divides it from the great room. Above the island seating, at the top of the curved canopy, a soffit conceals indirect red lighting. On movie nights, this lighting creates a warm glow from the kitchen, creating a classic theatre feel, without competing with the movie screen. I (Josh) built all of the cabinetry in a small shop I shared with my old boss in Mendocino. The cabinets on the two outer walls have a row of slightly deeper upper cabinets at the top to display some of our favorite finds. Finally, I built a flower cabinet for Jen -- I angled a tall, narrow upper cabinet toward the dining area with a vase of fresh flowers that we change weekly.

Biggest Challenge:
The biggest challenge was working with the limited natural light, while still compartmentalizing the space. One side of the loft has fantastic light from the full ceiling height windows. We made every attempt to carry this light as far into the loft as possible. In the master suite we built transom windows above the bath, closet and entry door. The office, which is the furthest from natural light, has large double doors that open to the well lit great room.

What Friends Say:
Our friends love it. Like everyone else, theyʼre often surprised the first time they enter. No one ever expects a modern loft to have the comforts of their parentʼs home. Thereʼs always great music, fun books, something good in the fridge, and a place to crash.

Biggest Embarrassment:
Our biggest embarrassments are the common area outside our loft and the kitchen grout. Our floor of the building was the last to be developed, and somehow it didnʼt receive the same attention as the other floors. As for the kitchen grout, we had a nice concrete gray picked out (a color we used throughout the loft in an attempt to incorporate the warehouse element.) When it came time to grout the kitchen, Josh simply grabbed the wrong bag, and wet white grout is a nice concrete color until it dries. Whoops.

Proudest DIY:
The whole loft. We designed the space, drew the plans, and we built most of it ourselves, with the help of longtime friend, Eric Burke. If we had to pick one part, it would be the arched ceiling. We framed the entire thing in steel, and each arched section came out perfectly.

Biggest Indulgence:
Either the remote controlled drop-down movie screen with automated black-out curtains, or the 36" x 72" Jacuzzi tub with dedicated water heater.

Best Advice:
Always carry a Sharpie. You never know when you have to write on something other than paper.

Dream Source:
An Able + Baker catalog containing products of Josh's own designs. Someday...

Urban Ore in Berkeley, Thrift Stores, Charles Keene (my old boss), Heartwood cooperative woodshop in Berkeley, Home Depot close-outs, and anything found in the "as-is" section of a store.

As working artists, our definition for "art" is anything that creates discourse or dialogue (even an internal one), and by this definition, almost anything can qualify. Because of this, our collection ranges from the "found" variety, to paintings and pieces that stretch our budget. Some of the nicer pieces were inherited from Jenʼs Great Uncle Larry. One of the more interesting, and source of many discussions, is the unfinished portrait of the mother and sons, found in the discard pile in the back room of a Berkeley thrift store. We have a couple of prints from Hannah Stouffer, and several paintings, including the large abstract piece in the entry, from longtime friend Vicente Aello. The majority of the Photographs were taken by Jen. Like most of our friends, we have more artwork than wall space, so the pieces rotate regularly.

Furniture, Accessories, and Collectable:
The nicer furniture pieces, including the hand-carved chairs, were inherited from the estate of Uncle Larry, who lived in San Francisco. According to Sothebyʼs, the hammered copper lamp with mica shade, is likely from the Dirk Van Erp shop, or made by one of his employees, but has no markings. Antiques Roadshow might have a different story. The loge seating is from the Fig Garden Cinemas, a theatre that both of us
visited when we were young. All other collectible and accessories have been acquired over the years from a variety of sources.

(Thanks, Josh & Jen!)

Images: Monika Gromek

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