Kelsey and Karl’s Oceanic Apartment by the Lake

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Name: Kelsey Robinson (Artist and founder of The Whole Cake) and Karl Erhard (PhD student in Plant biology at UC Berkeley)
Location: Oakland, California
Size: 900 square feet
Years lived in: 2
Who else lives here: Solomon the cat and Sevvy the dog

Sea stars sprawl out in the living room. A galleon sails through the dining room. Coral grows from hardwood floors. Ocean-inspired decor pops up here and there in Kelsey and Karl’s bright, beautiful Oakland, California apartment. Their pad is on the top floor of a stunning 1920s landmark building overlooking one of the city’s prettiest lakes. All jazz-age grandeur, an impressive lobby leads to their lovely flat where period details like a built-in ice box fit perfectly with the couple’s well-curated collection of thrift store finds and family hand-me-downs. 

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)
(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

A graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design, Kelsey has an innate creativity, and when something needs a little touching up, she takes care of it. A pair of chairs got a new look when she re-upholstered them in Karl’s old wool shirts. When she couldn’t find a cat tree she liked, she made one.

The couple’s creative storage solutions include an old wooden wine box turned cookbook cubby, and a custom-made shelving unit that’s perfect for storing their extensive LP collection. The lo-fi media stand sits opposite one of the only new pieces of furniture in the apartment — a white couch. How, you might ask, do Kelsey and Karl keep a white couch clean with two pets, including a cat with black hair? They cover it in one of the most durable textiles in existence — a Hudson’s Bay Point Blanket.

Of course artwork is everywhere, from the colorful sea-fan print in the bathroom, to the sweet little deer painting above Sevvy the dog’s nap spot. Two little cake paintings hang near Kelsey’s collection of vintage cake stands in the kitchen where Kelsey spends most of her time. As founder of the cake design business The Whole Cake, she whips up exquisite, one-of-a-kind cakes with seasonal, local ingredients. By omitting eggs, milk, and butter from her recipes, she generates less waste than a traditional cake baking company would.

Though Kelsey doesn’t keep her cakes cool in that antiquated ice box, she has been known to top a beautiful, beach themed wedding cake with an extraordinary piece of hand-crafted coral.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Re-Nest Survey

Our style: An old time Nature Lab: Kelsey is the artist who loves biology and Karl is the biologist who loves art, so we think the style of our apartment reflects that combination.

Inspiration: Shapes from the natural world.

Favorite Element: The light. Karl said “We’ll take it!” five seconds after we walked in. This is our first place together and he had been living in a poorly lit studio, so was taken by the light. The animals move around the house napping in the sunny spots throughout the day, and the plants love it too!  Roof access right above our apartment comes in at a close second, but the southern exposure is definitely our favorite aspect.

Biggest Challenge: The small kitchen is somewhat of a challenge, there isn’t much storage. We cook almost every day and there is not a lot of counter space for all of our tools.  Upside:  it’s pretty quick to clean.

What Friends Say: One friend says: “When are you going out of town so I can house sit?”

Proudest DIY: Pet accessories 1) Solomon’s cat tree. Solomon is the most amazing cat, we knew he would be fine with a dog but before we adopted Sevvy we wanted to do something nice for him, make him his own special space.  And those pre-fab ones are pretty hideous.  So we built him a cat tree made from reclaimed wood and carpet remnants from a plan we found on the Internet. It was a fun project!  2) I found Sevvy’s dog bed covers at SCRAP brand new.  I was actually going there to buy fabric to make a dog bed but found these instead. I then went to a foam cushion factory and got a deal on some natural latex foam remnants to stuff the beds with.

Biggest Indulgence: We spoiled ourselves with a new sofa.

Best Advice: Move your furniture around when you clean. It feels fresh to walk into a newly arranged space.  The great thing about recycled furniture is you don’t have to feel bad about editing it out, and it goes to a new home.

Green Elements/Initiatives: 90% of our furniture is at least second hand. Our roof garden is all succulent plants that don’t need much water. In the summer we grow tomatoes and lettuces and a tub load of herbs.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)


Appliances: Kitchen Aid mixer, Excalibur food dehydrator for making raw recipes (like amazing raw macaroons) and healthy dog treats.

Furniture: The record shelf was custom made at Fenton MacLaren, our couch is from Ikea, everything else is from Craigslist, Urban Ore, SCRAP, my parents’ basement. The armoire in our bedroom is from my parents’ house, it is nice and big and super old, but easy to move, it comes apart into three pieces!  I covered the seats of the “Chanel” backed chairs with a couple of Karl’s old wool shirts (I asked first). The baby armoire in the dining room has drawers behind the left door and space to hang tiny clothes on the other. We’ve split it up and used it to house desk/office type stuff. I would eventually like to knock out the lower drawers and put the TV inside it.

Accessories: Kelsey made the coral-inspired sculptures and ceramics. Some cool items from Karl’s time living in Germany, like der Rauchermann (“Smoking Man”).  Karl’s microscope.  Three enormous plants in pots from AW Pottery in Berkeley. The starfish poster was a gift to Karl from Kelsey, found at Aria Antiques in San Francisco. Reclaimed apothecary matchstick bottle by Jen Pearson.

Lighting: The pendant lotus lamp is vintage Danish design from The White Elephant Sale, the black lamp is from a garage sale. The torchiere lamp in the living room is from Urban Ore, the other two in the living room are from Ikea. Bedroom lamps are vintage.

Rugs and Carpets: Persian rug was Kelsey’s grandmother’s.

Window Treatments: My mother has a curtain buying compulsion, there is an entire closet in their basement full of curtains. I helped myself. We definitely needed thick ones for the bedroom since the streetlights are right there, and some in the living room to shield the hot sun in the morning time. I made the ones in the kitchen. The rest of the windows have blinds that were here when we moved in. 

Beds: Our mattress is from Keetsa and the frame was a craigslist find.

Artwork: The paintings in the bedroom, the deer in the living room, screen print pattern in the hallway by Kelsey Robinson. Also art by Tallulah Terryl, Sophie Leininger, Lena Verderano Reynoso (all artists from The Compound Gallery, where Kelsey’s studio is located)  And Jessica Hess and Hannah Berman. Ship by Bobby G (was found at antique shop), Landscapes by Kelsey’s grandmother Marilyn.

Flooring: We love our hardwood floors.

(Thanks, Kelsey and Karl!)

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