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House Talk

No. 40 - May 25, 2011

Transforming a North Berkeley Kitchen
A talk with Laurent Roffe and Aicha Nystrom

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 photographer.

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 man's treasure.

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For further information or questions for our House Talk column, 
please contact Glass/Sabine by email:  Sheila@GlassSabine.com
or call us at 510-326-5055.

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