In the Flow
How an artist breathes life into her Oakland home.
The first time Maryly Snow saw the architecturally striking Oakland house she now lives in, she had the overwhelming sensation that it was her home. But she wasn’t particularly comforted by that thought: It didn’t seem communal enough for her artistic taste.
“It was a confusing feeling,” says the artist, who had long enjoyed living and working in studio lofts. “Even after I moved in, I kept thinking, How could this feel so much like my place?”
The similarities to her previous funky artist’s digs were there—the soaring 26-foot-high ceiling that makes the 1,600-square-foot house feel much larger than it actually is; the open-plan living area; the walls and floors crafted from concrete; and the factory-sized vertical lift doors that have lent the home its nickname, “The Roll-Up House.”
Plentiful bookcases—one of which can be rolled across a doorway to serve as a room divider—may also explain why Snow, who used to be an art and architecture librarian at UC Berkeley, felt so in tune with the space.
The house was designed and built by one of Berkeley’s most highly regarded architectural firms, Leger Wanaselja, in 1992, on the site of a Craftsman bungalow that was destroyed in the 1991 Oakland firestorm.
Building constraints led to creativity when the house was first designed. For example, the home’s small triangular lot—located on a cul-de-sac within earshot of
a freeway—led to several of the architects’ most exciting ideas.
A curved concrete wall acts as a sound buffer to the street and the nearby freeway, and two stories of double-pane windows on the east side overlook a beautifully landscaped garden that blurs into public land bursting with trees and towering yellow bamboos.
The result is what so many people living in the mild California climate strive for: flowing, indoor-outdoor spaces. Along with the home’s roll-up doors, each of the two bedrooms has huge barn doors that lead directly outside.
The same architectural firm returned to refresh the house for Snow when she bought it two years ago.
“Maryly wanted to redo the kitchen and the bathroom, and bring the whole house and garden back to life,” says Karl Wanaselja, one of the firm’s principals.
On warm days, Snow keeps the doors open. She might just as easily be found reading under the pair of mature Japanese maple trees on her patio, or curled up on her living room couch.
Today, she has filled the space with art, some of it her own, including etchings, oil paintings, and a stunning tapestry conceived by her that was woven at an art studio in Oakland. Her artistic and playful side has also come to the fore with the remodeling of the kitchen, which now boasts cabinets aglow with a rotating palette of colorful LED lighting.
Snow says her home now has the edge over the artist’s studios she used to inhabit. “It has a garden, it doesn’t share walls with noisy people, and it was designed by an architect,” she says. “But it still feels like an artist’s house.”
It also still feels like her home. Which is, of course, how it should be.
Anatomy of a House
This home’s triangular lot inspired architects to get creative.
1. Architectural firm Leger Wanaselja put in factory-style vertical lift doors that, when opened, make the Oakland home’s east wall effectively disappear.
2. In keeping with the look of the curved concrete wall that shields the home from street noise, the floors are made of slabs of stained and sealed concrete.
3. Each of the home’s two bedrooms has huge barn doors that lead directly to the landscaped garden.
4. Snow has filled her home with art, much of it her own work, which runs the gamut from oil paintings and etchings to collages and tapestry.
5. The newly remodeled kitchen can be closed off from the living area by sliding shut a pair of perforated wooden doors.
6. The same architects who designed the home in 1992 were asked to give the house a refresh in 2013, after Snow bought it.