Communal living at Kluegel House thrives under alternative-style house

Kluegel House, located on Le Conte Avenue, provides an alternative housing option for students looking for a collaborative living space.
Michael Drummond/Senior Staff
Kluegel House, located on Le Conte Avenue, provides an alternative housing option for students looking for a collaborative living space.

Tucked just around the bend of Le Conte Avenue sits a four-story cottage — wood framed and shrouded in redwood trees — home to an elderly couple, 26 UC Berkeley students, two cats and one dog.

Named “Kluegel House” after its original owner, the cottage currently represents one of the few alternative housing options — not owned or operated by the university — for students who are looking to find a collaborative living space with more flexibility and autonomy than the dorms.

Originally designed in 1911 as a duplex, Kluegel was acquired through foreclosure in 2010 by current owners John Lewis and Paula Bauer, who live in the house’s lower level. Like Kluegel’s previous owners, the Bauers continue to rent out the house’s 14 rooms to UC Berkeley students.

Michelle Pei, a UC Berkeley sophomore and a resident of Kluegel house, calls the cottage “quaint and quiet.” Pei used to live at Clark Kerr Campus, but after a yearlong stay, she felt hampered by the dorm’s lack of local camaraderie.

“No one really wanted to socialize with anyone else in the dorms,” Pei said. “ We really had to make an effort — it’s nice to have someone around (at Kluegel).”

Bauer relies on traditional means to advertise the space, yet the majority of renters find the space via word of mouth. There are no restrictions for applying to Kluegel, and most of its residents are UC Berkeley students. As a result, former and current residents espouse not only the quality of quarters but also the unique mix of tenants made up of students at various stages in their college careers.

Erika Gavitt, a UC Berkeley senior who moved in in the fall, was attracted to the unregimented autonomy available to the denizens of Kluegel.

“There are no bureaucratic set of rules, only general courtesy,” Gavitt said. “We’re not afraid to call each other out, and we can easily speak to Paula. She puts a lot of trust in us.”

Upon entering, visitors are greeted with a large corkboard lined with photos and brief biographies of the housemates. Midday voices clutter the area, but considerate murmurs from the living room barely echo over the long dining table where students normally catch up on their studies. The sounds of shuffling feet, the low-key hum of appliances and the sound of people eating contribute to the human buzz of a cooperative atmosphere.

The home is also brought together by friendly competitions dubbed “Kluegel Games,” with the kitchen serving as a central hub during the Thanksgiving potluck and Secret Santas organized during the holidays.

“This never happened in the dorms,” Gavitt said. “When you share common spaces, you find creative ways to make things work.”

Most recently converted from a Sikh retreat into a private residence hall in 1976, the house is a Berkeley city landmark. The common area includes a meditation tower that was added by the Sikh Dharma community during its previous 20-year stay, when the house served as a yoga center and residential commune. Although no longer the spiritual monastery it once was, Kluegel remains a peaceful place for students to conduct their daily activities.

“The layout of the house lends itself to community,” said Julia Gomes, a UC Berkeley freshman and Kluegel resident. “(It has) a nice and friendly atmosphere.”

Contact Jeff Landa at [email protected]