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Berkeley car-clad modern home: small outside, spacious inside

When architect Karl Wanaselja built his home in Berkeley, California the junkyard became his urban forest for materials.

For months he visited one of three local yards looking for car roofs and Dodge Caravan side windows. The windows became awnings and the roofs became siding for the top floor of his home.

Harvesting the junkyard

“The hardest part was picking the cars because cars that end up in junkyards are in pretty bad shape usually so not only was I selecting on condition, no dents, as few nicks as possible and paint not coming off in sheets.”

Wanaselja designed the home with Cate Leger, his partner in life and in business (Leger Wanaselja Architecture). They liked the look of the old cars, but they also believe firmly that reusing trumps recycling. “You know the metal is melted back down- that requires more energy,” explains Wanaselja. “So if we grab the materials before that happens it’s actually that much better for the environment.”

They reused more than just cars to build their home (under). The lower half is sided in poplar bark, a waste product of the North Caroline furniture industry. Exterior wood is salvaged redwood and the fences and windowsills are on their second life.

Upcycled as upscale

It sounds good, but it also looks good. The car roofs overlapped like fish scales leave the impression of slate, the side window awnings feel nautical and the poplar bark grounds the entire work.

It’s tasteful, but it still stands out. The couple’s daughter, Chloe, says when she invites friends over for the first time she explains, “Look for the house that’s different”.

A deceptively small home

Because they wanted to blend into the neighborhood as much as possible, Wanaselja and Leger played with perspective to create a home that looks small on the outside, but feels big on the inside.

The home is only 14 feet wide on the ends, and it pitches forward and pinches in at the ends so from the street the home looks small. And it is just 1,140 square feet- more than half the U.S. average- and only 700 square feet on the ground floor.

A home like Dr Who’s TARDIS

“We’re not fans of giant houses really. Small on the outside, big on the inside is kind of what it’s about. It’s kind of like Dr. Who’s TARDIS. He’s got this little phone booth, he goes in and then it’s a giant space inside so it’s kind of.

“Or the Harry Potter tent,” adds Leger. “You go in this little tent and then it’s giant inside”.

In this video, Wanaselja and Leger give us a tour of their home, their car part shed and their shipping container architecture studio in the backyard.

What did it cost? A sweat equity premium

* And if you’re curious about cost, Wanaselja said it was pretty comparable in cost per square foot to other homes in the area. Though that doesn’t take into account Wanaselja’s junk yard journeys.

“I did all that siding myself, if a client wanted to do it it would be pretty expensive to do, but since it was my own sweat equity, I enjoyed doing it. I think it was worth it. I like it.”