The distinct style of a Joseph Eichler-designed house—its open floorplan, post-and-beam construction, floor-to-ceiling windows—has attracted legions of devotees since the 1950s.
The developer’s “bring the outside in” approach and midcentury modern style have made his homes across California—and, more rarely, elsewhere—covetable in a way that borders on mania.
Peter and Kimberly Shenk, both Air Force veterans, became enamored of Eichler in 2013, when they bought a midcentury-style, flat-roofed house in Denver designed in an Eichler-like manner. Fresh off several years of living in Hawaii, where they renovated a home, they appreciated their Denver house’s airy quality and its clean lines, but it was a turnkey house and didn’t need any updates.
“The dream was to, one day, retire [and] move out to California and own an Eichler,” says Kimberly. But the couple didn’t have to wait for retirement: The opportunity came much sooner than they expected.
When they decided to move to California’s Bay Area toward the end of 2014, in part to be closer to family, the couple downsized from 1,700 square feet in Denver to a 600-square-foot apartment in Sunnyvale and immediately started searching for a home to buy. They found themselves priced out, despite making offers from San Jose to Walnut Creek, and finally ended up looking in Marin County. The area clicked for them, but didn’t seem logistically feasible.
“Marin felt like this very future destination, because that’s not necessarily the best location when you are trying to commute to work on the peninsula and in [San Francisco],” says Kimberly.
But Marin County’s natural beauty and easy access to the outdoors had a magnetic pull, so they decided to let go of any reservations about distance and convenience and focus solely on finding a home in the area.
In mid-June of 2015, a realtor with whom they’d just begun to work mentioned he’d soon be selling a circa-1961, never-been-touched, one-owner Eichler that was having an estate sale ahead of time: Would they want to go check it out and get the lay of the land? It was bordered by the Sleepy Hollow Divide preserve, had 100-foot Monterey pines in the yard, and was, after all, an Eichler. They said yes.
As they arrived at the estate sale, it quickly became clear that other visitors were there as prospective buyers, too—but the home was in ghastly condition.
“There were ... full-blown arachnophobia-[inducing] spider webs [in] the corners and hanging off the ceiling,” says Peter, also noting the house smelled musty and damp.
“You wanted to put a mask on because you felt like you might be breathing in black mold,” adds Kimberly.
But once they considered that it was an Eichler—and their exhaustion with their search—they knew they were willing to take the leap and renovate the house on their terms. During a lull in the market over the Fourth of July holidays, the Shenks made an offer. It was accepted, and they moved in the following August.
Originally, the couple planned to live in the house for six months before they started renovations, says Peter. “One month in, we could no longer take it,” he adds. “We moved all of our stuff into the atrium, got our tools out, and basically ripped everything out.”
In part, their time in Hawaii drove their aesthetic, design choices, and desire for indoor-outdoor living. And their previous renovation experience there proved invaluable when it came time to take on their Eichler. “We learned so much [from renovating our house in Hawaii],” says Kimberly. “That’s where Peter electrocuted himself 17 times but figured out how to do electrical; [where] we knocked down drywall; installed cabinets. [We] made some mistakes and learned our design sense: what we liked, what we didn’t like, and what goes together.”
Once they stripped the house down to its studs and wiring, they found that the structure itself was in fantastic shape, and because there was very little of the interior to save or restore, the Shenks built it back out according to their own vision.
This included reorienting the house’s interiors so that things flow around the kitchen, making entertaining easy and providing sightlines into the living space while they cook.
After starting there, the Shenks moved into the adjacent dining and living areas, and then on to the house’s bedrooms and bathrooms. They swapped bright-blue kitchen cabinetry for sleek white ones, and added more windows and skylights, keeping color in the home to a minimum to let the surrounding landscape take center stage. “Anywhere you are in the house, you’re getting a view of the outdoors,” says Kimberly.
Delightful original details, like a day-one discovery of the atrium’s retractable roof, are complemented by the couple’s modern, minimal style. Colors like teal and poppy turn up in different spaces to accent largely crisp, white interiors. Even the rich-gray exterior gets a dash of bright teal, thanks to a front door reminiscent of the couple’s home in Denver home, and inspired by other Eichlers.
While the couple finished most of their renovations last July—right around the time they had their first child—they’re already thinking about what’s next: the backyard. Reflecting on their journey to this point, the Shenks say they are grateful to have completed the renovation themselves.
“There’s something indescribably satisfying about living in a home that you’ve completely rebuilt with your own two hands,” says Kimberly. “It makes you feel so proud of it.”