EMERYVILLE, Calif.– When a unique home hits the market, it can cause a lot of neighborhood buzz, as people line up to see whether they can picture themselves and all their stuff in a living space like no other. One home in Emeryville is doing just that.
Architect Mike Hallatt designed a bi-level loft-style home outside of San Francisco and spent nearly three years building it, mostly by himself. He recently put the home up for private sale without a real estate agent and he said he’s been having a blast getting to know potential buyers and seeing their reactions to his unique design.
“People always say, ‘I had a dream about this house,'” he said of the 1,850-square-foot home.
From the first glance through the front entrance, it’s easy to see why visitors are so intrigued. The Brazilian Cherry floors and hand-milled Douglas Fir posts are enough to make any wood-lover giddy, and the endless possibilities for the open second-floor send the imagination spinning.
Lofts no longer have to be large one-room apartments built above warehouses in New York or Chicago. Loft-living is catching on and inspiring innovations in detached, single-family home design nationwide.
Hallatt in December put a 20-word for-sale-by-architect real estate ad on Craigslist, a San Francisco Bay Area community message board. He didn’t expect the level of frenzy and fascination that resulted. Strangers shake his hand on their way in to see the house, then leave as long-time friends.
“I’ve lived in lofts in Venice Beach and New York, so I have a sense of what works and what doesn’t,” he said.
The home’s “The Buddha House” name, coined for its Zen-like ambiance and the Buddha statue situated in front, has attracted everyone from neurosurgeons to curious real estate agents to professional artists. Hallatt mused he could write a book based on the collage of personalities he’s come to know over the last six weeks.
Even people who can’t afford the home’s $725,000 price tag seem to like just being inside the rooms. Hundreds of people have shown up to see the home and some have returned two or three times.
“We get people who really want the house, but can’t figure out how to live in it,” Hallatt said. “It’s refreshing when people fit the house.”
The home is stunning, but it definitely isn’t a typical three-bedroom two-bath residence. The interior is a modern living area of natural light, open space and clean architectural details, and the second-story 750-square-foot open loft area is a blank canvas for the home’s next owner. Hallett drew up plans for the space to help buyers visualize how it might be used.
He handcrafted each of the 50 clerestory windows that give the home 360 degrees of natural light. The house has a commercial-grade chef’s kitchen equipped with an island and new Bosch appliances, two full bathrooms, a spa, a 16-foot home theater, flexible bedroom options and plenty of storage space.
Exterior features include private gardens, a dining area, a 144-square-foot sundeck on the second floor and bamboo hedges. The exterior is made of steel and stucco.
The property is the product of Hallatt’s imagination applied to a home renovation project that started with a duplex he purchased in 2000 for $227,000. Only 10 percent of the original structure remains.
Hallett began the renovation as a weekend project while he worked full-time in San Francisco. He quit his job in July 2001 to concentrate on the house and lived in a tiny Aloha trailer still parked on the property. He admitted the dedication to hard labor wasn’t always easy.
“Some mornings I had to just put the toolbelt on straight out of the shower,” he said. That way, he couldn’t divert himself from the task at hand.
The Vancouver, British Columbia, native is an industrial design school dropout who has designed and built a number of bagel chain restaurants in Canada. It’s obvious The Buddha House is just one of many houses he’ll design and build.
“I have ideas…I’ve already stumbled onto what to build, now I’m exploring how to build,” he said.
Hallatt plans next to venture into emerging cities where property prices aren’t as high as they are in the Bay Area. He also has his eye on a housing community project in Baja, Mexico. Whatever the project, he’ll apply what he’s learned from the Emeryville loft experience.
“The future is closely linked to materials and processes and essentially building technologies,” he said.
If Hallatt had his way, everyone would be living in a lush environmentally conscious, efficient and affordable home.
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