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Design for the Times, San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine

The following is an excerpt from the San Francisco Chronicle Sunday Magazine with additional images to illustrate the projects being described:


Before he started his own practice, architect Matthew Baran envisioned portable, robotic buildings that would adapt themselves to respond to contexts including built conditions and the weather, and reconfigure themselves to fit tight spaces. As the principal of Baran Studio Architecture in Oakland, he’s designed plenty of new houses – none yet robotic – that certainly take advantage of existing conditions (his three home Bordertown development in West Oakland, inspired by surrounding warehouses, has received design kudos from the AIA).


He’s also helped countless old houses adjust to current-day needs. Sometimes this involves heavy lifting. The firm has transformed several Victorians, a process that involves raising a one-bedroom, one- bathroom home, pouring a new foundation and creating a new first floor, then setting the original house back on top, in order to create a modern three-bedroom, 2 ½-bathroom house.

“All the bedrooms are tucked down underneath, and you walk up to a big open living space”, he explains. The cost of the procedure is about $400,000 – a considerable amount, but certainly less than starting from scratch.

To modernize an exterior, Baran likes to use cement-board panels, which provide a precise finish and are durable and inexpensive to boot. The material has a lot of potential, because it can be painted and can resemble natural wood or other materials.

In one of Baran Studio’s new homes in North Oakland, the cement-board panels are arranged in a vertical pattern that mimics standing-seam metal, an industrial-strength cladding that is normally used for roofs. He combined the dark blue material with a cedar tongue-and-groove siding for an eye catching façade.


For interiors, it’s hard to beat the simple trick of giving everything a coat of white paint. “Once you paint the whole space white, it always looks more modern,” says Baran, who did just that on a project called White Willow, a renovation in West Oakland. The flooring came prestained white, and the color stayed consistent throughout the window frames, cabinets, and countertops. The blank-page backdrop allows the natural hues of objects such as a wood bench and fiber rug to really stand out. In such a setting, a ceiling covered with wood panels can also have a lot of visual impact.

1128 Willow 10

“There are criticisms that modernism isn’t warm, that it’s cold and manufactured,” says Baran. “Wood helps to warm up the interior and brings a quality of imperfection, which has its own beauty.”

Lydia Lee – San Francisco Chronicle Home Design

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