Eight years ago we were living in San Francisco and we had just put the second story on our house—–I mean, The paint was still drying up there. Our daughter, Keegan, was just six months old, and Melissa asked me where I’d Like to live if I left the city. I didn’t want to leave, but she started telling me about this neighborhood, Montclair, in Oakland. She started pulling houses up online, and this was maybe the third one. I jokingly said, “That one might get me out of San Francisco.” the open house was the next Sunday, so we went over. When I walked through the front door, I knew that this was the place. It’s been eight years now and they’ll have to pry my dead body from this place.
At first we thought the house was an Eichler. We did some research, and it isn’t—–for one, it’s held up a lot better—–but the details are really Eichleresque. We’re not totally sure who built it. I think it must have been done on the side by an unlicensed Architect, maybe a draftsman, who worked for one of Eichler’s firms, Anshen + Allen or Claude Oakland. The house is by anonymous.
All of the work here is original. The people who commissioned it in 1956 lived here for seven years, and then the next owners—–who had it for 35 years—–for better or for worse, Didn’t really do a thing. We came in and we painted the trim, but there’s a certain patina of age that we’re trying not to alter.
There are scratches on all the built-ins, scribbles in the drawers and all. Now we’re adding our own. The built-in desks in the kids’ rooms are originals as are the pocket doors. One of my favorite things about this house is the great ceiling of interconnected two-by-fours. It would have been really easy to tear all this out, but the house Is designed so that everything has its place. Plus, it’s just really easy to live here; the radiant heat in the floors still works great. We have a nice sense of history all around us.
Furniture-wise our house is really a laboratory for what i make. everything I do, whether it’s furniture for kids or for adults, we test every bit of it right here. The furniture is always coming and going, but most of it is my prototypes, castoffs from production, or flea-market finds.
One of the best parts about this place is that i have my office just across the deck. At first I thought I’d only work here for a couple years, but it’s so easy. I have a really rough office; the building Isn’t much to look at, and the workshop Is downstairs, though I’m not very good at actually physically building the furniture. My office is in one part of the upstairs, and the rest is the kids’ playroom. Anything goes: painting the walls, the floor, whatever. The kids can destroy this room and no one cares. We clean it up once every two months or whenever i have a meeting.
I think it’s important for the kids to see how things are made. I want them to see how it works when you have an idea and then you head out to the office or workshop and start to develop It. Keegan and Luke are important parts of the design process; especially For the kids’ stuff. I can’t always take design advice from a five-year-old, but very little of what they don’t like will be produced. This house allows them to understand what their dad does and to see him having a blast doing It. It’s the same for their mom. When Modernseed was still based at the House, Luke used to call the Fedex trucks the Modernseed trucks because yhey were around so often. The kids are very much a part of this house, and they’ve really responded to It. Keegan is nine, and she loves it. She knows that this house is different than her friends’ houses, and though she’s not totally sure why, she’s really proud of it. Some people were concerned about the concrete floors with the kids. But you know what? Kids know to protect the noggin—–though Luke has a pretty good shiner from running into the sharp edge of that nelson bench. I guess George didn’t have children in mind when he made it.
We treasure the connection between our house and the work and play going on in the office, the workshop, and among the kids. That we’re all making and doing all the time, and that it all revolves around the house, gives us some of our best family time. This place is something that we’ve created together. Melissa and I have worked together in the past professionally, but that’s not nearly as Intimate or important as making your home and your family.
Aaron writes the men's style column "The Pocket Square" for the San Francisco Chronicle and has written for the New York Times, the Times Magazine, Newsweek, National Geographic and others.
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