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The dream house next door

Tina and Jochen Frey didn’t pick the right house on the first try

Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today we look at the San Francisco home of Tina and Jochen Frey. Although they had committed to a house, they kept looking longingly at the neighbor’s dwelling. It made no sense to abandon their remodel plans and move next door—or did it?

The couple had relocated from the Marina (like the name suggests, a neighborhood along the San Francisco Bay) to Forest Hill (located atop the hilly area on the city’s southwest side) just two years ago. They loved many things about the new house, but it needed updating, and they were busy planning a remodel with architect George Bradley. It was increasingly clear that the plans were shaping up to be a major project.

Tina and Jochen with their two dogs.
Tina and Jochen Frey, seen here with Standard Poodles Ali and Zoe, abruptly switched remodel gears when they learned their next-door neighbor wanted to sell her home. The About a Lounge chairs are from Hay; the shelving system is from Ikea; the lamp is by Serge Mouille; and the wall color is Super White by Benjamin Moore.

"It was becoming a big deal," says Tina, a product and housewares designer at the helm of Tina Frey Designs. "We were going to add an addition, and it was getting complicated. During the process, Jochen and I kept looking at the neighbor’s house, and even though we’d never been inside, he said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if we had bought that one?’"

Not long after, as they were sweeping out the garage, the elderly owner of the neighboring house appeared and mentioned she was thinking of selling her home and moving closer to her daughter. "After she left, we kept at our chores for about a half an hour, and then we just turned to each other and said, ‘Should we?’" says Tina.

A white cabinet with very minimal bowls on top and some black and white art on the wall above. Photo by Carlos Chavarria
Left: some small vases + trinkets on a ledge by the window. Right: a silver teapot on a small tray in the kitchen.
Top: The Freys painted the existing cabinets, turning them from brown to white (Super White by Benjamin Moore). The artwork and resin bowls are from Tina Frey Designs; the Blackout White Square clock is from Metal Art Studio. Bottom left: Tina Frey has a minimalist attitude, so the things she displays are special. The light-blue Bud vase is from Heath; the white cylinder and metal vessels are from Tina Frey Designs; the rabbit is child’s toy that becomes a bubble-blower. Bottom right: The metal teapot is from Alessi; the plate is from Tina Frey Designs; and the cup and bowl are from Hasami Porcelain.

She admits the idea seemed crazy. They hadn’t even unpacked from their last move, and they’d hired and architect and started planning a remodel of their then-home.

But when they went over to discuss the possibility, and they entered the house for the first time, they were sold. "Our jaws just dropped," says Tina. "Although it was just one house over, it’s at the end of the street, so it is lighter and has unobstructed views from the ocean to the Golden Gate Bridge. It was amazing what a difference one lot over made."

That said, the home hadn’t been updated in a number of years, and so a remodel would still be in order. "But it was just much more us," says Tina. "So, even though I’m sure everyone thought we were crazy, we made the leap."

The all white dining room, with sliding doors that lead outside and a large window.
The dining room features a Round table by Eero Saarinen, a Saucer lamp by George Nelson over the table, and a planter by Tina Frey Designs. The wall storage unit is from Ikea, and the black-and-white Snoopy lamp from FLOS sits atop it.

In short order, they purchased the house in an off-market sale and moved in. Because it was steps away, there was no need to even hire a truck. "We hired the same team that moved us from the Marina," Tina says. "They were laughing, saying that they remembered putting the boxes and furniture exactly where they were still sitting."

The same architect has been hired to plan a future update of the kitchen and bathrooms, but the Freys decided to do what they could to make the home livable in the here and now. The small moves have yielded big results. "Even if we didn’t go through with the remodel, we are very comfortable," Tina says. "Basically the floor plan and the layout in this house were what we were planning to do in the remodel of our previous house."

One of the Frey’s dogs in the middle of a wooden staircase.
Ali the poodle pauses on the open staircase. The stool is from Tina Frey Designs and the blue carpet is composed of FLOR carpet tiles. The knit cap hides wipes for the dogs’ feet.

The first order of business was to lighten and brighten. "We were a bit ahead of the game here, because we had debated about the colors for a long, long time in our Marina house," says Tina. "Finally, we decided on Benjamin Moore’s Super White. To me, this is the perfect white, it has no hint of any other color, and it’s very art-gallery like."

The beige walls, the dark paneling on the fireplace wall, and the red brick of the fireplace itself were transformed with a coat of paint. The floors, a yellow oak color, were sanded and whitewashed. "Once we painted, it was like a breath of fresh air," says Tina. "It feels so much lighter now."

The whitish floors and stark white walls appeal to Tina’s need for minimalism. Her business involves designing goods for the home—ranging from dishware to wall hooks to furniture, most of it made from resin with soft, handcrafted look and sometimes in jewel colors. "At work, I’m surrounded by color, texture, and accessories," she says. "When I come home, I like to have something of a blank slate."

The bedroom and a large closet with all white cabinetry and storage.
A white chair and white dresses in an all white bedroom.
Clockwise from top left: The nearly all-white bedroom features spectacular Golden Gate Bridge views; a guest bedroom becomes a walk-in closet thanks to Ikea storage units, a Horizontal Rocker placed near an Ikea dresser is a serene place to sit.

Keeping the slate blank involves a rigorous practice of purging and putting away. The latter is accomplished by walls of storage units purchased from Ikea. "I kind of went wild there," Tina says. The result are floor-to-ceiling storage walls in the living room; long, low storage bins designed for children repurposed as dining room storage; and a bedroom converted into a dream closet with Ikea storage lockers.

The ultra-white, clean walls are a backdrop for a few of her favorite creations, items picked up during her travels, an art collection, and a flock of faux sheep made from wood and wool. "They are by German artist Hanns-Peter Krafft, and I discovered them during the Maison & Objet trade show in Paris," Frey says. "I love them, but with three in the living room and one in the bedroom, Jochen is right when he says we have too many."

Left: An open shelving unit with ceramics and trinkets. Right: An intricately designed wooden chair with some books sitting on it.
Left: Shelves display some of Tina Frey’s favorite things (including small vessels from Tina Frey Designs and a Eames House Bird by Vitra). Right: Tina Frey travels the world for work and pleasure. This chair is a find brought back from India.

You would think that traveling around the world for such trade shows would make it hard to practice the restraint such minimalism requires. For Tina, it has the opposite effect. "Because you see so much all the time, it makes you more careful and selective," she says. "After seeing so much and having the chance to mull over so many options, I know the thing I really want when I see it. I’ve gotten good at it over the years."

You also have to wonder if life begets art. As in, does finally snagging her dream house influence Frey’s work? "I enjoy creating things that I would like to us in my own home and around the house," she says. "I have to say that we love the space and feel lucky to have it, so much so we have to pinch ourselves to believe it. That has a very positive impact on our creativity."

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