An Artist’s Home Filled With Light

IN LATE 2017, artist Eric Zener was on the hunt for a new family abode. His initial instinct was to stay in Mill Valley, a community he and his kids had called home for more than 15 years. But after touring dozens of properties, he found none that resonated. So he expanded his search to Sausalito, near his studio.

The property that soon became home appeared on his radar serendipitously: “I was on my way to see another place in Sausalito and happened to see a sign for a different open house.”

Eric Zener's Dining Room
A light, bright dining room.

The place needed work, but for Zener its pros far outweighed its cons. “I love that it was less than a block from Caledonia Street, but because it’s set back from the street, it feels private,” he says. Another benefit: “It has this amazing sunroom. At night you can look up and the stars are all around you; when it rains it’s like being in a car wash.” And the house is just a short stroll from his studio.

Eric Zener home
At the top of the new staircase.
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At night you can see the stars through the glass.

Zener closed on the property on New Year’s Eve of 2017, and while he had grand plans for a redesign, he made only minor tweaks before moving in: “I raised the ceiling height in two of the kids’ rooms because they were really low.” The more ambitious projects took some time to map out. Priority one was opening up the floor plan. “The home is more than 100 years old and had been added on to by different families at different times, so it kind of developed this labyrinth feel to it,” he says. Fortunately, he has two buddies with serious construction skills and they were up to the challenge. Together the trio breathed new life into the space.

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Small details that make a house a home.

Besides removing several walls, they replaced a traditional staircase with a dramatic floating one and shrank the master bedroom to allow a proper powder room. “In the old layout, my guests would have to walk through the master bedroom to use the bathroom,” Zener notes. Other major changes included carving out a fourth bedroom from a workshop space and remodeling an existing bathroom.

Eric Zener house
Zener’s piece, “No Matter Where It Starts. No Matter Where It Ends.”

For an artist, flat walls and proper art lighting are essential, and Zener made these integral to the design. “We replaced all the Sheetrock with level-five drywall so it’s super smooth.” Every window in the home was swapped out; some were even removed to create dramatic art walls, and a few small windows were added to capture peekaboo views of the bay.

With the interior complete, Zener rethought the outside. Down came the yellow siding; up went a new white stucco exterior, with cedar accents. A large-scale eave brings dappled light into the front entry area.

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Eric Zener.

Living through all that construction might sound tough, but Zener embraced the chaos. “I loved being there for brainstorming when the team had to make changes on the fly,” he recalls. It did entail somewhat precarious conditions: “At one point we were relying on a ladder to access the home’s upper level.”

All told, the transformation took two years, but the family couldn’t be happier with their new digs and hometown.


Dawn Denberg

Dawn Margolis Denberg has worked as a professional journalist for 20 years. Her work has appeared in top publications, including Wired, Shape and Parenting. She has also written several books for children including, The Men in Black Agent’s Manual The Official Godzilla Movie Fact Book. And, most recently, an episodic audio series for Tales Untold.