Home as a Source

Is it a House or a Home?

A happy home is the single spot of rest which a man has upon this earth for the cultivation of his noblest sensibilities. (Frederick William Robertson, Sermons Preached at Trinity Chapel, Brighton)

One of life’s lessons is that there are many differences between a house and a home. We have come to understand that a house refers to the building or in our case buildings – the actual property and physical structure with floors, walls, ceilings and rooms. But a home is so much more than a house. A “home” infers feelings – safety, familiarity, comfort, intimacy, emotional connection, attachment, history and memories. It often infers family roots and background. History shows us that it was common – and often expected – for families to take root and live their entire lives in one home. This is because realty is permanent in nature. This is also why it is called real property – property that is permanently adhered to the ground – as opposed to personal property, which is moveable.

Home as a Source

A comfortable house is a great source of happiness. It ranks immediately after health and a good conscience. (Sydney Smith)

You can tell much about a person or family by looking at their home; it is designed, decorated, maintained and organized according to their personal preferences. The artwork on the walls and the books on the shelves represent the interests and dreams of the family members. The home is the space where those dreams may be cultivated. A home and its contents reflect the inhabitants who live within its walls.

But what is in the heart of a homeowner? Dreams, hopes, children, family, friends, guests, education, healing, spiritual growth, wellness, love, retirement – and so much more. For many, the home itself is a dream come true as well as a place to dream about the future.   We are finding that our clients are committed to both the permanence of their realty and to using their home as a source that serves their other goals and dreams.

The Home as a Source of Stability

The home is a source of energy, family, experience, and stability…

Life itself is an unpredictable journey that is always unfolding before us, day by day. While it is not realistic to presume that all of our experiences will be ecstatic, we can be sure that what we do experience is for our benefit and growth and is exactly what we need at the time it is experienced. The home, as a source of stability, is especially meaningful during difficult times and personal challenges. The feeling of coming home is something solid, permanent and stable.  It is something we can count on.

The Home as a Source of Experiences and Growth:

The home is the source of new experiences and growth – and if we are fortunate, love. The great majority of one’s childhood is spent at home and in school. Afterwards, if the student goes away to college, they “come home” on vacations. Their home is the source of many of their childhood memories. A person’s future is unquestionably connected to their earlier growth and development – which normally occurs in large part in their home, usually around parents, siblings, pets, and often, friends and extended family.

The home can be the source of activity, fun, festivity, joy and life itself. Additionally, the home is a great source of information and knowledge. In the home we learn the most essential important skills: how to love, how to communicate, how to relate to others. It is the first place that we interact with others and develop long term relationships and bonds. A home can be a source of great security (or insecurity), depending upon one’s state of mind and heart, and one’s willingness to grow in the face of adversity and challenge.

Exposure to New Environments as Source:

When we visit the homes of relatives and friends, we often experience very different circumstances than we do in our own homes. We are introduced to new ways of living and different priorities. Some friends may live in a house filled with love, balance and material prosperity. This may be one’s first exposure to a healthy home environment. Children, especially, gravitate to their friend’s homes where they are welcomed and feel safe. The ability to welcome others in this manner is a source of joy.

Stresses for Building a New Home or Backyard Cottage

“A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.”            Aesop, Fables

It makes perfect sense: those who are proficient at handling stress in their everyday lives are more likely to better handle the potential stress of building a new home. And, even under the best of circumstances, building a home may be filled with potential stressors. One of the primary reasons for this is that those who like to be in full control of their lives may have to learn to be comfortable with some uncertainties. The homebuilding experience is exciting, though – and there’s no reason not to have fun with it. You are in the hands of experts. They’ll do the work for you. Embrace it, enjoy it!

Communication is Key (Put it in Writing):

Since it is your house that is being built, it is important to know what you want and to be able to communicate that with others. One of the things that is recommended is to keep an ongoing journal of all things related to your plans and homebuilding experiences. Keep track of who you have spoken to, what you have discussed, future topics to discuss, future appointments, etc. Date the entries. Keep all documents and emails in appropriate computer and physical files. Even if you have a great memory, a journal is recommended so that you will have all the information at hand. You will empower yourself and reduce potential stress by maximizing your participation in the process.

Family Stress?

Building a house may increase stress with your spouse, partner, children and/or other relatives and friends, whether they are directly involved in the building process or not. It is not natural for everyone to agree on everything! Stress may result simply because of varying viewpoints – there is no right answer per se to any situation when there are choices. We make choices based on all the variables that have gone into formulating our outlook in life, from childhood until present day. What is helpful is to create a simple plan on how you are going to resolve differing issues. It is healthy to be able to express yourself and not to repress or stuff your feelings. Again, communication is key. Of course there will be differences. Communication and dealing with stress are life skills that can always be improved.

What are Some of the Possible Stresses of Building a New Home or Backyard Cottage?

Let’s face it: for most of us, building and/or buying a home is one of the largest – or the largest – projects we may undertake in our lives. It can certainly be one of the most exciting. It is often the most expensive, long term investment we will make. Just the thought of spending thousands or hundreds of thousands of dollars can shake us to our core. So, of course, stress is an entirely normal and natural reaction, especially for a first-time builder who is new to the process.

Dealing With Stress:

A positive way to deal with stress is to learn and practice basic stress management skills. For many this may include exercising, jogging, walks, engaging in a hobby, practicing basic relaxation and meditation techniques, or doing whatever helps you relax. Another positive approach is to know from the onset that you are likely to face challenging experiences and to simply let them be. “What comes, let it come, what goes, let it go.” This does not mean that you give up your voice in your particular home building situation – quite the contrary. You simply learn to express yourself – and listen – from a more centered, powerful inner posture.

Home Building Takes Us Out of Our Normal Comfort Zone:

Building a home will tend to take us out of our normal comfort zone. We may be dealing with bankers, lawyers, lenders, financial institutions, architects, contractors, planners, designers, permit and zoning departments and others. One of the advantages of working with New Avenue Homes is that we work with you throughout the entire homebuilding process. And we have streamlined and simplified the process as much as possible. We work with many of the great architects and home builders in the country. We are familiar with all the aspects of building a new home, from conception to completion.

House Rules…. Living Close to Family (Again)

“We have freedoms and boundaries; we just have a great family life.” – unknown

“A loving atmosphere in your home is the foundation for your life.” – Dalai Lama

“Fathers should be neither seen nor heard. That is the only proper basis for family life.” Oscar Wilde

The holidays are here and many of us will be packed in for holiday dinners, and maybe a few card tables annexed to the dining room table or kids tables back in the kitchen.  But what is life like when you bring a friend or family member closer permamently?  Does it always look like this:

When asked about rules for living close to family, often the first answer given was to respect each person’s physical and personal space. This is a broad answer and all-encompassing answer, though. What does it mean to respect another’s space – especially if it is your family member?
Respecting Each Other’s Physical and Personal Space:
By respecting each other’s physical and personal space, many people can successfully share one relatively small area. For example, we visited meditation centers many times over the years and it was quite normal for eight people to share a room that was about the same size as a two-student college dorm room. There were usually four double deck beds – two on each side of the room. You would not think it would be possible for 8 people to quietly get along in such a small space, but it was usually extraordinarily quiet. It was an amazingly experience. How was this possible? Because each person made a conscious effort to respect each other’s space. Hospitality is actually a spiritual practice. “Treat others the same way you would want others to treat you.”
Physical space is the space between and around you and others. If your grandmother is sitting on the couch watching a television show, she should be given the space that she deserves to watch her show without disturbance – especially if it is her home. In virtually all cultures – particularly Eastern cultures – elders are unquestionably given the greatest amount of respect.
Communicate Frequently with Your Family Members:
When living amongst several family members, it is extremely beneficial to communicate in a healthy and positive manner. Whether you have extended your home and hospitality to others or whether others have extended their home and hospitality to you, communication is key. There are bound to be some miscommunication lapses and misunderstandings. Approach each other with respect. Your parents may have a more difficult time adjusting to their newly crowded home than you. It may sound trite, but if everyone is on their best behavior things will tend to work out better.
Like a Blade of Grass in the Wind – Learn to be Flexible.   Successfully living with others is both an art and a skill:

• Learning to become flexible is actually a great personal and spiritual practice.
• Learning to remain centered in one’s own inner space of calmness is actually a highly advanced state. It takes practice to master. What better time than when you are in the midst of all the commotion at home?
• Keep your sense of humor! Learn not to take everything so seriously! Practice laughing when the going gets tough.
• Being flexible does not mean that you give up your rights or needs. It does suggest, however, that they be respectfully communicated.
Discuss Home Rules Prior to the Move:
If you can have a meeting with all family members before the actual move, you will have the opportunity to create some healthy ground rules and to express your needs and concerns. For example, if you want greater quiet in the house after your bedtime, voice this. Family members can learn to whisper and to keep the volume of the TV low. It’s really not that difficult – it’s just a matter of setting your priorities and having respect for self and others.
Practical Rules from Accessory Dwelling Neighbors
• Visits: Treat each house as a separate home and respect the other as a neighbor, not an extension of your home. This may mean calling before you come over (especially for family)
• Parking: define who gets the best driveway spots or is it first come first served?
• Laundry: Is it ok to just put someone’s unfinished laundry on top of the dryer?
• Entertaining outdoors: We can design two homes to be just 4’ apart but completely separate visually. Sound travels around corners so music and fun might need a curfew.
• Smoking: Thankfully we have gotten to the point where smoking upwind is no longer acceptable. But if you must smoke, then where is it most acceptable?

Please share any ideas or lessons that you have learned and we will keep the list updated.

Berkeley Open House – Almost Completed Backyard Cottage

Email info@newavenuehomes.com to RSVP and get the address!

Please Join Us for an Open House in Berkeley
Nov. 23rd, 12-2 PM

One of our favorite projects is almost done and we’re opening it up for you to see this Saturday, Nov. 23rd from 12-2pm in Berkeley. We’ll be there answering any questions you have about our process and how projects like this one work. Feel free to share this invitation with your friends and family. Simply email info@newavenuehomes.com to RSVP and get the address.

This great project is close to completed with mostly just finish work left. The exterior stucco was recently added, as well as tile, lights, radiant heating, and utilities. This is a great stage to visit a work in progress as you can easily see how the space has come together.

Stay tuned for invitations to more open houses and events like this one. Please call us at 510.621.8679 or email john@newavenuehomes.com with any questions about this project or one you might have in mind for yourself.

Granny Flats: What Neighborhoods Need.

Backyard Cottage Second Unit

The Better Block wrote a great blog post this week about the need for granny flats, or accessory dwelling units, in neighborhoods. They clearly explain how these “tiny homes do far more than increase density for neighborhoods, they also provide much needed affordable housing options for young people fresh out of school, older people looking to scale down their living expenses, or temporary residences for visitors to an area who want to get more of a “local feel” for places they travel to.”

We agree completely and applaud The Better Block’s effort to promote backyard cottages.

About The Better Block: The Better Block project started in April, 2010, when a group of community organizers, neighbors, and property owners gathered together to revitalize a single commercial block in an underused neighborhood corridor. The area was filled with vacant properties, wide streets, and few amenities for people who lived within walking distance. The group brought together all of the resources from the community and converted the block into a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination for people of all ages complete with bike lanes, cafe seating, trees, plants, pop-up businesses, and lighting. The project was developed to show the city how the block could be revived and improve area safety, health, and economics if ordinances that restricted small business and multi-modal infrastructure were removed. Since that time, Better Block projects have been developed throughout the World with many of the temporary infrastructure improvements and businesses made permanent.

Custom 1,500 Square Foot 2 bedroom 2 bath Home in Berkeley, CA

Size: 1100 square feet on the ground floor, 400 on the second floor
2 stories
2 bedrooms, plus a playroom and office
2 baths.

This home in Berkeley’s historic Elmwood neighborhood has both a colorful past and future. When the owners purchased their main home they inherited a dilapidated house in their backyard that was built in 1908. This house was most likely an earthquake shack that was thrown together after the San Francisco earthquake of 1906

A New Avenue partner architect and local contractor worked with the owners to bring a new future to this collapsing backyard cottage. The new home was designed in compliance with the zoning rules and kept some of the original walls. The owners both have a great eye for style and a mind for sustainability. Some of the original redwood was salvaged and used in the new home and sustainable and alternative options – like spray foam insulation, metal roofing, cement siding and radiant floor heating – were used in the new construction.

The new home is now almost 1500 square feet. There are two bedrooms and a bath on the first floor and two rooms and a bath upstairs. The upstairs rooms could be a 3rd and 4th bedroom but instead are currently used as an office and a playroom.

This home was built with sustainability in mind and also serves as an investment strategy for the owners. The home is located just up the street from several coffee shops, restaurants and stores on College Avenue. With a BART station and all these amenities nearby the neighborhood achieves a perfect walk-score of 100. It is a prime rental apartment for UC Berkeley students or young professionals, and it is in an area where rental for homes like this range from $4,500-$5,000. The monthly financing cost for this home is just over $1,500 per month. For this family, the cottage is a great annuity that is paying the tuition bills for two daughters who are in college.

Living room
Living room
Stairs to loft
Stairs to loft
Living room
Living room
Master bedroom
Master bedroom
Master bedroom
Master bedroom
Loft office
Loft office
Living room
Living room

Susan’s Cottage in Berkeley, CA

Susan Entry


This little cottage is all about bringing family together.
It is located on a quiet East Bay block that is lined with cute California bungalows. Susan, the owner, will initially use this as extra space when her daughter, son-in-law, and grandchild, are visiting from their home in Israel. Susan’s daughter is contemplating moving back to the Bay Area. If that is the case, this cottage may become Susan’s home while her daughter, son-in-law and grandchild move into the main home.

Susan has entertained renting her main home while she travels to Israel, but for now she is using her main home just as she always has. Currently she’s running the cottage as a busy bed and breakfast that is generating up to $3,000 per month in rent!
This cottage was designed for two people. It has a separate loft and tons of built-in storage. It was oriented to face a shared backyard patio for outdoor dining, and it’s just a few steps from the big kitchen in the main home. Most importantly, there is an area that can hold a big enough table for weekly dinners that have been a tradition for the family and the family’s friends for decades.

Susan DoorSusan Floor PlanSusan LivingSusan Loft

Accessory Dwelling Mediterranean Design in Orinda, CA

Size: 674 square feet
1 story
1 bed
1 bath

At the end of a long narrow driveway this Spanish-style cottage is tucked between twisty old oak trees and towering redwoods. Spring’s new cottage is a beautiful 674 square foot home that has a double-sided glass fireplace that faces both the bedroom and the living room, large windows that overlook the Orinda hill, and a brick courtyard that connects to the main home. Extra storage is tucked in out-of-the-way places with a coat closet at the main door and extra linen storage in the bathroom and a kitchen that will make almost any homeowner jealous. You should see the soft-close drawers. 🙂

SmartPlanet covered the home in this video: Click to watch it!

The original plan was to fix up a cute little guesthouse that was built with the main home in 1932. Spring interviewed a number of local architects and hired her Ron Klemmedson directly before engaging New Avenue to manage the bidding and construction administration.

The lack of a foundation, a sewer line, and asbestos made it necessary to demolish the guesthouse. After interviewing a number of contractors and receiving inflated quotes that were way out of Spring’s price range she contacted New Avenue. One of our local contractor partners worked with Spring and the architect to figure out how to build the house she wanted at a cost that was reasonable.
The heart of the story is about the three generations that share this big, hillside lot in Orinda. Before building this cottage, Spring was living in a much larger home in Southern California while her daughter, son-in-law, and their two boys owned a tiny house in Oakland. With school starting for the elder of the two boys, space running out and housing prices being out of control in the Bay Area, this family joined forces to create a living arrangement that benefited all of them.

This cottage is much more than a home, though. It is a different lifestyle for the entire family.

Now, Spring only has to pop across the yard to see her daughter and, for the two boys, their grandmother isn’t just someone they see around the holidays for a few hours but an integral part of their daily lives. This is a change that most any grandparent would enjoy. Having an extra adult around means there’s often a babysitter or summer camp chauffeur available, and that’s a lifesaver for two young working parents.

Spring made the following references the following about New Avenue:

“I talked to at least half-a-dozen contractors, all of whom gave me ridiculously inflated quotes – way out of my range. Then I talked to New Avenue, and they worked with me and my architect to figure out how we could build what I wanted at a price I could afford.
I think one of New Avenue’s main strengths is dealing with planning departments – they are absolutely amazing. Orinda told them this would have to be considered a new build, not a remodel, which would have bumped the fees up to about $50,000. They found a document showing that the house and the guest house had been built in 1932 (long before Orinda existed) and that the guest house was an independent dwelling, with kitchen and bathroom. So the city had to accept that. They brought up one idiotic quibble after another, all of which was dealt with with astonishing patience and we got the results we wanted.
The team New Avenue put together for me is terrific, friendly and hardworking. I couldn’t ask for a better crew. When they were almost finished the forms for the foundation I was very impressed with the meticulous placement of each plank, the careful bracing, the minute attention to each detail. I had never considered how important this part of a building was, but this cottage won’t go anywhere for centuries!

All building projects seem to come with unexpected problems. We discovered that we would have to put in a new sewer line and a new water line, both having deteriorated with age.
One thing I really appreciate about New Avenue and their partners is that they are very flexible, willing to work with me on ways to cut down on costs, etc. They are perfectly happy if I want to do the painting (or anything else) myself, buy the materials (using their contractor’s number), and even offered to pick up heavy stuff that I can’t transport easily. They really seem to care about me and my budget, and I feel very fortunate to have found them. And of course their green philosophy is a huge plus.”

This project won an award from the City of Orinda! Click to read about it!