Salvaged Homes: Renovating Old Buildings into Unique Houses in Reno, Nevada

Inspired to remodel rundown spaces in their hometown, two landlords keep old buildings out of the landfill and re-invigorate their community.

| September/October 2011

  • HabeRae outfits their homes with organic garden spaces—in this home, they reused all existing materials on the property for the landscape makeover.
    Photo Courtesy HabeRae
  • An Art Deco structure built in 1953, the former Reno fire station was converted to a homeless shelter before being abandoned for a number of years. Residence 9 includes a rollup wall of glass that once served as the fire truck door.
    Photo Courtesy HabeRae
  • HabeRae renovated the dilapidated structure, which is now home to a bagel shop, salon and nine residential units and is the cornerstone of a bustling new area of the city.
    Photo Courtesy HabeRae
  • The residences retain many of the building’s original structural details such as laddered sleeping lofts and polished concrete floors.
    Photo Courtesy HabeRae
  • HabeRae designs “small homes with big amenities.” This urban infill cottage and its neighbor—together known as 2 on Watt—include private backyards, community-building front porches, washer/dryer combos and abundant natural light.
    Photo Courtesy HabeRae

In Reno, Nevada, HabeRae Homes is the brainchild of Kelly Rae and Pam Haberman, two home renovators and landlords who became fascinated with the idea of living better with fewer resources when they built a rural getaway home for themselves. “The impetus for building small and sustainable came to us when we bought a remote lot,” Rae says. “The builder who built our little cabin—we were living in New Mexico at the time, near Mammoth—said, ‘You have to go off the grid.’ I said, ‘What is that?’ This was in 1994.” Their builder, Don Berenati of Sweetwater Building, was experienced in off-the-grid, sustainable living, and he explained how the couple’s home could generate its own resources. “He said, ‘You can power it with solar panels; it works! And there’s a spring we can tap into with a line that goes to the cistern.’ So I said, ‘OK, I have to see that,’” Rae says.

Intrigued by the idea of a completely self-sufficient home, Haberman and Rae moved forward with plans to create the cabin. “We went back and forth with the fax—it was before Internet—and before I knew it, we had plans for a cabin that’s off the grid. Two years later, the house was built with an eight-panel solar system. We were amazed! All of our energy comes from these eight panels, and our water comes from a spring,” Rae says.

The cabin includes reclaimed materials, such as a salvaged wood floor from a warehouse in Oakland, California. “It was from a shipping warehouse from World War II,” Rae says. “It was called ‘the floor that won the war.’” Haberman and Rae had asked Berenati for a small space, and they were impressed with the efficiency he worked into their little cabin. “The spaces fill more than one purpose,” Haberman says. “We have window seats, and underneath are bookshelves. We can cram a lot into a small space, and then you can eliminate the need for a big house.”

As they became increasingly impressed by their sustainable cabin, Haberman and Rae became increasingly interested in integrating some of those techniques into the homes they renovated. “We thought, ‘If we can make housing better with better insulation and better materials for our own home, why can’t we do this for other people and really do things with value?’” Rae says.

The two decided to focus on sustainable homes and reclaimed building materials. They also started to notice all the abandoned, tiny spaces going to waste in their city. “Reno is a pretty place, but we started seeing all these cookie-cutter developments,” Haberman says. “We started looking in the urban core and seeing there were buildings we could use without going outside city limits and cutting into the hillsides and paving everything over.” Their results are wildly popular, efficient urban nests perfect for the city’s many college students and young urban professionals. Though they have won numerous awards for historic preservation and community development, the duo says it is most important that their projects demonstrate smart, invigorating reuse.

Houses with History 

1/17/2014 2:21:56 PM

I'm getting ready to do a renovation myself and have looked into using ”” as a way to keep my things out of the way while i do the fun stuff. DO you have any experience using something like that? is it helpful?

Chyrel Madden
9/5/2013 12:42:02 PM

Going "off the grid" can be challenging, but worth it.

Chyrel Madden
9/5/2013 12:41:58 PM

Going "off the grid" can be challenging, but worth it.

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