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In a Diamond Heights Eichler, Lessons in Living Cinematically

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Jack Bernstine.
Jack Bernstine.

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Photos via Patricia Chang

If you want to find out about someone, the thing to do is to head straight for the bathroom. So it's fitting that one of the first places Jack Bernstine shows off in his Diamond Heights house is the bloodred powder room that he and his partner, Matthew Ogden, decorated in honor of one of their favorite old movies, the 1939 dramedy The Women. "It's about society women and cheating husbands," Bernstine supplies. "It has no men in it." The powder room's arresting red hue is inspired by the nail polish Rosalind Russell wears. "What's the line?" Bernstine says. "'I've waited two years to grow claws, Mother'"—he holds up his hands like talons—"'Jungle Red.'"

Bernstine and Ogden's powder room, inspired by the 1939 film 'The Women,' starring Joan Crawford, Norma Shearer, and Rosalind Russell.
Bernstine and Ogden live in a four-bedroom Eichler built in 1962. Since buying the house in 1993, they've gradually filled it with midcentury pieces like the blue Florence Knoll sofa in the living room and the Magnavox Astro-Sonic console stereo from 1965 they found on eBay. Aside from the powder room, and an upstairs screening room decked out in movie posters, most of the other Hollywood totems hang in the background, looking like the normal vintage bric-a-brac an unschooled civilian might mistake them for.

In the dining room Ogden keeps a collection of vintage barware.
But with a little narrative unspooling from Bernstine, Ogden's collection of barware, for instance, is layered with references worthy of a chain of credits on IMDb. Bernstine points to a shaker. "You'll see Zachary Scott making cocktails in this one with Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce. In the kitchen, he pulls out a Heisey cocktail glass. "This is the glass that Joan Crawford threw against the wall with John Garfield in Humoresque, 1946."

Bernstine and Ogden's upstairs screening room, complete with cat Harry (left) and Erica phone (right).
Sometimes the couple comes into possession of something without even picking up on possible movie references. Pointing to a dining room chair, Bernstine says, "This chair, we didn't notice at the time—this chair is featured in the movie A Summer Place, that Frank Lloyd Wright house that's filmed in Monterey." Bernstine recalls watching the movie one day with Ogden. "We see the movie, I say, 'Hey, look, there's our chair!'" he says. "We see our shakers, we see everything all the time."

Unlike many Eichler aficionados, Bernstine, who is a realtor with Zephyr SF, only learned about Eichler after he and Ogden bought the house. "Once we found out what it was from a friend of ours, we kind of got into it," he recalls. At first, "we had all this normal, ugly, overstuffed Macy's furniture. There was no design scheme." Bernstine and Ogden (who works as an office manager for a law firm) restocked the house with their best karaoke version of the 1950s. "We went out and bought old I Love Lucy-type furniture—boomerang stuff."

Then, on an Eichler tour in San Mateo's Highlands neighborhood, the couple came into contact with the dopamine-stoking union of Eichler homes and modern furniture that speaks to that region of the brain common to all Eichler fanatics. "That house had a Florence Knoll sofa," recalls Bernstine. "All the iconic things, you know, the Egg chair. We started to educate ourselves about furnishings and we slowly got rid of things and replaced them."

The couple's friend and (at the time) neighbor, interior designer Kem Theilig of In:Site Design Build Associates, helped them come up with a scheme for the courtyard and for the kitchen. "What we were trying to do was have something that was modern but evoked that 60s feel, so the white and the wood does that for us," Bernstine says. The cabinets are actually Ikea, but the couple had custom fronts made for them, because Bernstine didn't like the messy look of the Ikea wood pattern. "I wanted the grains to line up," he says. "The fronts of the doors cost more than the cabinets."

Bernstine bought the kitchen table, an Eames, from House Calls alum (and Diamond Heights neighbor) Bob Pullum.
They also held back on certain concessions to modernity, preferring knobs for the oven instead of electronic buttons, as well as a percolator for coffee and a Sunbeam mixer, which Bernstine says Ogden definitely uses. "Matt does all the cooking," he explains. "All I care about is what it looks like."

· House Calls Archives [Curbed SF]
· In:Site Design Build Associates [Official Site]
· Tour a Midcentury Time Capsule Tricked Out By a Modern-Day Mad Man [Curbed SF]