Down on Eighth Street, Ciel Creative Space offers a sunlit, plant-filled, state-of-the-art facility in a former printing house.
October 18, 2023
BERKELEYSIDE – The internationally celebrated Nigerian architect Miriam Kamara once said, “Architecture is the stage on which we live our lives.”
Although continents apart, Berkeley entrepreneur Cecilia Caparas Apelin and Kamara have that belief in common: spaces have the power to elevate the spirit, showcase human creativity and be catalysts for building community.
Apelin and Laurent founded the company in 2019 to bring a top-tier, full-service venue, similar to Milk Studios in New York City and Los Angeles, to the Bay Area. Clients can do photo shoots, create videos, host conferences while also live streaming, and produce live concerts all under the Ciel roof.
Now fully developed, Ciel runs the length of a city block on Eighth Street between Parker and Carleton streets. The 50,000-square-foot space includes 10 studios ranging from 1,000 to 3,700 square feet; a coworking space called Atelier; fully stocked kitchenettes; a state-of-the-art, 1,600-square-foot soundstage; and the Bay Area’s largest three-walled cyclorama, which can create the illusion of a panoramic image. And coming in 2024: fully equipped podcast studios.
In the four years since Apelin and Laurent founded Ciel, the two succeeded in achieving their vision: Ciel is now considered one of the top production sites in the country. It has hosted productions for clients ranging from Google, Levi’s and Stitch Fix to the Golden State Warriors’ Steph Curry.
But for all the technology and big-name clients, “community is the foundation of what we do,” Apelin said. “For us, it’s not just about business. It’s about connecting on a human level. It brings together everything I always wanted to be a part of: music, fashion, art, creativity, bringing out the voices of women and BIPOC entrepreneurs…”
Case in point, Ciel Space hosted the Berkeley Chamber’s annual “Berkeley Today & Tomorrow” event on Oct. 11, to celebrate the creativity, innovation, and resilience of Berkeley companies that have been featured in the citywide #DiscoveredinBerkeley business marketing campaign. Sponsored by the City of Berkeley Office of Economic Development (OED), Berkeley Lab and Bayer, the evening brought together business leaders as diverse as Helen Meyer (cofounder of world-renowned audio equipment manufacturer Meyer Sound), Etosha Cave (cofounder and chief scientific officer of the Berkeley Lab-incubated climate technology startup Twelve), and the owners of neighborhood faves like Baker & Commons cafe in Elmwood, Paraiso Plant Studio on Fourth Street, and ACCI Gallery in North Shattuck.
Between bites provided by three green caterers OED’s Chief Strategist for Sustainable Growth, Elizabeth Redman Cleveland, said, “We couldn’t have picked a better backdrop than Ciel to help community leaders make new connections and gain inspiration from the wide range of entrepreneurs who’ve launched or built a business in Berkeley.”
Much acclaim has centered on Ciel’s industrial-meets–sophisticated aesthetic. And with good reason. The giant space, once a printing house, has soaring 30-foot ceilings, whitewashed interiors, a profusion of plants, custom art and original metalwork, all bathed in natural light. “It’s my aesthetic and Alexis’ aesthetic combined,” she said. “It’s the masculine and the feminine. It’s modern boho chic with rustic French art deco.”
But Ciel’s debut into the world of creative spaces came at a difficult time. There was, of course, the pandemic. “We pivoted and pivoted,” Apelin said. “And for five months, we were shut down.”
Ultimately the company landed on a survival strategy that worked: bulk up its video capabilities, concentrate on virtual production and leverage the natural aeration in the window-filled space. Production studios started filling up with clients, among them a MasterClass with Angela Davis, and Uber Freight Deliver 20, an international live-streamed conference.
During the buildout of Ciel back in 2018, a different kind of tragedy struck: Laurent had a boogie board accident that left him paralyzed. Apelin, without a partner, forged ahead while Laurent recuperated. He is now back to making art, and Ciel is going strong. It’s a state of being that still has a sense of unreality for Apelin. “Sometimes I have to pinch myself that, after all we’ve been through, we are still here,” she said. “It is a miracle and we’re honored to serve our creative community.”
West Berkeley’s changing landscape
Although Apelin and Laurent originally scouted locations in San Francisco and Oakland, Berkeley won out for its culture and the intriguing, creative vibe of the neighborhood. “It was really important to us to be in a neighborhood with other artists, musicians and craftspeople,” Apelin said. “I was drawn to the rich history and the makers who live through their art. We saw this transition from manufacturing to this heady mix we have now. I wanted to share that with the world.”
In fact, West Berkeley accommodates some of the most diverse land uses of anywhere in the city; walk for a block or two on the streets west of San Pablo, and you are likely to pass restaurants, bakeries, research and development facilities, artists’ studios, professional or medical offices, and homes.
Apelin also had a longstanding attachment to the city, having made it the destination of her youthful outings. “I was a Filipina American growing up in the East Bay with immigrant Filipino parents,” she said. “I gravitated to anything that had to do with fashion or art or music or community activism, and Berkeley has this synergy that always pulled me in. I went to concerts at the Greek, I took a hip-hop belly dancing class. It was a place for fun innovative experiences.”
“I’ve been wanting to do this since the last recession in 2008,” she continued. “It’s been my dream — to make a creative sanctuary for people in our community to step into their power and truth.”
- Attend events at Ciel including Wellness Friday on Oct. 20 (and every third Friday of the month); the Night of Shorts on Oct. 21; or the Ciel Summit in December. Follow Ciel on Instagram for details.
- Subscribe to the Office of Economic Development (OED) newsletter, the Berkeley Startup Cluster newsletter, or OED’s Civic Arts newsletter to learn more about Berkeley’s businesses, the heady mix of West Berkeley’s land uses, and how our community embraces art.
- Mark your calendar for the Berkeley Holiday Gift Fair (Nov. 30, 3-7 p.m.) for another way to build community and support local creatives.
- Visit the Discovered in Berkeley stories page to find more stories about exceptional local businesses.