A Couple Looking for Magic Found Just That in a 1921 Home With Boatlike Qualities
They filled it with ocean photography and newborn necessities.
Published Nov 13, 2023 1:15 AM
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The first house Ayni Raimondi Vienna and Sean Vienna looked at in San Anselmo, California, they toured while wearing their swimsuits. The couple had been heading up to the Russian River from their home in San Francisco’s Outer Sunset neighborhood to swim when Ayni saw a house on Craigslist for rent in the quiet town. Ayni, a marketing executive who has worked for companies like Airbnb and Everlane, convinced Sean to make a quick pit stop. Then “we signed a lease, moved in, and sold our house a week and a half later,” she recalls. For Ayni, an Iowa native who missed her privacy and being surrounded by trees, and Sean, a transportation planner with a passion for ocean photography, it was the first step in accomplishing a larger goal: actually buying a house in San Anselmo. “Sean was like, I’ll move anywhere as long as it’s within 30 minutes of the beach, in the state of California, and I can ride my bike to work,” notes Ayni.
During their house hunt, the couple told their real-estate agents they were looking for magic. They found that in a circa-1921 home that was previously owned by a Sausalito seafood restaurateur who had made many sea-inspired design decisions, like putting abalone shells on the doors and making the only staircase a spiral one. But it was fitting for Sean and Ayni, who, seven years ago, spent their second date free diving in a kelp forest in Monterey. “Our agents were like, ‘This is not the house. No, no,’” says Ayni. “And Sean and I were like, ‘This is the magic house.’”
On the side, Ayni had been texting their designer, Shelbie Cox, photos of the property. She was in. Once their names were on the deed, the couple put all their stuff in storage and moved into a rental for the better part of a year while Cox and their contractor, Abel Maldonado, dove into renovations. The designer had particular instructions for the crew, stating they should try to save as much of the original Douglas fir wood as possible. For instance, she had them delicately remove all the window casings, set them aside, replace the windows with energy-efficient versions, and then piece the casings back together. “A lot of houses in Marin are modern farmhouses where everything is black and white, everything’s new,” says Cox, “so I think they were excited by this project.”
Ayni and Sean were just as hands on. Because they wanted to see, touch, and approve the teak board options for their primary bathroom in person, Ayni met up with their cabinetmaker in a gas station parking lot to review swatches. She also called on her good friend Emily Christensen, cofounder of Good Wood in Portland, Oregon, which reclaims, remills, and sells lumber from old buildings, to advise on the flooring. They landed on a soft redwood that is certainly susceptible to nicks but feels like “butter on your feet.” “We want beautiful things that we’re going to use the shit out of,” Ayni says. “That’s how we are with clothes, cars, and surfboards.”
Meanwhile, Sean put his DIY skills to the test by diligently sanding and painting a dresser they scored on Facebook Marketplace. Because it wasn’t any ordinary piece of furniture: It was for their now 3-month-old son Woods’s room. Luckily, when everyone found out toward the end of construction that there would soon be a baby in the house, they didn’t have to pivot the design plans too much. They could easily turn the sunroom into a nursery and the adjacent sitting area that Ayni was using as a makeshift yoga studio into a family hangout-slash-playroom.
For observing tummy time and flipping through picture books, a cozy window nook was a must. The only problem was the exact Josef Frank fabric Ayni had her heart set on for the cushion and window treatments was only available in the Svenskt Tenn store in Stockholm. “So I just bought it and put it on hold,” she says, “and then I had to figure out how to get it in two weeks.” Eventually, she found a friend of a friend who happened to live in the area and could ship the bolt to California. “Not realizing he’d have to fill out all the customs forms,” Ayni adds. “But it finally arrived and it was thrilling. It’s the most psychedelic, beautiful corner of the home.”
The nearby guest bathroom’s design stemmed from Ayni telling Cox she was really feeling makeup colors—a term she learned from an old coworker at Everlane who described specific soft shades as looking like they have a touch of lipstick or glimmer of blush. “I was like, that sounds amazing; let’s look at makeup colors,” says the designer, who ordered as many concrete tile samples as possible, eventually landing on a two-tone pink arrangement. Surprisingly, this bathroom gets used by Sean the most. “When I get back from a big bike ride, that’s where I end up showering,” he says. And a “big bike ride” is really anytime he goes to and from his office—it’s a two-hour journey. “But he can do it,” clarifies Ayni, remembering the initial parameters for their house search.
On Sundays, it’s a much more chill scene. Their day begins at the coffee station in the kitchen. Come 9 a.m., they turn on Earth Baby Radio and eventually make their way out to the garden. “It’s coffee, music, baby, garden,” says Ayni. “Or we’ll take a trip out to West Marin and go for a swim. Shell Beach in Inverness is our magic weekend spot.”