Classic Eichler, but with couple’s ‘Mali to Cali to Bali’ personality

When Michelle Wahlen and Thierry Zamora, a fashion industry veteran in accessory design and a growth marketing consultant, respectively, moved to San Rafael from San Francisco in November 2019, they had one home style only on their checklist.

“We specifically wanted an Eichler for the indoor and outdoor lifestyle and mid-century modern design aesthetic that would be the perfect backdrop for our art that we’ve collected from our travel around the world,” Wahlen says.

“We looked at homes every weekend for a year before we found our Eichler. After many open houses and multiple offers that did not work out, we finally found the one for us that embodied all we were looking for.”

The 1,811-square-foot home had everything they wanted — an indoor atrium, a sense of being surrounded by nature, a pool and architecture with “good bones that we could work with to maintain the mid-century DNA and yet make it our own,” she says.

They called upon Jonathan Cunha of Vida Building Systems in Bolinas to helped fine-tune the residence to their tastes.

They wanted to keep the home’s original exterior paint color, Eichler’s El Capitan Gray, but they added a darker tonal accent for contrast, gave the front door a deep orange shade for a punch of color and a round escutcheon, or metal plate, for a more classic mid-century finish.

Gone were the tall hedges that had once blocked the home’s iconic façade. Instead, it now stands out with the help of a rock garden and an assortment of agaves and succulents.

Inside, the home went “smart” so that the lighting, music and window shades are operable from a cell phone.

The couple wanted their artwork and found objects, collected from their world travels, to be a focal point inside so they purposely chose a neutral color palette.

“They act like souvenirs that we get to see every day,” she says.

To make the interior feeler lighter and brighter, they had new drywall hung throughout and replaced any dried-out mahogany walls with new walnut ones.

The kitchen got a facelift with new cabinetry, stainless-steel appliances and Neolith countertops.

“We like the natural look and the finish of Neolith and we were able to specify where we wanted the veins places on the waterfall of the counter,” Wahlen says.

When it came to furnishings, the couple relied on classic mid-century pieces such as a Noguchi table, a Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe, a Wassily Chair by Marcel Breuer, and surrounded them with finds by Design Within Reach, Modernica, Blu Dot and Room & Board.

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The bathroom in this San Rafael Eichler home was newly updated.

“Our goal was to capture mid-century style but with our own personality and aesthetic so that our home did not look formulaic,” she says. “We also wanted to bring in pieces that represented other cultures in a restrained way that did not overwhelm the minimal modern feel we were going for.”

The much-beloved atrium got a new concrete floor, paneled walls and a glass wall that “brings the outdoors in and bathes the house with light,” Wahlen says.

It’s now their favorite space.

“It sets the tone when you enter the front door,” she says. “It’s all light and green. We use it for taking a break between meetings as we both work from home, relaxing with tea and coffee in the morning or a cocktail in the evening.”

Their other favorite space is their backyard, where they updated the pool and spa that came with the house, and added more fan palms to fill in the hillside.

“We describe our house as ‘from Mali to Cali to Bali,’” says Wahlen, pointing out the variety of landscape styles that flow from the desert-like front yard with agaves, succulents and rock garden, to the atrium with its leafy ferns to the lush backyard planted with palms and tropical plants.

“I can sit for hours watching the plants and trees moving in the breeze and listening to the birds that share the space with us,” she says.

The biggest bang for their buck, surprisingly, came from the garage renovation.

“Eichler homes have very little storage inside the home, which was an issue for us,” says Wahlen, explaining why many residents use the garage for storage instead of cars.

Their particular garage was a raw space with exposed studs and a cracked concrete floor. It needed help.

So, they turned to Golden Gate Garage Storage for a finished floor and customized cabinets.

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The existing pool and spa were kept when this Eichler was remodeled, but new fan palms were added to the lush hillside.

“We had the best experience with Joe and Jamie O’Neal,” she says. “Most people say it’s the nicest garage they’ve ever seen.”

Now that the couple has had time to settle in and enjoy their renovated home, Wahlen says there is nothing they would do differently.

“We love our home,” she says.

Here are Wahlen’s four helpful tips:

• “The Eichler Network is a great resource for finding vendors for all things Eichler.”

• “Find a good contractor that you can trust and who is like-minded.”

• “Do your research and make a plan for the renovation to set expectations for all involved. We had ours planned in phases and shared it with our contractor.”

• “Be flexible when renovating. Our renovation ideas changed as the work progressed and, in the end, our flexibility with each other and our contractor made for the best outcome.”

Show off

Since so many of the popular home tours are off the calendar this year, consider this your invitation to share with fellow readers the images and description of your garden or newly designed or remodeled Marin home.

Please send an email describing either one, what you love most about it and a photograph or two. I will post the very best ones in upcoming columns. Your name will be published and you must be over 18 years old and a Marin resident.

PJ Bremier writes on home, garden, design and entertaining topics every Saturday. She may be contacted at P.O. Box 412, Kentfield 94914, or at