Every week, our House Calls feature takes you into homes with great style, big personality, and ineffable soul. Today, we look at LeeAnn Manon’s house in San Rafael, California. The technology executive went looking for a traditional bungalow, but she ended up with an Eichler. With the help of designers at Laura Martin Bovard Interiors, she made a modern home that’s both sleek and inviting.
Let’s be clear: Manon never considered herself a modernist, let alone an Eichler fan. “I was looking for a cute little bungalow, but after a couple of false starts where I wrote offers that didn’t get accepted, my realtor suggested I look at this Eichler,” she says. “I was like, ‘Eh... that’s not really my style,’ but I agreed to go see it. I walked in and I knew this was it.”
There was nothing in Manon’s background that suggested she might be a closet midcentury modern enthusiast. “I grew up in a traditional home in the Pacific Northwest, and I lived in an Edwardian flat in San Francisco for 12 years,” she says. “I wanted something cozy, but with space and nature around me.”
When she first walked into the low-slung house, built by developer Joseph Eichler, the creator of thousands of iconic modern homes in California in the 1950s and ’60s, she says it “hit her heart.”
“From the front door, I looked straight back through to the backyard and the open space beyond,” she says. “It was light, bright, and airy. Everything came together in the right way for me.”
However, Manon’s offer initially came in the wrong way, and she lost out to another bidder. “But a month later, the winning offer fell through,” she says. “When my real estate agent called me about the house and said it was back on the market, I leapt at the chance. I never stopped thinking about it, and I compared every house I saw after to it.”
Once the home was hers, Manon tackled some long-deferred maintenance. After that, she spent some time thinking about the interiors.
“I’ll admit, my furniture didn’t fit. I’d been living in an Edwardian home for a long time,” she says. “But I wasn’t in a rush to change that right away. I sat with it for a while to get a feel for what I wanted—and what I wanted was a home to live in, not to look at.”
With that in mind, she contacted Bovard. “I told them I needed a home that was comfortable,” she says. “While I love the clean lines and openness of midcentury modern design, some of the ultra-modern styles don’t personally appeal to me.”
Bovard quickly determined that the home, which had been remodeled and repainted away from its original look, could adapt to a contemporary style while remaining true to its roots. “I think we remodeled it in a way that an Eichler might look if it were built today,” she says.
What that means in application is that bamboo floors were removed and replaced with concrete, putty-colored walls were given a gallery-white coat of paint, modern built-ins were added, and the kitchen was reborn as a 21st-century space.
Like most Eichlers, this one has a galley kitchen. Before the remodel, half of the countertops were table-height (29.5 inches, rather than the standard 36 inches), totally inappropriate for a person who stands 5 feet 10 inches tall. “The countertops were so low, LeeAnn looked like she was standing in a kid’s play kitchen,” says Joey Leeanne Yoder, project manager.
The designers removed a short wall (it ended about a foot from the ceiling) that divided the kitchen and the living room and moved a new taller and wider kitchen island a few inches into the living space. Before, the dining room and kitchen were open to each other; now, the kitchen, the dining area, and the living room are all one open space.
For the island, those few inches up and out made a big difference. Raising the countertops means there’s more room for storage and that prep work isn’t a back-breaking proposition. The slightly wider kitchen (along with a tightened work triangle) makes the kitchen’s flow noticeably better and more comfortable.
And while its footprint is larger, the kitchen’s appearance is more simple due to a “flush installation.” By flush, we mean an electric range that melts seamlessly into the top of the island, a waterfall countertop that spills over each end, and smooth cabinets that are interrupted only by hardware.
“Throughout the house, LeeAnn didn’t want a lot of visual clutter or accessories,” says Bovard. “I’m really seeing a ‘less is more’ trend, especially with my younger clients. People are going for quality and soulfulness in interiors.”
One side of the island is covered with walnut wood, a warming material that’s echoed in the wall-hung media console and bench in the living room.
Those bamboo floors are replaced by concrete. “The interesting thing about concrete is that it doesn’t have to feel cold and industrial,” says Bovard. “It’s all about the color and texture you choose. In this case, we went for a warmer gray with a velvety finish that looks soft.”
Another warming element: Manon’s dining room set. At first, Bovard was less than enthusiastic about the pieces, which were inherited from Manon’s grandmother, but she had a change of heart. “We want our clients to feel a connection to their history,” the designer says. “The fact that LeeAnn insisted on keeping her grandmother’s table shows her integrity and the quality of her heart. Given that, I didn’t care what it looked like.”
However, with its history, color, and fairly simple lines, it turned out to be a perfect fit. “While it wasn’t an obvious choice, its contrast with the white walls made it a good one,” says Bovard.
You could apply the same thought—about the good choices not being the obvious ones—to the entire endeavor, from house hunting to home remodeling. “When I bought this house, it opened doors to design options and things I hadn’t thought about,” says Manon. “It turned out to be the thing I was looking for, but I didn’t know I needed.”