Embracing Color, Pt. 1: Restoring Criminal Mid Mod Detail Destruction

Embracing Color, Pt. 1: Restoring Criminal Mid Mod Detail Destruction

Rescuing a home from detail destruction

Alan and Gretchen Steinberg are MCM enthusiasts, and their 1961 Sacramento home shows it. The house was built for pear rancher T.B. McCormack. “My previous house sold in two hours, then I had 30 days to find a new one,” says Gretchen. She first saw this house online in a new-to-them neighborhood. “The minute we came through the red double doors, Alan zoomed one way, I zoomed the other and we both yelled, ‘Hey—you’ve got to see this!’ I saw the pyramid ceiling and the rock work.”

Understanding the House

“The house was dirty and it needed cosmetic work, but we saw right through that,” says Alan, a lawyer. “I was looking at the slate floor, the exposed beams and the open plan of the den and kitchen. The den has been through several permutations, the most dramatic when the second owner, an architect, divided the open plan into discrete rooms to create a fourth bedroom. Gretchen’s Dulux paint choices were ‘Lemon Grass,’ with ‘Afternoon Tea’ on the wall with the ray gun installation. The flooring is Finnish Saima birch parquet with a Chilewich area rug by the pedestal table and shell chairs. The bubble lamps, Eames lounge chair and Nelson bench are all reissues, while the daybed is vintage. “This room was challenging because it’s long and narrow; it was hard to get harmony. The walnut paneling and buffet really helped bring it together,” Gretchen says.

“Gretchen’s bungalow was really cute, but it was her style, her personality. We knew we had to create a space together. I always liked long, horizontal lines and the play of natural materials you find in a ranch. The second we walked into the house I thought, This is it; this is what we want.”

The McCormack residence was built for entertaining, with a pool, billiard room, two hot water heaters, low-voltage lighting and a Nutone intercom. It originally had a white rock roof and sparkly linoleum. All the doors and windows were wired for security, and the 2″ galvanized water pipes delivered the highest water pressure in the city. Designed as a 2,600-square-foot, two-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home (plus an office), subsequent owners divided the billiard room, turning the house into a four bedroom by the time the Steinbergs bought in 2000.

Crimes Against the House

On the downside, many past additions and renovations led to mid mod detail destruction. Someone had drilled into the ziggurat living room ceiling for track lighting, and the walnut paneling had been whitewashed, probably in the ’80s. “There were crimes against the house that we felt we had to undo,” says Gretchen. Those projects included stripping the paneling in the living room, repainting throughout, installing new walnut paneling in the family room and recarpeting. Although Gretchen was very hands-on in her previous home, by now she’s acknowledged her limitations. As for Alan, well, as he says, “I make, fix and repair nothing; that’s why I’m an attorney.”


Detail Destruction: Reversed

How did the Steinbergs rescue their new home from the detail destruction of eras past? Check back for part 2 to find out!


by Michelle Gingeri-Brown
Photography by Jim Brown

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