Natural chef Christine Theberge, 43, and Eric Drake, also 43, and the owner of the Berkeley woodwind repair shop, Saxology, met at a weekend getaway with friends and felt an instant connection. Christine had spent years living on a farm in rural Texas with her then-husband; she wrote and performed country music. Eric had been a freewheeling San Francisco jazz musician and collector of retro memorabilia. But both, it turned out, shared a love for working with their hands, and an appreciation for simplicity and quality in everything from craftsmanship to lifestyle. Today, the couple lives in North Oakland in a 750-square-foot English basement (a unit that’s partially above ground, partially below) that they rent for $800 a month.
(Christine) When you feed people, you have an instant connection. I feel very fortunate because I’m working for myself, on my own time, at my own pace. I get to come up with a menu and make what I want. That’s freedom. (Eric) I went to school to be a musician but I just became a little too aware of my shortcomings. But I still love to play. I’m happy as a mechanic [of woodwinds].
(Christine) There’s a little bit of Martha Stewart in me. It is a return to values of a different time. (Eric) Mechanic-ing isn’t really that creative. Coppersmithing is, for me. My teacher lives five miles from my parents, in New Jersey. We talk on the phone. His health is failing and I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to learn what I want to learn from him. I’m going to be his last apprentice.
(Christine) To make a positive effect on whatever I’m engaged in. (Eric) Working and making things. Spending time with Christine and exploring the world. Taking walks outside, getting out into nature even if it’s just driving a mile into the hills and walking around somewhere along Grizzly Peak.
(Eric) I yearn for more of a sort of 19th-century existence. Mass-produced things just don’t appeal to me. When I pick something up, I want to feel some kind of soul in it. I want to feel like someone spent some time with this and put some care into it. Although just because it’s old doesn’t mean that it’s good. The industrial age started by the end of the 18th century, so there’s a lot of old crap out there. It takes a discerning eye. [But] it’s like a boob job—once you know the difference it’s easy to spot.
(Eric) My number one philosophy in terms of buying stuff, especially buying stuff online, is that I really can’t find it locally. My bikes all came off Craigslist. My CD player and turntable came from a pawnshop. I have an art deco clock collection, strictly from eBay. (Christine) I’ve collected animals. [On the farm in Texas] it just broke my heart to see an animal that was struggling and didn’t have a home. We had an average of six or seven dogs and maxed out at nine. I’m a sucker for the underdog.
(Christine) I spend a lot on food and health care. I’m a member of a meat CSA [community supported agriculture] and a farm CSA. I avoid choices that are detrimental for the environment like buying anything—food especially—that has connections to factory farming. In terms of clothing, technically I could go to H & M and buy something for as low as at a thrift store, but I don’t subscribe to that kind of economy. I would rather have less and have people be better taken care of.
Amy Moon is a writer, editor, and content strategist living in Berkeley.