'Wow' of the unsung architect

Designer's one-time dream home in North Berkeley impresses in first public sale ever
Fridays on the Homefront
Designed in 1960 by unsung East Bay architect Walter Popenuck, this North Berkeley gem just went on the open market for the first time in its 60 years. It's "organic architecture at its best," says realtor Christian Thede. All photos courtesy Northbrae Properties

An architect's unique mid-century dream home in North Berkeley has just hit the market for the first time ever, virtually unchanged from the bittersweet day Walter Popenuck and family moved there in 1960.

"I've never seen a house like this. It's just, to my mind, organic architecture at its best," said Christian Thede, listing agent on the property for Berkeley-based Northbrae Properties and a veteran of 17 years in real estate.

The striking and unusual three-bed, two-bath home has 1,896 square feet and is being listed for $1,449,000.

Fridays on the Homefront
Curved roof, expansive openness. No walls separate the public areas of the living room (above), dining room, and kitchen.

Its first owner, Walter Popenuck, had just gotten a job as main architect for what is now Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory (LBL), overlooking the University of California. Clearly a modernist, he designed a curvaceous home with floor-to-ceiling windows for his young family, which sadly was split by divorce in the latter '60s.

"To my knowledge, it was the only residential building he built or had any part of," Thede reports of the architect, a Massachusetts native and veteran of World War II's bloody Battle of the Bulge.

Popenuck stayed at LBL for 26 years, designing or planning much of its current campus before retiring in 1985. He sold his dream house to a local admirer in 1969 and passed away in 2001.

Fridays on the Homefront
The living room and the home's gentle curves from a different angle.

"It was an off-market sale. This will be the first time it has been on the market," the realtor explained. Noting that current owner, Katherine Wood, grew up in the house, he adds, "She's been living in the house the last 51 years."

Entering the home through the front door, one is struck immediately by its openness, as no walls separate the public areas of the kitchen, living room, and dining room.

"It's truly open-concept, especially the main floor," agrees Thede, allowing that in other areas, "It has these cozy spaces."