Precision Arts at Home

Makers of gorgeous gates, stained-glass windows, country chic furniture, intricate tile settings, and engineered steel staircases find inspiration from their surroundings and the past for contemporary home design.


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Photo by stephen loewinsohn


EAST BAY HOUSING STOCK IS AGING, some of it not very gracefully.

If your house lands among those structures that have been “remuddled,” as master tile setter Riley Doty likes to put it, help awaits from master craftsmen and artisans who have been plying their skills long enough to be go-to experts in their chosen fields. These people can right projects gone awry as well as conceive new design solutions for common shortcomings.

The artisans, crafters, and makers profiled here—Doty of Doty Tile, staircase builder Erin Beales of Graphic Visions, Ted Ellison of Theodore Ellison Design, gate guru Julian Hodges of Julian Hodges Woodworking, and Farmyard Darlings Carole Sinclair and Kim Berry—have something in common: their approach. They all tend to look at their projects and commissions as design challenges and artistic puzzles, rallying with gusto and creativity to find or build or make the perfect interior or exterior solution. The goal is not only to satisfy their personal artistic aesthetic but also to meet or better yet surpass their clients’ wants and needs.

—Judith M. Gallman

The Man of Steel

Problem-solver shows his metal as function art.

By Karen Granados

A REFURBISHED SILVER STREAMLINE motor home sits atop the second-level balcony of a cavernous Berkeley warehouse full of heavy-duty steel equipment. Serving as an office, the Streamline quintessentially represents the type of work Erin Beales likes to create—functional, three-dimensional art.

The Alameda resident creates staircases, furniture, bars, and even custom pieces for cars and motorcycles, designing and manipulating metal objects to become sculptural while serving a purpose.

Recently, Beales was commissioned to design and create a spiral staircase from a 30-inch diameter steel pipe, a project so large it would require crane placement into the residence it would grace. The homeowners planned to build their home around the staircase, using it as a focal point. With little room for error, Beales formed a gleaming steel showpiece by crafting a continuous helix from the solid pipe spanning four stories.

Self-described as a problem-solver rather than an artisan, Beales works with clients to reveal pieces that combine art, engineering, architecture, and showmanship. He mainly works with aluminum and steel, but looks for unique ways to incorporate wood, plastic, and lighting. Most clients request creative design around a favorite object, like salvaged piano legs or an interesting piece of vintage metal.

Some San Francisco clients presented an interesting challenge to him. They lived in a loft and dreamed of incorporating a sliding metal barn door to cordon off a bedroom, but the large piece of metal they found at a salvage yard was too unstable. Beales concocted a unique solution that combined their wishes with some fun: He riveted shiny, mirror-like aluminum pieces together to resemble the side of an airplane, complete with airplane windows encased with LED lights that can change colors. Hung on an overhead track, the sliding door is the conversation piece of the space.

Currently Beales is focusing on converting a former Alameda party event rental warehouse into his family’s private residence. Working with his wife and three sons, he is creating the ultimate fusion of form, function, and fun.


Graphic Visions

Staircases, Furniture, and Experiential Pieces