Built in 1954, the Donald and Helen Olsen House was designed by Berkeley architect Donald Olsen and is a well-preserved example of International Style. A modern masterpiece in Northern California's Berkeley Hills, the architecturally significant dwelling was landmarked by the city in 2009 and added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2010.
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Olsen studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard before settling in Berkeley in 1953, where he erected his own residence. He also designed both neighboring homes on either side of the property. Though the house enjoyed great views of the bay when it was first built, the perspective was steadily obscured over the years by increasingly dense tree cover. The Olsens actually enjoyed the shelter and "tree house" feel of the surrounding foliage, and chose to let the trees grow unrestricted instead of cutting or trimming them to restore the view.
Carefully positioned on a sloped lot, the dramatic 2,205-square-foot, glass-and-steel residence features three bedrooms, two-and-a-half bathrooms, and a studio/office. Though much of the home remains intact as it would have looked when it was built, a few alterations were made over the years that, today, appear as seamless elements of the property. Notably, the front of the house originally included an exposed balcony, which was later enclosed. Additionally, the lower level, consisting of a painting studio for Helen and one additional bathroom, was added later.