written by:
photos by:
May 13, 2009
Originally published in Think Smaller

In Oakland, California, two designers transformed a 100-year-old barn into a (very) cozy home of their own by redefining the functionality of walls and windowsills.

1 / 9
Even in the Stonorovs’ tiny first-floor room, the curse of the kitchen as the inevitable gathering place lives on—–though the two-foot space between the sink and metal island is less than ideal for the family of three and their blue heeler, Oscar.
Photo by 
2 / 9
Modern barnhouse transformation in Oakland
Outside, the couple clad the house with a rain screen of 1.5-by-1.5-inch strips of spruce to create a “modern rustic barn.” The extra-deep sills of the first-floor window become a bench on the outside and a shelf on the inside.
Photo by 
3 / 9
Self-proclaimed perfectionists Tolya and Otto “obsessed about making everything” themselves—–from the windows down to the beds.
Photo by 
4 / 9
Using simple and easy-to-maintain materials in innovative ways was a guiding principle in the Stonorovs’ design. The bathroom walls are made out of HardiePanel vertical siding, which they also used to clad two of the exterior walls.
Photo by 
5 / 9
Tolya and Otto's handiwork, such as the cabinetry in the master bedroom, helps keep the lines of the house clean and the rooms tidy.
Photo by 
6 / 9
The Stonorovs couldn’t find a crib they liked and that fit their budget, so Tolya custom-made Niko’s sleeper out of walnut plywood and 3form plastic circles laser-cut by East Bay Laser & Waterjet. Otto made the sliding changing table out of solid walnut. Worried that their dog, Oscar, was feeling neglected, he built a Japanese-style water and food dish for him.
Photo by 
7 / 9
The kitchen island—–an equipment stand purchased from online restaurant supplier Serv-U—–is essential in providing much-needed counter space. The bottom shelf creates additional storage and the outlets mounted underneath allow it to become a coffee and toast center. Because it’s stainless steel, the family can put a hot pan right on the surface without worrying about trivets—–which are hard to keep handy in such a small place.
Photo by 
8 / 9
The stairway features built-in shelving that's accessible from both sides.
Photo by 
9 / 9
stonorov house outside portrait thumbnail
Stonorov Residence

Three years ago, Otto and I wanted to start doing more of our own work, so we quit our jobs at big architectural firms and started our own office, Stonorov Workshop. Our first project: Renovate our home.

We started in August 2006 but didn’t finish until April 2007. It all took much longer than we expected and we worked on the house nonstop for those eight months, even after I became pregnant with Niko in October.

When we opened the walls, you could see straight to the outside. The framing was nonexistent and the floor dipped down a foot in the bathroom; we didn’t know how it was standing. When I pulled the first piece of drywall off the ceiling, rat feces came pouring down on me. It was awful.

We had to replace nearly everything, except the upstairs floor, which was one of our few wonderful finds.

I was walking up the stairs one day and because the former owners
never put on a trim board, I couldsee a section of the flooring. I looked and said, “Oh my god, that’s wood!” The Pergo flooring came up in half an hour, and we did very little to finish the wood that was underneath.

The parts of the house function as very different areas, even though they’re all within the same tiny space. We don’t have a TV, but when we set up our laptop across from the sofa, that becomes the hangout area. When we’re at the table, it’s very much the eating area. Being able to open both doors to the patio makes a big difference in extending the space. We’ve been able to host dinners with six adults without feeling too closed in.

The fact that the house is two stories is really important. You walk up the stairs and suddenly you’re in a 16-foot-high space, which makes it feel really big. Upstairs is the bedroom and our quiet space. We fantasize about moving to the country and wanted to have our own little oasis up there, so we placed each window in a way that allows you to see only trees.
Niko loves the house. He climbs up the stairs, does laps around the kitchen island, and really likes throwing things out the custom dog door. There are no corners, so it’s pretty kid-proof, but sometimes the energy gets overwhelming with Niko and Oscar both  running around and balls all over the floor. That’s when we go for a walk.

The only way we can live in 400 square feet is because we thought out each detail and tried to make every space usable when we were designing the renovation. Everything is built in so there’s nothing jutting out into any rooms. We have an inset bookshelf along the stairs with the exact space for our photo albums, cookbooks, and favorite architecture and garden books. We made the window ledges extra deep so we can put our keys and wallets somewhere when we come home. We also have to keep it really clean. When things start getting everywhere, it becomes claustrophobic.

It was really important to us as home designers to do the building ourselves. You spend time drawing plumbing and electrical systems and you know in theory how it works but you don’t know how it actually goes together. Now when we draw something, we know the implications of our design and if it’s going to work or not.

We won’t live here forever—we will have another kid eventually—but it will transfer into a studio for our firm pretty easily. Working here will be great, and later someone like my mom could live in this house.

Overall, it’s pretty perfect for what we’ll want in the future—–we’ll just add another room that way or push it out this way. The only thing I would change is the six-inch-wide concrete kitchen sink. It’s too damn small and if you drop something in it, it’s a goner.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

45 dva 2270 persp1 cmyk 0
The prospect of retirement doesn’t just signal the end of a career; it offers the chance to recalibrate and re-prioritize in life.
July 25, 2016
You don’t have to choose between sustainable energy and curb appeal.
July 19, 2016
jakemagnus queensland 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
July 06, 2016
content delzresidence 013 1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 29, 2016
abc malacari marwick stair 01 0
A simple set of stairs is a remodel’s backbone.
June 28, 2016
Design Award of Excellence winner Mellon Square.
Docomomo US announces the winners of this year's Modernism in America Awards. Each project showcases exemplary modern restoration techniques, practices, and ideas.
June 27, 2016
monogram dwell sf 039 1
After last year’s collaboration, we were excited to team up with Monogram again for the 2016 Monogram Modern Home Tour.
June 27, 2016
switch over chicago smart renovation penthouse deck smar green ball lamps quinze milan lounge furniture garapa hardwood
A strategic rewire enhances a spec house’s gut renovation.
June 26, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent coralie gourguechon treviso italy cphotos by coralie gourguechon co produced by isdat planche anatomique de haut parleur1
Coralie Gourguechon's paper objects will make you see technology in a whole new way.
June 26, 2016
green machine smart home aspen colorado facade yard bocci deck patio savant
Smart technology helps a house in Aspen, Colorado, stay on its sustainable course.
June 25, 2016
Compact Aglol 11 television plastic brionvega.
The aesthetic appeal of personal electronics has long fueled consumer interest. A new industrial design book celebrates devices that broke the mold.
June 25, 2016
modern backyard deck ipe wood
An angled deck transforms a backyard in Menlo Park, California, into a welcoming gathering spot.
June 24, 2016
dscf5485 1
Today, we kicked off this year’s annual Dwell on Design at the LA Convention Center, which will continue through Sunday, June 26th. Though we’ve been hosting this extensive event for years, this time around is particularly special.
June 24, 2016
under the radar renovation napa
Two designers restore a low-slung midcentury gem in Napa, California, by an unsung Bay Area modernist.
June 24, 2016
Exterior of Huneeus/Sugar Bowl Home.
San Francisco–based designer Maca Huneeus created her family’s weekend retreat near Lake Tahoe with a relaxed, sophisticated sensibility.
June 24, 2016
light and shadow bathroom walnut storage units corian counter vola faucet
A Toronto couple remodel their home with a special emphasis on a spacious kitchen and a material-rich bathroom.
June 24, 2016
Affordable home in Kansas City living room
In Kansas City, an architecture studio designs an adaptable house for a musician on a budget.
June 23, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment oak vertical slats office
By straightening angles, installing windows, and adding vertical accents, architect Aaron Ritenour brought light and order to an irregularly shaped apartment in the heart of Athens, Greece.
June 23, 2016
kitchen confidential tiles custom cabinetry oak veneer timber house
A modest kitchen addition to a couple’s cottage outside of Brisbane proves that one 376-square-foot room can revive an entire home.
June 23, 2016
feldman architecture 0
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most captivating design and architecture shots of the week.
June 22, 2016
Blackened timber Dutch home
A modern dwelling replaces a fallen farmhouse.
June 22, 2016
hillcrest house interior kitchen 3
Seeking an escape from bustling city life, a Manhattan couple embarks on a renovation in the verdant Hudson Valley.
June 22, 2016
Atelier Moderno renovated an old industrial building to create a luminous, modern home.
June 21, 2016
San Francisco floating home exterior
Anchored in a small San Francisco canal, this floating home takes its cues from a classic city habitat.
June 21, 2016
modern renovation addition solar powered scotland facade steel balcony
From the bones of a neglected farmstead in rural Scotland emerges a low-impact, solar-powered home that’s all about working with what was already there.
June 21, 2016
up in the air small space new zealand facade corrugated metal cladding
An architect with a taste for unconventional living spaces creates a small house at lofty heights with a starring view.
June 21, 2016
young guns 2016 emerging talent marjan van aubel london cwai ming ng current window
Marjan Van Aubel makes technology a little more natural.
June 21, 2016
urban pastoral brooklyn family home facade steel cypress double
Building on the site of a former one-car garage, an architect creates his family’s home in an evolving neighborhood of Brooklyn.
June 20, 2016
Modern Brooklyn backyard studio with plexiglass skylight, green roof, and cedar cladding facade
In a Brooklyn backyard, an off-duty architect builds a structure that tests his attention to the little things.
June 20, 2016
the outer limits paris prefab home living area vertigo lamp constance guisset gijs bakker strip tablemetal panels
In the suburbs of Paris, an architect with an eco-friendly practice doesn’t let tradition stand in the way of innovation.
June 20, 2016