AIA East Bay: Home Tours 2024

15 Marr Ave, Oakland


“Most people buy houses because they are dying to live in them. I was dying to tear it apart and bring our dream house to reality.”

Karen Hartwig


The clients approached us to work on their forever dream home in the Oakland hills after seeing the panoramic views of San Francisco & the surrounding bay. The challenge with the single-family home was that it was mainly one story with a disconnected, partially built lower level. Additionally, the location of the stairs and the length of the building helped to create a hall layout. The goal was to expand the size of the house, create a more harmonious flow, and feature the views.

Working with the owners, we redesigned the layout. The entry draws attention to a new gracious twenty-foot sliding glass door that captures the picturesque views. This open plan linked the living room onto a deck with unobstructed glass rails. Furthermore, we relocated the stairs from one end of the house to the center, established a luxurious upper-level suite, and pushed the guest bedrooms downstairs to reduce the hall-like effect of the layout and connect the lower level to the living room upstairs.

These changes, along with some foundation work and moving the back wall, doubled the square footage while creating a cohesive flow. On the lower level, we added another gas fireplace, expansive millwork and a secret hidden door to the office. Additionally, we added floor-to-ceiling windows and ultrawide sliders to maximize the views from every corner of the house.

Karen Hartwig and William Ogle

Living room and secret door on the left

Q - Tell us about your experience when you first bought the house? 

I had remodeled my last home, which was nearby for 20 years, and started looking for my next project about ten years ago. In 2019 I happened to pass by the for sale sign on this house, and after taking a look at it, I started having dreams that I lived here. Everything about this house felt right to me, even though it needed work. So when we first bought it, it was because we knew we were going to remodel it, which was incredibly exciting. Most people buy houses because they are dying to live in them; I bought mine because I was dying to tear it apart.

We moved in upon the closing to explore and understand how it felt to live here before finalizing the architecture decisions and plans. So, we spent a lot of initial time thinking about how we wanted to transform the house.

Q - What did you want to change about the house?  

The first thing on our list was to redo the bathroom, as it was never functional. The tiles in the bathroom were pink, and the shower pan leaked. The next issue was that the kitchen was so teeny – we needed it to be about double the size since I love to cook. We also wanted to change the kitchen layout to make it more functional and increase cooking efficiency. 

The downstairs was practically useless. There was one giant narrow room from one end of the house to the other. Behind that room, there was a workshop and laundry area with no finished floors and one room that had a mound of dirt. Every change was to increase the functionality and the livability of the house. The motto was to have a definite use and purpose for each space to maximize what we had. 

Q - How did you go about finding an architect? What made you confident that Ogle Designs was the right fit for you?

I was working on a flip for a client, and William was the architect on that project. While working with him, I knew then and there that we could be sure that William was the person we wanted to work with at our home. I had already gotten to go through the whole design process and saw how William functioned from initial conversations to the execution of the project. 

While we worked together, it was evident that William cared about the house like his own without losing our voice. It is crucial to walk that fine line of caring about the architecture while balancing the client's needs.

My favorite part is that the design functions so perfectly; the adjacency of rooms, the flow of the spaces. I love how the house is quiet but still stunning. It's all about the view, both day and night.”

Q - How have the new design changes transformed your home? Which changes or features speak to you the most? 

It has completely transformed the house, and it functions so perfectly. The adjacency of rooms and the flow of the spaces make a ton of sense. We moved the stairs from the end of the house to right inside the front door to have our main living quarters upstairs and moved the guest suites downstairs, along with a media room, library, office, bar, and storage. We have had people stay with us for extended periods, and they can even come through a separate door. I could not think of a single improvement to the layout that I would make.

The kitchen is impressive with natural tones, a pure white countertop, a spacious island in the middle, and a corner window capturing the beautiful views of the bay. I love the hidden secret door to my office, and the credit goes to William for figuring out the right hinge and details to go on that beautiful, flushed door. I also really love the dog bath and storage area. My partner's favorite is the media room. She feels it is a delight and surprise that you've got this wide-open room with a gas fireplace and a cozy family spot. It was hard for me to pick a favorite space, but I think those would be our favorites next to the kitchen.

Q - How did the ogle design team incorporate you into the design process?  

I recently looked at the very first designs of the house. William offered a few conceptual layouts and was very open to our ideas about how we wanted to live in the house. At first, we thought we needed to have a second bedroom on the upper level beside the suite, But after further exploration and discussions, we talked back and forth and finally decided on this new layout.

Q - How did the ogle design team help you expedite the permit? 

During the permit phase, I would go to the building department and pull a number to get a head start. William would then go up to the counter and work his magic. He always came back with what we needed. We went through the entire planning or building permit process remarkably quickly. For the building permits, we submitted just before Christmas in 2019, and we had final approval by mid-January. At that point, it went so quickly that it was a surprise..

Q - How did you find a contractor for the project? Are there any anecdotes that you'd like to share with us about the construction phase?

Well, I interviewed 14 contractors before settling on Nima Construction Company. The contractor is a critically important part of the project, and you have to figure out who can do the work. The final contractor selection came down to some similar decision-making around the architect in finding someone who would do a good job and with whom we can work with ease.

Q - Which is your favorite part of the house? What do you love about the work we did for you? 

William brought some details to the table, like having doors and windows without trim and the flush baseboards with a reveal. I love how the house is quiet but still stunning and is all about the view, both day and night. The house and the bay view feel different post-construction than they did preconstruction, and that speaks to the art of the new design and build.

Q - Are there any specific ways that the ogle design team created value for your project, given the high construction cost of the bay area? 

Yes, the most apparent was the addition of roughly 1100 square feet within the existing footprint. It was a great value if one compares the cost of that addition of square footage to the cost of doing so without revealing specific numbers.

Another important aspect was that William and the team were sensitive to the fact that we had a budget. We wanted to make sure there was a value for every dollar we were spending on the house. I appreciated that the architect was pushing us to spend money on things that would make our house something great for his portfolio – it was all about what worked for us. We felt like every dollar we spent went where it was most meaningful for us. 

Q - Would you work with us again? If so (or if not), is there anything you would do differently the second time around?

Well, absolutely! We are already thinking about adding an office in the lowest portion of the house at some point, and it would be great to work with Ogle Design on that project. Not only would I work with you again on personal projects, but I brought your team in on a design project in Lafayette. So when I think of an architect, I immediately think of Ogle design.

There are very few things I would do differently the next time around. One would be to hire a lighting designer. The second would be to get more comfortable with the engineer before the project starts, as the engineer is equally crucial too. Finally, I would not allow my fatigue toward the end of the project to stop me from pushing to get everything exactly the way I wanted it. My only advice for future clients would be that if you are building something from a labor of love, make sure everything is how you want it.

Interview by Yachika Sharma