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First Course: There's No Place Like Oakland's Homestead

Homestead is the newest addition to Oakland’s culinary scene, hot off the heels of its early August opening. Nestled into a narrow 1916 Julia Morgan building, Homestead offers diners high-quality comfort food with down-home ambiance. Local metal and wood workers were employed to create custom elements in the kitchen and dining areas, and, because the space has such large windows, the team aimed to create a warm, inviting interior for outsiders looking in.

Co-owners and chefs Elizabeth and Fred Sassen teamed up with Larson Shores Architects to create a homey, traditional space. Guests are surrounded by details from Elizabeth’s grandmother’s home, such as kitchen tools, spice jars, and stacks of logs. A 1958 issue of Better Homes and Gardens, one of her favorite interior design magazines, is a façade for an iPad that the restaurant uses to book reservations. While the firm is known for creating clean and contemporary designs (as seen in Oakland’s Monkey Forest Road and New Parkway Theatre), building a more traditional-looking space was a welcome challenge for the team.

Left: Jars of herbs, spices and grains line the kitchen shelves. The Sassens do all their own canning and pickling. Right: A custom-built storage rack holds wood for the fireplace.

Elizabeth and her husband wanted their guests to feel like they’d returned to a comfortable, familiar place upon arrival. It was rewarding for them to capture the feeling of returning home for a good, comforting dinner. Another feature that is essential to the concept of the space is the large back room that can accomodate large groups and serve as a spot for cooking lessons.

The building is a Julia Morgan design, and the architects wanted to leave a lot of her arts and craft features in place, especially since the building absorbs so much natural light. Small circular windows line the walls, as well as vast, unadorned rectangular windows that allow sunlight to pour in. To balance out the abundance of light, they opted for a darker interior to make the space feel a bit more intimate. The light fixtures are replications of antiques, and LED light strips were added to the upper windows.

New wooden floors are reminiscent of the original design. Elizabeth Sassen’s grandmother’s books and kitchen tools adorn the shelving along Homestead’s walls.

The wood burning fireplace in the kitchen was another request by the Sassens, and fills the space with great ambient light and a wonderful smoke aroma. A metalworker crafted the custom metal oven doors and firewood storage rack in the back room, and the thick butcher block counter top and tables were made by Joe DiMaio of Mobili Dimaio Custom Furniture and Cabinetry. The steel panels along the counter were aged with vinegar and sunlight by the Sassens themselves in their own backyard, showing just how much love the creative family put into this homey and artistic Oakland destination.

Homestead: 4029 Piedmont Avenue, Oakland. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 5:00 p.m. – 10:00 p.m.

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