Tucked away in the hills of Oakland, California, this masterfully created home is iconic for more reasons than one.
While the origins surrounding this gorgeous California home border on legend, its iconic design continues to attract attention. Built and designed in 1961 by architect Benjamin Fishstein, it is believed he intended the home to be his own. From an aerial perspective, the house is shaped like an “M.” As the story goes, it was an ode to Fishstein’s wife’s name. “The house is literally a love-letter to his wife,” says Herman Chan, the home’s former realtor.
With 2,500 square feet, four bedrooms and three bathrooms, today it shines as an example of pure Mid Century design. Nestled in the hills of northern California’s Bay Area, its natural surroundings make it an absolute dream home. While Fishstein died before the home was completed, the original owners resided there for 56 years and made only minor updates. “The home was a ship in a bottle,” says Garrett Chow, who purchased the house in 2018.
This home is without any of the major remodels that many other half-century homes have undergone. Entering the stunning space feels a little like stepping back in time. “In preparation for the home’s sale, the previous owner really only did cosmetic improvements,” Garrett says. While the home is old, it has almost effortlessly managed to maintain both its beauty and sense of modernity with grace. “It does not feel antiquated at all,” Herman says.
With a View
Built into a hillside, the entry is at the ground level, and a spiral staircase, itself the main focus of the home, leads up into the main living space. “Fishstein’s compression and restriction of the view as one enters through the garage-level entry and finally enters into the open, bright expanse of the main living space is masterful,” Garrett says. The structure itself is a nod to the parallelogram and, within that concept, boasts all the well-known and loved features of a mid century home. Exposed beams blur the distinction between the indoors and out, as do the glass walls. “The whole of the west elevation is in essence a wall of floor-to-ceiling glass, capitalizing on the views across to San Francisco,” Garrett says. Accordion doors open onto the deck, where surrounding flora and fauna create an idyllic setting.
One of a Kind
While this home has received press attention and become something of a legend, not much is known about the architect, who passed away before it was completed. “This house may be a literal and figurative one-of-a-kind,” says Garrett. Constructed at a time when building homes was about cheap mass production, the song of this house plays differently. It was built to last.
The robust ceiling beams are a staple from the architecture at the time. The beams were recycled from an old wooden bay bridge that was torn down. “Ben Fishstein had the foresight to collect and preserve some of the original, old-growth redwood timbers,” Garrett says. “Fishstein’s post-and-beam construction is comprised of some of the 600 original redwood piles.” When it was built, the home was featured in the Italian design magazine, Abitare, which still publishes today.
The Finished Product
At some point, the ground-floor workshop and storage area became its own in-law quarters with a private entrance. The main floor consists of the main living areas and two bedrooms, as well as the deck. Perched above it all is the master bedroom. “When you’re in the house, you see all these beautiful geometric lines. Then when you step out to the outdoor space, you’re under this huge panorama of blue sky surrounded by a carousel of greenery and foliage,” Herman says.
When furnishing the home, Garrett sought to fill each room with pieces that would enhance the space. “It was my aim to give the home the breathing space it deserves,” he says. “There is a mix of old and new, and stuff I’ve found off the street and in my travels alongside classics of the home’s era scoured at bargain sales,” Garrett says. Some prized pieces include a pair of vintage Hans Wegner chairs he purchased from Craigslist after 20 years of searching; an Ax chair by Peter Hvidt; and some vintage soft-pad recliners by the Eames Office. Artwork from friends and even a bike frame he painted himself complete the space. With a truly unique design, stunning location, impeccable detail and fascinating history, Fishstein’s “M” house is truly a marvel.
Want to see more MCM California homes? Check out Hexagon Haus: A Colorful Condo in Mammoth Lakes, California or Eichler Orange: Designer Lin He Updates an Eichler in Orange, California!