After an extensive search for an Eichler that would feel like their own, Michelle Wahlen and Thierry Zamora found their perfect midcentury home in Marin County, CA. Designed by Anshen & Allen – best known as the initial designers of Eichler homes – the home features a stunning atrium, which was a strong point in the decision making process to purchase.
Through renovation and design, Michelle and Thierry appropriated the home to their own accord while remaining true to its original midcentury character.
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
Michelle Wahlen, a Fashion Industry veteran in accessory design, and Thierry Zamora, a growth marketing consultant- merged our love for art, design and travel to create our new home.
How did you come to live in your house and what drew you to the midcentury style?
When we decided to find a home together, our focus was on finding OUR Eichler among the limited inventory of these homes in the Bay Area. After many open houses and multiple offers that did not work out, we finally found the one that was for us in Marin county. We were both drawn to the midcentury style for the minimal clean lines, classic elements and outdoor lifestyle that an Eichler home embodies.
What do you think was so special about this period in American design?
The midcentury period in American design is special because it is practical and timeless and serves as an excellent backdrop to our art collection and pieces we have picked up from our travels all over the world.
What do you know about the architect who designed your house?
Our house is an Eichler in Marin County in Northern California and the architects were Anshen and Allen. Best known today as the original designers of Eichler homes, the firm was responsible for several defining innovations, including the homes’ orientations to the backyard, and the atrium.
What are the advantages/struggles of living in a midcentury house?
The advantage of living in a midcentury home is being surrounded by nature and enjoying the indoor-outdoor lifestyle that our house was made for. Our home is energy efficient, staying cool in the hot days of summer and warm in the chill of winter (through radiant heated floors).
One of the struggles is finding original parts for our home. Our glass sliding doors are from 1960 (we have 6 of them!) and are challenging to repair and very expensive to replace. We found one person who services all of Northern California for our sliding doors. Maintaining the midcentury DNA with quality and/or close to original parts can be difficult but worth it in the end.
What’s your favourite part of the house and why?
Our favorite part of the house is the internal atrium. This feature was a must for us during our house hunt. We completely renovated our atrium (including all new concrete floors, slatted panel walls, landscaping and glass wall that brings the outdoors in and the indoors out. We added a fountain which makes it a relaxing place for coffee in the morning or a cocktail at night.
Have you had to renovate any part of the house? If so, which area(s)? (Can you also share the contractor/s you worked with?)
We renovated the entire house to make it our own (from the front facade to the backyard and everything in between). We describe our home as “from Mali (Our desert-like exterior with agaves, succulents and rock garden), to Cali (leafy ferns bring life to our atrium) to Bali (Lush palms and tropical plants surround our backyard).
Our approach was to maintain midcentury DNA while modernizing for comfort and practicality. Everything you see in the photos has been designed and renovated by us, including:
Front facade of the house, Front landscaping, New walnut walls, Atrium glass wall, Atrium itself (new concrete, landscaping, paneled walls), Kitchen, Living Room, Dining Room, BedroomsFront landscaping
Inside the home, almost all of the walls still had the original mahogany wood. To lighten up the space and prevent a fire hazard, we replaced the mahogany with drywall. But as a nod to the original design, we placed new walnut walls throughout the house for warmth.
Our kitchen received a facelift by changing the cabinets to walnut, replacing the counters with Neolith stone slabs and modernizing with stainless steel appliances.
Our living/dining space was opened up through literally knocking down a wall to connect the rooms and allow the light into the space. We added midcentury light fixtures throughout the home as a nod to the heritage and history that we are preserving.
In the private quarter side of the house, we added a glass wall along the hallway that borders the atrium to bring the outdoors inside and showcase our art as you come through our front door.
Outside the home, we removed tall hedges that completely blocked the facade. We kept the original color of the house and added a darker tonal contrast accent. The finishing touch was to change from a walnut door to a deep orange with classic Eichler escutcheon.
Vida Building Systems was our contractor. Jonathan Cunha has renovated several Eichler homes and made all of our ideas come to life through our renovation.
Last but not least, do you have any tips for people interested in buying a midcentury house today? What should they pay attention to and why?
Preserving a midcentury home is a labor of love. The investment you make in quality finishes and materials will pay off as you enjoy living in the home. We looked at a lot of mid century homes before finding the one for us and the little details were always the driving factor.
Looking at the quality of the craftsmanship is imperative and will give you an idea if the previous owners maintained the home well or if they renovated and/or flipped the home to sell. Understanding what you are getting will give you a clear idea of the investment you may need to make to maintain the home. This includes being aware of what is original inside the home and in good working condition as replacing or repairing original parts can be difficult to find and expensive.