Once Monika Kafka and Tom Borsellino found their dream Eichler, it was time to move back to Northern California to turn it back into a livable home (part 1). But as soon as they got started, they realized it was the renovation from hell (part 2), with 95% of the house suffering from termite damage. Now, time and money are on the line as the couple work to stay within budget.
The renovation of their first Eichler was a dress rehearsal for this project. Kafka and Tom put in the same flooring—$4,000 worth of white, speckled Armstrong vinyl composite tile instead of trendier slate or bamboo—and once again added skylights in the hall to bring in more light. While Borsellino commuted to San Francisco daily for work and oversaw remotely, Kafka was fully in the trenches.
“For the first three months three to five guys were here ever day. I was making margaritas, I was doing lunches; it’s so hard to find good workers, so when you do, you need to keep them,” she says.
The master bath had been gutted when the family arrived from Chicago, so the ugly but functional kids’ bath served their needs during the months of remodeling. It turned out to have a leaking shower that necessitated a complete renovation as well, adding another unanticipated leg to the project. Then there was the landscaping.
“Monika wanted an irregular walkway and I always wanted a planter box filled with horsetail,” Borsellino explains. “We rebuilt the crumbling block planter that was originally on the house, and since you shot it, replaced the missing lattice over the front beams.
“We really wrestled with the backyard. It went through a couple of different iterations, with the patio in different areas, but it started with the basic premise of having a couple of swings for the kids. The arbor location is based on our last house; it had trees in the middle of the very shallow and wide yard,” he continues. “We wanted something vertical to draw the eye up, and decided instead of buying a swing set, we’d build an arbor with something coming off it to put the swings on. An added bonus is the overhead awning to shade the sun.”
Kafka has since launched a landscape business, in part due to their own challenges, as Borsellino explains. “We tried to find a designer, but no one knows modern; ‘modern landscape architect’ in the suburbs is an oxymoron. I went through magazines looking for landscape architects and rarely did they call me back; if they did, it was a receptionist who would politely tell me that they only do commercial projects,” he explains, emphasizing that staying within budget was a must. “We ended up having to design it ourselves. We had big, fanciful ideas, but not the pocketbook.”
Despite the months of hard work, one senses the Kafka-Borsellino clan is happy as clams on their familiar turf. “I suffer through a 2 1/2 hour commute every day. But the neighborhood is cool enough, with cool people who like Eichlers and appreciate the fact that these houses were designed for living, that we’ve moved here twice now,” Borsellino says.
“We never looked at anything but Eichlers—they’re a brand-name collectible house now. The atrium gives you such a pleasant surprise when you walk in and it helps light up the rest of the house. The back wall of glass lets in the California weather and allows you to watch your kids and make the most of a small lot. And Eichler neighborhoods tend to be progressive, politically, which was attractive,” he sums up. “Here we have French and Indian and Vietnamese and Russian and Czech neighbors. We just feel more at home.”