Finding a New Home out of the Fog

The Strand San Rafael


MARIN COUNTY IS flush with ex-urbanites. People migrate for a variety of reasons, including better schools and more real estate value. But for Marilyn Allen, it was mostly about weather. “I hate the fog,” Allen says. “I complained all the time about having to wear a winter coat all summer.”

Still, no one, including her realtor, thought she’d actually pull the trigger to buy a home in Marin. “I’d been looking for a few years,” she recalls. And after 41 years in the same house, the decision to relocate didn’t come without a lot of soul-searching.

The final push came after Allen’s daughter previewed a single-family home in The Strand, a brand-new waterfront community on Loch Lomond Marina in San Rafael. “She called me up and said, ‘This could be perfect for you.’ ”

She was right. The three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath home — a stone’s throw from the bay — suits Allen well. “The summers are finally sunny,” she says with a smile. “Plus, there’s a walking path along the shore that I’m on twice a day with the dog.”

In addition to better weather, Allen liked the idea of owning a brand-new home: “It wasn’t completely finished when I bought it, so I was able to have a say in both the carpet and wall paint colors.” After closing, she further customized the space by adding built-ins to the living room and a bookshelf to the kitchen island and turning a coat closet into a walk-in food pantry.

The Strand San Rafael interior

The landscape in the front is planted and maintained by the homeowners’ association. The backyard, which Allen refers to as her “sanctuary,” was her responsibility. To create a tranquil space, she added texture and color to the floor of the back porch: “It was plain gray concrete.” She hired Artistic License of San Rafael to clear the wood chips from the yard and added a large stone patio. To improve the aesthetics and add to the calm, she surrounded her new hardscape with flowers and greenery and installed a fountain to block ambient noise.

New digs require new furnishings. “My old house was very traditional,” Allen says. “This space called for more contemporary pieces.” She bought some of her picks, like the dining table, from a central California artisan, Roger Combs. “He ordered me a glass top and had the whole thing delivered,” she says.

The Strand San Rafael backyardA plan for the living room, which includes two McGuire chairs and a custom upholstered sofa, was left to interior designer John Tobler of San Francisco. Allen was, however, able to repurpose a few of her favorite old pieces, including an olive-green sofa, which serves as an anchor piece in the upstairs loft.

And while she still makes regular trips to the city — visiting friends and family there at least once a week — she has zero regrets about her decision to relocate. “It’s such a friendly community,” she says. “I get plenty of privacy, but now I also have all these really great people around me as neighbors.”

WHAT SHE BOUGHT A three-bedroom, two-and-a-half-bath Cape Cod–style home
WHERE SHE BOUGHT The Strand neighborhood in San Rafael
BUYER’S AGENT Susan Hewitt at Golden Gate Sotheby’s International
LISTING AGENT Garrett Frakes at Polaris Pacific
THE STATS Price per square foot for similar homes in the neighborhood: $716

This article originally appeared in Marin Magazine’s print edition with the headline: “Out of the Fog”.

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.