As many good stories begin, a friend made a suggestion and nothing has been the same since. Such is the case for Karen Nepacena, an interior designer, and John Shum, a product manager. When their friend and realtor encouraged the couple to visit a nearby open house (a development by Joseph Eichler), the couple discovered the beauty of Midcentury Modern. “We immediately fell in love—the clean architectural lines, walls of windows and glass, and the indoor/
outdoor living,” Karen says. The rest is history. And thus thier Eichler renovation began.
After a six-month hunt for an Eichler to call their own, Karen and John found “the one,” and it has been the family’s home for the past four years.
Originally built in 1959 and located in Walnut Creek, California, the home is the handiwork of architects A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons and beloved developer Joseph Eichler. Despite its numerous renovations over the years, Karen and John could see the four bedroom, two bath home being an excellent fit for them and their two young boys.
As new fans of midcentury architecture, Karen and John looked at their mid mod home with fresh appreciation. Despite the fact that it was as far from looking like a mid mod home as one could imagine, the couple sought to balance their renovation and restoration efforts while undoing some of the previous alterations.
Where they couldn’t simply restore, they focused on bringing back materials that Joseph Eichler included in many of his homes, including VCT and cork flooring, wood paneling, and long lost windows. “Then in other areas, such as the kitchen, we chose the path of renovation, while trying to be thoughtful about selecting materials and surfaces that give [a] nod to Midcentury Modern design, yet have a modern style.”
First things first, Karen and John ridded the house of its old carpeting and replaced the bedroom flooring with cork floors. The couple’s main desire for the renovation was “to make our home look and feel like an Eichler home again!” Their work was mostly cosmetic—rescuing the home from textured sheet rocked walls, crown molding, porcelain tile and pine cabinetry. “We knew that underneath the non-midcentury materials was a Midcentury Modern home waiting to be brought back to life,” Karen says.
As evidence that restoring a midcentury home is indeed a labor of love, Karen shares that it has taken nearly three years to complete the major renovation projects—not to mention that the family lived in the home for about a year before getting started.
“The kitchen took nine months, then we spent the next few years slowly moving through the main living areas. Then we updated the kids’ bathroom, restored the master bedroom, completed a new front landscape design and somewhere in between, restored the home’s exterior by removing the vinyl siding and having the house repainted,” she says.
Creatively Mod Kitchen
When it came time to revive the kitchen, Karen and John did anything but rush in with sledgehammers. Instead, the couple did their homework—reading books on Eichler homes and their construction, visiting other Eichler neighborhoods and attending home tours, all to see as many examples of original and remodeled designs.
“We also referenced design palettes from graphics, textiles and furniture designs from the period, trying our best to bring in details such as colors from the period, while incorporating natural wood, concrete and stainless steel—materials prevalent in midcentury architecture for residential and commercial buildings.”
Reviving the Charm
“The only original features intact when we purchased the home were the open-air atrium, one sliding door and a few panes of glass,” Karen says. “Everything else had been altered, from interior doors to windows and sliding doors. Many large glass panels had been removed and framed into solid walls.”
Desiring the home to be as close to original as they could get, Karen and John slowly reinstated the glass panels—bringing back the original lines of the architecture and exterior elevation. They even knocked travertine off the fireplace and laboriously restored the original brick underneath.
Though she notes that they called in the experts for certain aspects, Karen says that nearly all their projects were, and continue to be, DIY. The determined duo took on everything from the kitchen and bathroom updates, to the flooring and front landscaping, as well as the exterior restorations and more. Karen and John even figured out how to make their own shoji-style Eichler-inspired sliding closet doors.
“It’s been a lot more work and a longer list of unexpected projects than we could have ever predicted, but it’s been very satisfying to see its long term transformation,” Karen says. “Most importantly, we really love our home. It may be small in terms of footprint, but with the central atrium and glass exterior, it feels larger. Our kids use every bit of the home throughout the seasons, from playing Legos in the atrium to making forts in the living room.”
Year built: 1959
Original architects: A. Quincy Jones & Frederick Emmons
Original builder: Joseph Eichler
Project length: 3 years
Mod Minded Kitchen
Homeowners Karen and John made the most of their budget by doing much of the work themselves, including hand pouring the concrete slabs for the countertops and waterfall edge. By tackling much of the space DIY style, they had budget available to hire professionals for more challenging elements.
“The Fireclay Tile backsplash in the kitchen was an item we went beyond our initial budget [for], but it remains one of our absolute favorite elements of the kitchen design,” Karen says. The deep blue hue and dimensional design creates an eye-catching focal point that serves as a conversation piece for the entire living space.
Karen and John space out all of their home renovation projects, for both economic and emotional reasons. “We tackle nearly all home projects ourselves, so we tend to need a break in between projects,” she says. Taking a break allows them time to recuperate as well as plan out the budget for their next project.
Somewhere in the home’s history, previous owners opened up the home’s original floor plan. Rather than attempting to restore the original footprint of the kitchen, living and dining areas, Karen and John worked off of the inherited layout to meet the needs of their family. This included creating a galley kitchen, which now overlooks the family room and transformed what was once a living area into a dining room.
Where they could restore the floor plan, they did. “We removed a large closet that was eating into the family room space, to bring back the main living areas to their original square footage,” Karen says. “In the bedrooms, several closets had been connected together with angled walls—we have started to remove each of those to get back to the original footprint of each bedroom.”
Looking for more Eichler renovation inspiration? Check out this post about the little known Fullerton Forever homes and their interesting connection to Joseph Eichler.