Renovation in San Rafael

San Rafael home pool
Upgrading the mechanicals for maximum energy efficiency and converting to a saltwater system turned a good pool into a great one.

JODIE SILBERMAN AND Donna Isralsky are passionate about home design. Over a period of more than 25 years, they’ve bought and sold at least a dozen places and lived in numerous communities, including Alameda, Sonoma and, most recently, Marin County.

Their first foray into Marin real estate wasn’t even intentional. The couple, along with their son Lucas, had moved down from Sonoma and decided to rent before committing to a long-term future in Marin. “Our son was attending high school here, and we were deciding whether Marin was a good fit,” Donna, a real estate agent, says. However, shortly after they moved into their place, the owners asked if they were interested in buying. “It wasn’t a place we’d typically choose, but it made good financial sense and was a home that we knew we could improve upon,” she recalls.

Living Room, San Rafael home
A more contemporary look for the living room.

Once Lucas left for college, though, Donna recognized it was time to find a house that better suited their current needs. “Our initial plan was to renovate an income property we owned in Peacock Gap,” she recalls. But after adding up the costs of customizing the home to their tastes, the seasoned real estate mavens recognized that they’d end up with a home that exceeded the neighborhood market value.

Kitchen, Kitchen island, San Rafael home
This chef’s kitchen was designed with all the bells and whistles.

Plan B: do what they’d done a dozen times before — house-hunt. It took just two weeks to identify their current digs. But, unlike past projects, this home was no diamond in the rough. In fact, the mint-condition property, with an almost half-acre resort-style backyard, had piqued the interest of a number of buyers. “There were four other offers on the house,” Donna says. But by offering true market value, closing quickly, and sweetening the deal with a generous rent-back, Donna and Jodie won the bidding war.

Dining Room, San Rafael home
A dining room that opens into the living room encourages casual conversation.

While the home was clearly well cared for, Jodie and Donna didn’t love all the finishes — some were not to taste, and others simply looked dated. “The sellers did not skimp on quality,” Jodie notes. “From their choice of cabinetry, windows, floors, stone, doors, and even the hardware and plumbing fixtures, it was clear they had put their heart and soul into this home.”

Jodie Silberman and Donna Isralsky
Jodie and Donna enjoying their backyard.

Good bones meant the couple could put their personal stamp on the place by making lots of small changes. For example, they painted almost the entire house, inside and out. They also re-imagined the living room and dining spaces with sophisticated and contemporary furnishings and new lighting. They added hardwood floors to the master bedroom and updated the window treatments.

Admittedly, this home is large for empty nesters. “It’s a great house, but much bigger than we realized,” Donna says. Is it too big? Only time will tell. “I don’t know how long we’ll stay,” she adds. “But for now, we are busy decorating and enjoying our new space.”

WHERE THEY PURCHASED Loch Lomond neighborhood of San Rafael

WHAT THEY BOUGHT A 4-bedroom, 4-bath, 2-half-bath ranch style home

LISTING AGENT Abby Kagan, Decker Bullock Sotheby’s International

BUYER’S AGENT Rose Capurro and Donna Isralsky, Coldwell Banker

THE STATS Price per square foot for homes in the neighborhood: $675


This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition under the headline: “Finding Marin.”

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.