When looking for a live/work space to call home, photographer Michelle Walker fell in love with a building in Oakland’s waterfront Jack London Square district. “I love walking out my front door and having 5 awesome places to go for coffee! There are a great selection of restaurants, shops, and (at least) 8 wineries! In Jack London Square! And now that Sunset Magazine is moving in, it’s going to get even better.” What wasn’t perfect was the space itself. After a whirlwind six-week total gut-and-remodel renovation on the industrial loft, Michelle moved in with her husband Craig and her pup, Riley.
Your apartment has great industrial details- like those concrete walls!- what was the space originally?
While it looks “vintage”, the Sierra was actually built in 2003 by Kava Massih Architects as live/work lofts. Our unit has 25′ windows that overlook the Oakland estuary (where I grew up sailing with my Dad) and a balcony that overlooks our awesome lap pool. There’s also a billiards room, sauna (perfect for my Finnish relatives!), gym, and a 24-hour concierge.
While I would have loved finding a building that had been converted from a working warehouse, I definitely appreciate all the modern touches our building has (like double pane windows and underground parking). And Kava Massih is known for sustainable building processes that have a minimal impact on the environment. I like that.
And I LOVE our concrete walls! I was nervous moving to a “shared-wall” space, but honestly… I never hear anything. And I love their industrial look – especially when paired with rustic wood. We stained our maple floors with a grey translucent wash so they’d look good with the concrete – perfect!
Did you end up taking on many of the major projects yourself?
We did quite a bit of the work in the loft ourselves… mainly the kitchen & bathroom design. I married a boy from New Orleans (who cooks!) and it’s amazing to have a kitchen that totally functions the way we want it to. And using bookcases as storage in the bathrooms is a great way to add some personality into the space. I painted the kitchen/island dark grey long after we moved in. It was feeling a little “sterile” and the grey works perfectly with the stainless steel & wood.
The only real “splurge” in our loft is the custom sofa. We knew we wanted a corner sofa and couldn’t find anything big enough This baby will hold 12 adults – with room to spare. And it has washable slipcovers!
I have also been potting succulents around the loft. They hold up well in the bright sunlight that comes through our west-facing windows and they’re the only plant I can seem to keep alive.
With the space serving as both your home and office, was it difficult to create distinct areas for work and play?
Our living space is very much a mix of our different styles… Craig likes things sleek & modern while I prefer more natural/rustic/boho vibe. I’ve made my workspace just that… with it’s concrete ceiling, prized Saarinen table (my Great Grandfather’s last name is Saari), vintage Herman Miller chairs (found in a grandmother’s attic), and floor-to-ceiling bookcases that hold my collection of photography books, cowhide storage boxes, treasures from my travels, and bugs & bones. My office was looking a bit “masculine” and my handy husband selected and hung the amazing chandelier in my office space. He thought it needed something a little “girly”. Turns out he was right.
I love working in this space. Right now I hear the train horn and the seagulls, smell the coffee roasting at Peerless, and see Riley downstairs lounging on the carpet we schlepped home from Morocco last year. My assistant and I select a different playlist every day she’s in the “office”. It spans the gamut… from Motown to Hip-Hop (and everything in between). Today it’s music inspired by Bob Dylan – stuff our parent’s listed to. They’d be proud!)
I love the gallery wall in the hall, a smart use of space both for display and for storage below. Is space at a premium in the loft?
When we moved in, the loft had almost NO storage. There’s one tiny closet in each of the bedrooms, but that was it. I knew we’d need more, and we had this 50′ hallway that I wanted to use as a gallery for my photography, so I decided to combine both! I started searching for shallow cabinets that could be hung low (I thought having them on the floor would look too “heavy”. And I didn’t want to hide any of our beautiful floors!). I finally found these inexpensive Ikea hanging kitchen cabinets and mounted them just a foot from the ground. Then I found a shop in Berkeley that specializes in reclaimed wood. We found two redwood beams (we also found our reclaimed-walnut shelves for the kitchen there) that were exactly the right depth! We only had to cut them for length. Now it’s the perfect place to store everything AND show off my work. I especially like that it’s visible from people walking by our front door… our neighbors say how much they peek in.
Your work space has a fairly different vibe than many of the ‘wedding’ vendors we’ve covered. How does the style fit your work?
I think my work space perfectly expresses “me”. It’s natural, unfussy, bohemian, and a little quirky. And very, very real… there’s nothing in the space that’s only for show… it’s all here for a reason. Either something I fell in love with on my travels, at the Alameda Flea Market with my bestie Amy, or inherited from family. Even the photographs in the “gallery” aren’t there for business, but because I love them.
My photography is exactly the same…You won’t see any cheesy poses or fake smiles. It’s all about capturing real moments in a truly photojournalistic way. I want to create photos with meaning & soul that just happen to be beautiful as well.