The den has been through several permutations, the most dramatic when the second owner, an architect, divided the open plan into discreet 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.

When Alan and Gretchen Steinberg bought their 1961 MCM home in Sacramento, they found “updates” and changes to the original home that were nearly criminal (part 1). After addressing the worst issues, room to room, they brought their home back to embracing its midcentury roots (part 2). But that was only the beginning. Enter SacMod.

Gretchen Steinberg and Kris Lannin Liang didn’t really know what they were taking on when they decided to organize a Sacramento midcentury home tour in 2010 called SacMod. It was kind of their Judy Garland/Mickey Rooney “Let’s put on a show!” moment. Little did Gretchen know she’d be pulling 12-hour days looking through microfiche as she researched the historical details of the California capital’s postwar building boom.

Vintage lunchbox collection in a retro kitchen
The kitchen was once open to the great room on three sides and had GE Textolite laminate counters. The vintage lunchbox collection on the soffit is mounted with flat rare earth magnets glued to the wall and anoth- er magnet inside the metal boxes. The Nutone intercom and the vintage rotary phone are prized details.

They found 11 homeowners willing to open their doors, and with an assist from friend Dane Henas, came up with 22 additional points of interest and a full-color printed program. With Kris’ community partnering abilities, Dane’s graphic design skills and Gretchen’s research tenacity, they created a bit of a monster: something like 1,300 people wanted to come.

“We stopped counting after 1,200 because we were so slammed,” Gretchen laughs. “A week doesn’t go by without someone stopping me to ask when the next one is.” For now, their non-profit SacMod group is focusing on monthly events like film screenings and lobbying to keep the hyperbolic paraboloid–roofed entrance (picture the Palm Springs Tramway gas station) at the Sacramento zoo from being razed. As it turns out, the same architecture firm that created Steinberg’s custom ranch in South Land Park Terrace, Rickey & Brooks, designed those zoo kiosks.

Colorful built-in storage unit
The storage unit was built by Burnett & Sons. The Steinbergs recently had back panels cut to fit the cubbies that were then primed and painted in colors inspired by the Nelson Sunburst clock above the fireplace.

You’d think that ongoing improvements to her house and coordinating local modernist events would be enough. But when Gretchen went to an estate sale at one of the roughly 50 Eichlers left in town, as she likes to say, she “bought a $2 vase and the house.” While they rent it out now, the couple think they may move in when they’re empty nesters and the maintenance at their current home becomes too much. In the meantime, the Steinbergs and the growing numbers of SacMod members will continue to spread the word about the importance of their local architecture.

“We’d like to start encouraging people to maintain and protect what midcentury we have left,” Gretchen says. “The greenest building is the one that already exists, so the timing is right. And we’ve reached the point where 50 years has elapsed and we can start doing some preservation work.

“There is a lot of interest and enthusiasm from younger people, which is fantastic,” she continues. “And there are some old-timers and original owners who thoroughly get it. But we meet some people who just say, ‘This is my house, I bought it, I can do whatever I want.’ All we can do is offer gentle guidance and encourage people to understand what they have.”