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Project Spotlight: 1970s Ranch Home by Destination Eichler

By Blair Hagensen

Project Spotlight: 1970s Ranch Home by Destination Eichler

If you’re interested in a midcentury modern remodel, we know just the person. From her acclaimed design firm Destination Eichler to her new book Midcentury Modern Style: An Approachable Guide to Inspired Rooms, it’s safe to say that designer Karen Nepacena has positioned herself as an expert in all things midcentury.

Karen recently completed a full renovation of a 1970s ranch in Pleasanton, CA, giving the space the midcentury focus it was craving with showstopping tile moments. We sat down with her to chat about the project and, of course, all things tile. Keep reading for the full interview!

Meet Karen!

Principal Designer Karen Nepacena of Destination Eichler

First–can you tell us a bit about yourself and your firm? What's new with Destination Eichler?

I am the Principal Designer and owner of Destination Eichler, a boutique firm specializing in midcentury modern design. My interior design career started with me moonlighting. During the day I worked a full-time job in e-commerce; after work and on weekends I started providing interior design services to other like-minded MCM homeowners. I switched careers several years ago to focus on interior design full time and now we have a team of four designers that work primarily on midcentury modern and modern-leaning design projects. When I'm not working I stay busy as a sports Mom of two, crafting, cooking and spending time at our mountain cabin. What's interesting is that I first discovered interior design during an art program I did abroad, but it was already the end of my undergraduate program, so I thought it was "too late" to get into interior design.

Blue, brown, and cream hexagon tiles in a beautifully imperfect ombre pattern on the kitchen backsplash

Tile: 4" Hexagon Blue Velvet, Cardamom, Feldspar | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

Let's talk about your newest project! What's the story behind this home?

I love this project! The homeowners first approached me when they were still in a pending offer on their home. It is a split-level 1970s ranch home in Pleasanton, CA that has views of Mount Diablo. In their first email to me, one homeowner described the house perfectly -- a "midcentury modern home that is a little confused, lol." I fell in love with the project when I first visited the site. It has a cool split-level layout. The original fireplace has two sides, one to the formal living room and one to a family multi-use area. Even though the current space was a bit dated, I admired the originality in the home's build (it had been custom designed for the original homeowners), but could see so much potential to give it new life for its next family.

Ranch home living room with a black midcentury modern brick fireplace and vaulted ceilings

Brick: Black Hills Norman | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

Did you work closely with both the architect and the homeowner?

I enlisted my close friend and colleague Erin Eyerly of Eyerly Architecture to help lead the project. The homeowners wanted to make the space more accessible to the backyard area, which offers a spectacular view of Mount Diablo. There were some structural changes to the home that were beyond my scope and Erin was the perfect design partner to lead the way. The homeowners have an active lifestyle and share my love for color and unusual design materials, so collaborating with them made the design process a designer's dream. I could bring forward design ideas that might be outside of others' comfort zone (like multi-colored tile backsplashes!) but they were ardent supporters of these ideas and materials from the beginning.

An eclectic backsplash brought this 1970s kitchen into modern times with a cascading blend of 4” Hexagon Tile in Feldspar, Cardamom, and Blue Velvet .

Tile: 4" Hexagon Blue Velvet, Cardamom, Feldspar | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

What was your design process like?

We intake the clients' everyday needs, from their current frustrations to helping to envision their dream space. One of the homeowners is a Chef. So it was extremely important to get the kitchen layout and design just right. The old space was chopped up into a lot of disparate spaces and our goal was to make each area more functional, transition better from one space to another, and of course look aesthetically pleasing and joyful.

What were the goals of the renovation?

  • To open up the connection visually between the Living Room and Kitchen/Family Room side of the fireplace wall, and connect more to the view of the backyard
  • To create more indoor-outdoor connection along the exterior wall with the addition of a new accordion-style door to the deck and a pass-through window at the kitchen sink, perfect for entertaining!
  • Better utilization of a multi-purpose area that was adjacent to the kitchen. We both extended the footprint of the kitchen and added a bar function while maintaining a comfortable seating area for sipping coffee or a cocktail.
Midcentury seating area with handpainted tile fireplace and large glass accordion doors open to the backyard

Tile: Quick Ship Fallow White Motif | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

What sort of look or aesthetic were you going for?

We wanted to embrace a relaxed-California vibe, while also bringing in a mixture of textures for a multi-sensory experience.

Do you have a favorite tile moment in the house?

We designed three different tile moments in the upstairs space, but if I had to pick one, it would probably be the multi-colored, organic pattern we created for the kitchen backsplash. Knowing the homeowner is a Chef, her daily "view" while cooking needed to be extra special, so we created a mural-style design with hex-shaped tile as a strong visual moment. The glaze colors blend into one another, playing off her navy cooking range and balanced out by neutrals in brown and cream tones.

The kitchen's stunning hexagon tile backsplash in blue, brown, and cream puts a fresh spin on the retro character of the home

Tile: 4" Hexagon Blue Velvet, Cardamom, Feldspar | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

How did you go about making tile selections?

We are always looking for an unusual, special "aha!" moment that can be achieved by various levers, such as color/glaze choice, shape choice, or installation pattern. While we opted for shape and color for the backsplash, we selected a muted palette for the adjacent fireplace, using the handpainted collection. On the opposite side of the fireplace, we went for a sophisticated and bold look, with matte black thin brick. Since the tile is made from brick, it still brought in origins of an original 1970s fireplace design.

Stacked Norman Glazed Thin Brick in matte Black Hills rises gracefully to the angled ceiling in the ranch's living room

Brick: Black Hills Norman | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

You've worked with our tile a lot, any tips or tricks you'd like to share?

Fireclay Tile is handcrafted, so you are going to get a one-of-a-kind piece of handmade art in each tile. There's going to be a slight variation in the final glaze and color, which really makes the tile special and can really make a space go from "standard" to stunning. If timing is a concern, since some tile collections have a lead time, we look towards Fireclay's Quick Ship and Essentials line. It's offered at a great price point, is in stock, and can still deliver that elevated look and feel to any tiled space.

This eye-catching fireplace is clad with vertical wood slats and large circles courtesy of our Handpainted Fallow Tile in White Motif, available in our Quick Ship Shop

Tile: Quick Ship Fallow White Motif | Design: Destination Eichler, Eyerly Architecture | Image: John Shum

Inspired by Karen’s mastery of midcentury? Sample her favorite Fireclay colors here.

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