Vision BoardAuthor:California Home And Design
Sarah Lynch takes us along on the design-build journey of her long-awaited family home—now pandemic headquarters—in Marin
Long ago, when I was the editor of this very magazine, I wrote a column called “I Could Live Here.” It started as a roundup of notable real estate across the state of California, but it became more of a personal account of my real-life yearning for a home of my own.
For 20 years, my job involved researching and writing about picture- perfect estates, talented designers, groundbreaking architecture and trends in design. At the end of the day, I headed home to my always-cozy but never-quite-ideal rentals—first a prewar flat in Brooklyn, then a cramped one-bedroom in San Francisco and finally a charming, overgrown bungalow in Marin County. I always had my eye on a more permanent setup, but skyrocketing prices and my improbably high standards always made it tough to pull the trigger. Years went by, and with them a career pivot, a husband and two babies.
The stakes got higher with every leaky winter and outrageous bidding war we lost. We felt deeply connected to our community but had begun looking elsewhere when we found it—a fixer-upper ideally located. A location so ideal, in fact, that we hung on even after we discovered the irreparable foundation and invasive roots of the trees that anchored the property. It was clear that we needed to start from scratch, so we did some optimistic math and pressed on.
Between my years in the design industry and my husband Jason’s engineering degrees, we really thought we had the chops to DIY our dream house. We quickly learned how wrong we were and instead started building our dream team with trusted colleagues and friends— architect Daniel Castor, designer Jon de la Cruz, contractor John Foster of Red Point Builders, landscape architect Ive Haugeland of Shades of Green and Mark Rogero of Concreteworks. With the help of a few patient coworkers at Ken Fulk Inc—specifically Kristin Simmons, who painstakingly developed my scribbles into workable construction drawings—I gathered inspiration from various projects, borrowing the paned French doors from a grand home on the Presidio wall, custom windowsills from a historic Tudor in Palo Alto and the honeyed oak tone from a Spanish Revival in Sonoma. The rest was culled from favorite moments in stories I have worked on over the years.
After seven years at the helm of California Home+Design, I remain partial to California’s distinct styles. We wanted a shingled exterior with an archway à la Julia Morgan’s Sausalito Women’s Club, a Mediterranean-inspired palette inside with natural oak beams and painted tile accents, furnishings that offered a subtle hint of mid-century modern and an indoor/outdoor floorplan that would make our limited 1,982-square-feet feel more spacious. I also borrowed elements from my childhood in New England—the open breezeway and porch nabbed from the famous shingle-style Newport Casino in Rhode Island and cheerful wallpaper patterns reminiscent of my mother’s 1984 decor.
As the house went up, we visited the site almost every day, walking over to drop off samples, letting the kids play in the framing of their future rooms and doing our best to “value engineer” my vision to within a reasonable price range. We got to know the crew and every inch of our home—from the wattage and dimensions of our appliances to the profile of our baseboards to the size of the niche where I’d someday put a piano and, hopefully, learn to play.
Against the odds of a meddlesome planning department and an unseasonably rainy spring, we managed to get into the house right in time for the holidays. Though the furniture wasn’t fully installed and the walls were bare, we celebrated Christmas by the fireplace I had sketched 18 months before (using a compass for the first time since 10th grade). After a year or so of settling in, our home became more of a haven than we ever imagined it would be. With the pandemic, we learned a whole new set of daily rituals and traditions—Zoom school! Baking bread! Starting seeds! Virtual piano lessons! Throughout this time, I’ve been abundantly grateful to have a home of our own—though in hindsight I might have invested in more soundproofing and a detached office had I known that all four of us would be spending so much time here! – Sarah Lynch