When Jennifer Beeson sent over her photos for this weeks home tour, my jaw dropped. The home they live in was designed and built by Bernard Maybeck who was a luminary of the Arts and Crafts movement in California. There are bright open windows, tons of warm wood, and Jennifer and her family have tastefully decorated it so that the home feels modern and comfortable but maintains its original charm.
Welcome, Jennifer Beeson!
Hi! I’m Jen and I live with my husband Akalsahai and our three children, in a 1920’s Arts & Crafts-style home in Berkeley, California. I’m a communications director at an independent school nearby, and Akalsahai runs an event marketing and production firm in the wellness arena.
We actually met in Berkeley while in our mid-20’s — at a natural foods store of all places, hah! He had a fairly unconventional childhood, growing up in an ashram in Berkeley and then living in India. I originally found my way to Berkeley as an undergrad at UC (UC stands for University of California at Berkeley — locals call it Cal, and the rest of America calls it Berkeley), but love living here as an adult.
Berkeley fits us both so well. We’ve experimented with living in other places, but always seem to find our way back. For us, it’s a perfect blend of urban living with easy access to incredible nature. The diversity and activism here is something we also value, and I hope it serves to offer our kids perspective as they grow.
Our oldest daughter, Ella, is a new teenager, having just turned 13. She attends an awesome all-girls middle school in Oakland and loves playing the viola and being with her friends. Lily is 11 and goes to a sweet Waldorf school nearby. She’s a whiz at working with her hands — from knitting to drawing; we are constantly in awe of what she can create. Our son, Sage Bear, is 2 and the family baby. He’s curious and newly-chatty, and also very much the boss.
It’s such a different experience having a baby after an almost 10-year gap. The girls are both so nurturing and helpful with Sage — my little dream team!
Sage is also the inspiration behind a small project I was inspired to undertake when he was just a newborn, and the political climate in the US had me feeling more than a little discouraged. I wanted to create a line of simple, eco-friendly baby onesies and tees with purpose.
In a leap of faith I asked one of my favorite illustrators, Kate Sutton, if she would be willing to partner with me to design a small collection featuring hopeful affirmations like “peace begins with me,” and “may all beings be happy and free.” She enthusiastically agreed, and the Little Sage project was born. I feel a surge of ridiculous joy every time I see a baby wearing one of these powerful messages!
Our North Berkeley neighborhood is known for having many houses of architectural interest. Early 20th-century architect Bernard Maybeck designed several of the houses in our area, including ours.
Many of our neighbors have been living in the area for a really long time, which is great when it comes to learning about local history. Neighborhood lore has it that our house was Maybeck’s “party house” across the Bay from his main residence in San Francisco, which he used mostly to host lively gatherings on the weekends with his wide circle of friends (no women allowed, apparently!).
On the weekends, there are often guided walking tours of the houses on our street, and sometimes it’s funny to come home to find a small group of architectural enthusiasts gathered in the yard, inspecting the house and ruminating on its history.
One time my husband invited a small group of ladies inside when he found them poking in the windows!
The neighborhood is a mix of retired couples and younger families, many of which have (or have had) some sort of affiliation with the university.
We are about 1 mile away from one of the most amazing nature preserves in the Bay Area, where we spend a lot of our free time. There’s a lake, botanical gardens, miles and miles of hiking trails, steam trains, a carousel, and the sweetest little farm where you can feed the animals. It’s my idea of a perfect day with the kids, and gratefully the older ones are still into it.
We’re also in walking distance to what’s known as the “gourmet ghetto,” where the legendary Chez Panisse is located. Sometimes we pop in for a random date night, and it’s one of the reasons why I may never leave! The food and coffee scene here is pretty awesome.
I definitely understood that the house was special from an architectural standpoint. Bernard Maybeck and Julia Morgan are well-known names in Berkeley and San Francisco, since they’ve designed many homes, churches, and city buildings in this region. But I couldn’t have really grasped how truly special Maybeck’s work was until I lived here.
His designs feature this magical mix of vaulted ceilings, huge windows, rough redwood surfaces, and oversized fireplaces. There is a warmth, simplicity, and zen-like quality to his spaces that I was immediately captivated by. There are also a lot of quirky details — like the signature clover cutouts and curious little nooks that are seen in his designs.
To me, the house has a real presence, and I almost experience it as a living, breathing thing. I’m usually up before sunrise, and it’s one of my favorite times to be home. It’s so quiet, and the house creaks and squeaks, and it almost feels like it’s greeting me.
My approach to design in this house is to not get in the way of its natural qualities. The bones of the house are really the best part about it. Also, the older I get, the more I crave simplicity and to not be encumbered by too much stuff, and that definitely informs my aesthetic.
I love to design with texture and color and am drawn to a more bohemian feel with natural elements, like wool, cotton, wood, and leather. Beyond everything, I want our home to be a space that feels warm, inspired, and unfussy.
Ages ago, I heard designer Nate Berkus say (I think maybe on Oprah!) that you should never have anything in your home that you don’t absolutely love. This advice has guided my design choices ever since.
Several years ago, I discovered an artist in Portland (via etsy) named Cathy McMurray whose work I adore, and I have been slowly collecting her pieces. She paints the natural landscapes of the Pacific Northwest, and her art inspires me so much. It’s exactly the kind of work I would want to create if I had the skills. Lisa Congdon is another one of my favorite artists. I also love to go to art/craft shows or small local shops where I can hunt for neat prints. Renegade Craft is a favorite and I usually find fun art there.
I’m not a great cook, the laundry is usually piled up, and I’m not usually the mom that is coordinating class activities or field trips, but I’d like to think that what I am good at is creating a cozy and nurturing space for my children to grow. I’ve always been (maybe to a fault?) attuned to environment and whenever we’d move over the years, I’d become super preoccupied with creating a good nest. I even had to cozy-up my cell-like dorm room in college. Sometimes it drives my husband crazy that I switch out rugs or rearrange furniture until I find the right feel.
As a kid, my mom had a gift for creating happy and welcoming spaces, and our family home was a true sanctuary where my sister and I could relax and be ourselves. I distinctly remember that feeling. The world can be a wild, overwhelming, and intimidating place. It’s important to me that my kids feel a genuine sense of peace and refuge when they walk in the door.
I hope our kids remember all of the simple times just being together — sitting together around the dinner table, sharing stories (sad, mad, glad is a favorite prompt) and laughs, or piling into our bed reading books to Sage. I hope they remember how they had the unconditional love and support of their parents.
I hope less indelible are the times I’ve been overly impatient or said things in haste. Trying to balance life with both a teenager and a toddler has definitely tested me at times. I’m trying to be gentler to myself when it comes to the various challenges of parenting. Raising kids can be such a complex thing; they are each so different, and you have to continually adapt to their unique and evolving needs.
I’m never harder on myself than when I feel I’ve failed my kids in any given moment. My new approach is to try to offer myself the same kindness and understanding I try to extend to others.
It’s really a beautiful privilege to watch your kids grow into who they are. They bring you straight into the present moment. As someone who has a tendency to worry and overthink, I am really grateful for this.
I wish someone had told me that there’s no such thing as a “perfect” mother; that you don’t have to conform to anyone else’s ideal or standards of what motherhood looks like, and it isn’t actually a total surrendering of one’s self. That’s a liberating concept for me. Also, self-care isn’t selfish. It took me awhile before I felt that sneaking out of the house for a pedicure wasn’t a terribly selfish act!
Thank you so much, Jennifer Beeson.
Isn’t this a gorgeous home? I loved when Jennifer described getting up early and hearing the house creak and moan a bit as it comes to life. I can only imagine how amazing the morning sun must be coming through all those big windows and lighting up the wood walls.
And I love celebrating the talent of making a house feel like a home. Don’t we all have a friend like that? The person who makes you feel so welcome, who has the right snacks and the coziest pillows on their sofa. Their house isn’t perfect or expensive, but it is infinitely warm and comfortable. That’s a great gift!
What do you do to make your home feel welcoming? Are you a natural host or is it something that is a bit complicated for you? Do you have favorite tips or tricks to make your house feel like a home for anyone who comes inside?
Would you like to share your home in our Living With Kids series? It’s lots of fun, I promise! (And we are always looking for more diversity in the families we feature here. Single parents, non-traditional parents, families of color, LGBT parents, multi-generational families. Reach out! We’d love to hear your stories!!) Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.