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Donald Olsen’s midcentury-modern masterpiece bumps up asking price

The circa-1954 Berkeley home has a new “transparent” price tag

The jewel-like box cantilevers make this home a statement piece.
Photos by Liz Rusby, courtesy of the Grubb Co.

Under the tutelage of Walter Gropius at Harvard, Donald Olsen become one of the Bay Area’s most esteemed modernist architects, ditching the popular Bay Region Style in favor of the sleeker aesthetic (typically found in Los Angeles midcentury specimens) as seen in his personal Berkeley abode, which hit the market in March

Note that the home was originally asking $1.495 million, but like many homes in the Bay Area as of late, it has since increased its asking price ever since shelter-in-place rules went into effect.

“We came on the market at the ‘strategic’ lower price just before the shelter-in-place order went into affect and everyone seemed to pause,” explained listing agent Bebe McRae. In late March, the home then “changed to the present ‘transparent’ price” of $1.75 million in order to stave off a drawn-out bidding war.

The 2,205-square-foot residence, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a City of Berkeley Historic Landmark, includes three bedrooms, three baths, a painting studio, and storage over two floors, with an original mural by artist Claire Falkenstein gracing the entry.

“His distinctive designs, ranked among the best of California modernism, held fast to a purist expression of International Style modernism, a treasured rarity in the Bay Area,” Berkeleyside noted shortly after his death in 2015.

The architect designed the admittedly stunning home for himself and his family. Christened the Donald and Helen Olsen House, the box-shaped casa features a cantilevering glass-box structure resting on a sloping, tree-studded site.

The home comes with an open floor plan, and other modern accents highly prized by design geeks and midcentury-modern fans.

During their time at the house, the Olsens used it not only as a family retreat but also as a drafting office, a studio, and a salon where they hosted many members of the arts community. It hit the market in 2017 for the first time ever. Now it returns in the same superb shape.

Located at 771 San Diego Road, the listing is through Bebe McRae and Alexis Thompson of the Grubb Co.

The Claire Falkenstein mural.
The living room features floor-to-ceiling windows with aboral views galore.
The dining space leads to the kitchen.
The home’s staircase.
The master bedroom.
An outdoor terrace.