State Street Studio

In 2006, architect Nathan Lee Colkitt, whose firm has designed affordable, modern housing, a challenged athletes foundation and a conceptual Cuban immigrant museum, was in search of a live/work space in San Diego he could make his own, so he consulted architect Ted Smith, who Colkitt calls “the grandfather of San Diego design/build.” Smith had a space in his multi-unit building in the city’s Little Italy neighborhood that housed tenants ranging from architects and designers to video-game creators, musicians and a hair salon. Especially appealing was the fact that the available unit was a 750-square-foot concrete tabula rasa that Colkitt could rework to accommodate both his private living space and his firm’s office. “Like every designer, I tried to find the one with the most problems, because that brings out your creativity,” says Colkitt. “This unit is oddly shaped, with every wall at an angle, and I wanted to do something more interesting than just putting up a wall in the middle.” His solution was to create two small lofts, one for reading and one for sleeping, anchored among several existing concrete columns running along one wall. Along a busy street in San Diego’s Little Italy neighborhood stands the mixed-use building in which architect Nathan Lee Colkitt and a diverse array of tenants inhabit their live/work spaces. “It’s hard to describe—it’s really funky,” says Colkitt of the building. “It looks like a giant aircraft carrier landed in the street.” Rental units inside range in size from about 400 to 3,000 square feet. Nestled between an existing concrete wall at right and the new reading loft at left is the entrance staircase, which Colkitt sheathed in rusted steel panels. He used Homasote, invented in 1909 and made from recycled post-consumer paper, for the work board at right and elsewhere in the space. “You can drill on it or tack onto it, and it’s more flexible than drywall,” notes Colkitt. Beneath the new reading loft, which is clad in drywall and set between the wall and the staircase, is a new hallway and dressing area leading to the bathroom.

Near the office area is the open living area (with Mies furniture), which doubles as relaxation or meeting space. “I’m glad that Ted hadn’t been able to rent this unit yet,” says Colkitt, pointing out that it can get a bit boisterous, given that it is situated between the practice space for owner-architect Ted Smith’s acid jazz band and the recording studio for Smith’s son’s band, Pinback. “It’s definitely an interactive building.” - Diana Budds

Photography by Cheryl Ramsay