After doing business in the East Bay for nearly twenty-five years,
Judith Glass and Sheila Sabine are always very interested to get a glimpse
into the lives of local residents. One such dynamic couple is Laurent
Roffe and Aicha Nystrom who reside in a charming north Berkeley home with
their eleven-year-old twins. Laurent and Aicha, both of European descent
with French as their first language, met at Pratt Institute in New York
where they both studied architecture. Aicha later became a professional
The couple migrated to California and
eventually landed in a charming Victorian flat in San Francisco on Dolores
St. Their life was moving along smoothly, until much to their surprise and
delight, they gave birth to twins - a boy and a girl. When the twins were
six months old, the family was evicted, as the landlady did not want
children in her building. They hastily began a search in the city but
could not findfanything. Their realtor encouraged them to visit the East
Bay and they were given a list of homes in the Gourmet Ghetto area of
north Berkeley. One day while they were house-hunting, they left San
Francisco in the cold and fog and found the East Bay to be warm and sunny.
As they sipped coffee at Cafe Roma and meandered around Monterey Market
and Berkeley Horticulture Nursery, they said, "We could live here."
Among the list of homes they viewed that
day, one stood out; it had popcom ceilings, an unfinished kitchen with
wires hanging here and there and other signs of total neglect. Regardless,
the couple had the insight to see the potential of the house and gardens.
They were one of seventeen buyers to bid on the house and although they
did not have the highest offer, their emotional letter, including a photo
of their beautiful young family, captured the hearts of the sellers who
wanted to keep the family flavor of the neighborhood.
They began the inauguration of their new
house by doing all the nasty "dirty work" first, before moving in with
their yomg babies. They steamed off the old wallpaper, removed dry rot,
fixed the foundation, and gave the walls a fresh coat of paint. However,
they lived with the old kitchen for a long time. Their friends were polite
and described the old kitchen as being "very Bohemian."
All this time, they had been saving materials from
other building jobs and also a set of appliances that they bought at a
huge warehouse sale. Then they were forced to make some adjustments. The
existing old appliances began to break down. When they decided to go away
for the summer and rent their house, they realized that they had to
revitalize their kitchen. Like most homeowners facing unexpected household
dilemmas, the work had to be done quickly and on a limited budget.
Both Laurent and Aicha, being very thrifty and
resourceful, rolled up their sleeves and began the kitchen transformation.
Their goal was to re-use as much as possible. They used the existing
cabinets by simply taking them apart and reassembling them with new
hardware. Aicha put five coats of primer on the cabinets. They used
plywood and paint from the basement stockpile left over from years of proj
ects and are proud to say that they only bought one piece of plywood. They
redid the floor with wood laminate and used remnants of the same material
on their countertops and added a leftover marble slab for one of the
counters for their pastry making. They restructured an island counter,
making it large enough for the twins to do their homework and for Aicha to
do her sewing projects. The cost of the transformation was a mere three
thousand dollars and took approximately four weeks to complete. They did
all the work themselves except for a few hours when an electrician did
some wiring for their kitchen ceiling lights.
They simply love their kitchen - it is small, not
fancy, but truly feels like the heart of the home. They are gourmet chefs
and take advantage of their close proximity to Monterey Market and the
surrounding wonderful shops specializing in locally-grown food such as
Magnani, the Country Cheese Coffee Shop and the Monterey Fish Market. Both
their children walk to nearby King Middle School where they participate in
the Edible Garden project founded by Chez Panisse's Alice Waters. Here all
the children are directly involved with growing their own food which is
then prepared and eaten by the students in the on-site kitchen. This
program has served as a model for many schools throughout the nation.
Visit www.edibleschoolyard.org for more infomation.
Combining their love of cooking, photography, and
their familiarity with France, Laurent and Aicha take small groups of food
and culture enthusiasts to France every year. ln July they will lead a
tour to the south of France in the Drome Provencale region. They will
spend their time exploring gastronomy, pottery-making, photography,
wineries, and castles. Local chefs will provide hands-on experience in a
relaxed kitchen atmosphere. To learn more about Laurent's and Aicha's
exciting tours to France, visit their website at www.aikatralala.com or
call them at: 510-282-1358.
Laurent and Aicha give the following advice:
1. lf you are unhappy about something in your
house, change it.
2. Nothing is permanent - if you don't like it,
change it again.
3. It is so satisfying when you can do your own
work in your home - it gives you a true sense of ownership.
4. Learn to recycle - one man's trash is another
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