Devi Dutta is an architect and mother of three children in Berkeley. She recently published a handbook-meets-memoir of her experience renovating a house — Learning from the Hip: A Pocket Manifesto for your Home Improvement Project. Today Devi answers my questions about life in Berkeley.
What neighborhood are you in and what is it known for?
We live in the Berkeley Hills near La Loma playground. I usually get puzzled looks when I tell people where I live, until I mention the playground (the one with the train!). We bought a tiny house on this dead-end street about 8 years ago. Back then our neighbors were mostly sweet old ladies, but so many young families have moved here lately. This neighborhood is known for great views, lots of nature and wildlife and narrow, curvy streets. We have a nice view of a canyon behind our house, which can be pretty spectacular when fog is rolling in. The house we re-designed and built here keeps a low profile to protect everyone’s views and sunlight, while also allowing easy indoor-outdoor access.
What is a great kid-friendly feature of your neighborhood?
Our street is one of the only flat, recently re-paved streets in our hilly neighborhood, plus it’s a dead end so we don’t have much traffic. All the neighborhood kids (mostly 10 and under) meet up on the street all the time for scootering and biking. Plus one of our neighbors has a secret path directly down to the playground.
What’s something about your new life as a parent in Berkeley that you think is notable to your friends back home?
I spent my early childhood in a remote part of eastern India, then moved to Texas, then to Louisiana for the rest of my
youth and college. I think all of these places have unique qualities that I still miss and appreciate (especially the amazing food and the unhurried pace of life), but what’s different in the Bay Area is the diversity. So many cultures are celebrated and represented here, and that is truly special.
What do you and your husband like to do when you have a date night?
We watch movies at the theater when we can. I never was a fan of action or zombie movies before kids, but now I look forward to the whole experience of any and all movies out with my husband. We love El Cerrito’s Rialto theater because you can eat and drink while you watch. Dinner and a movie all in one.
What cool East Bay activity do you want to tell every new-in-town parent about?
Adventure Playground by the Berkeley Marina is the best place I always forget exists. My kids love getting a hammer and some nails to pound and the zipline is fantastic for my older daughters. Those ad-hoc structures make kids think about their environment in an intentional way. Modern playgrounds are designed so uniformly that kids don’t need to think about running up and down stairs because each step is so standardized. At Adventure Playground, you have to think about each step and shimmy because nothing is standard. And there may be a rusty nail poking out at you.
What’s your favorite local kid-centric store?
Mr Mopps. Nice people, great selection. I hear they are opening a bookstore, which I am so looking forward to.
What’s your favorite Bay Area day trip?
Definitely Marin and Sonoma beaches – so many to discover! We just got back from a trip to the Russian River, and took the coast back down so we could stop at a couple of beaches along the way. Each is unique – some have rough waves I would never get near, while others are calm. Some have rocky shores with gorgeous pebbles, while others have smooth sand. No two are alike, but they are all stunning.
What’s your favorite Saturday morning ritual?
Reading the paper while the kids play quietly. I think there are 2 delusions in that statement.
Ha ha! Thanks for hanging out with us today, Devi!