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Photography by Patricia Chang
When Ken Fox and Alex Eagle saw this ranch house in Oakland's Montclair district, they didn't hesitate to write a preemptive offer. Two things helped them make a quick decision: Fox knows the market because he's a broker at East Bay Modern Residential Real Estate and both men share a love of midcentury design. "It really helps when partners agree on a style," says Fox. "We both saw potential here."
The couple also had a consensus on these facts: The house needed upgrades, but they were in no hurry to make them. "It was in move-in condition, but the colors and finishes were not our taste. There was a lot of baby blue in the house," Eagle says. Both men thought it was important to live in the house a bit before making changes. For Fox, it was a case of practicing what he preaches. "I always tell clients that you really need to spend a season in a house before you start a remodel," he says. "That way, you will know what you need to live in it."
↑ With research under their belts, the first task was the kitchen. In this area, Fox drove the style and Eagle (the cook in the family) had a lot to say about the layout. At first, the couple looked at cabinet brands like Arclinea. They found that they loved the sleek style of the high end modernist offerings, but not the prices. In the end, they went with a company called Semihandmade, a Los Angeles outfit that crafts custom doors and drawer fronts for IKEA cabinets. "That decision saved us about 20 or 30 percent," says Eagle.
↑ Walnut veneer cabinet fronts completely cover the IKEA interiors. They broke up the wood grain with panels and doors crafted with green-lacquer surfaces. "I thought the color was needed to break things up," says Fox. "If we had all wood, it would be way too dark."
↑ The countertops are tough and easy-to-maintain quartz, while the backsplash is a single slab of showy marble.
↑ "We didn't take down a lot of walls," says Eagle. "But we did want to open the kitchen to the dining room." Now, there's a peninsula where a wall once stood.
Having an open floor plan here is particularly helpful during the couple's annual Thanksgiving celebration—an event that's known to draw 30 or more people to their table. "It's nice not to be in an enclosed kitchen when there are a lot of guests," says Eagle.
↑ Another potential change is still being debated: painting the fireplace surround. "We knew we wanted to paint the walls a clean, gallery white," says Fox. "But we couldn't decide whether to paint the fireplace. The thing about that is once it's painted, it's painted—and it's not easy to go back."
↑ Turning a window in the master bedroom into doors was an easier decision. Before the couple purchased the house, they lived in a one-bedroom condo near Jack London Square. One of the reasons they wanted to move was that they wanted a lawn. "Replacing a window with the sliding doors allows us to access the yard," says Fox.
↑ The yard is another example of the couple's slow-and-steady remodeling philosophy. "We cleaned it up and looked at it for a year before we did anything," says Fox. When they did act, they added a deck, a hot tub, and a satellite office with a Mad-Men era style. "The house is small, and we both occasionally work from home and spend a lot of time on the phone, so we really needed a separate office," says Fox. "I wanted something that mirrored the midcentury style of the house, and I found a company called Backyard Eichlers that could give me that."
↑ Fox choose a stained plywood paneling for the interior that makes the 120-square-foot structure look as if it was built during the same era as the house.
↑ While building the office, they worked hard to preserve an old olive tree, stopping the deck just short of the tree's trunk. The maneuvering created an opportunity for a sunken dining area just outside the shed.
↑ The couple also applied the same done-over-time strategy for furnishing the house. "We've always liked the midcentury look, and we've been collecting furniture and art from that era for awhile," says Fox. "We've bought a few pieces for this house, but not many." He explains that they both favor a collected look rather than the sterile "instant interiors" look of all-new furniture.
↑ In the end, both men feel their design decisions was worth the wait. "We love the house," says Eagle. "And we love it's location. Oakland's weather, restaurants, and people are wonderful."