Modernist Donald Olsen house in Berkeley sells for $1M

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Donald Olsen’s glass house in North Berkeley sold this week for the first time since it was built in 1954. Photo: Berkeley Hills Realty/EBRD

An architecturally distinguished mid-century modern home in north Berkeley changed hands this week for the first time since it was built in 1952. It sold for just over $1 million.

The Kip House, at 775 San Diego Road, was designed by architect Donald Olsen and is located across from John Hinkel Park.

Olsen was a professor at UC Berkeley’s College of Environmental Design. His home, which is next door to the Kip House and is of a similar design, was landmarked by the city in 2009

The Kip House was landmarked by the city of Berkeley in March 2009. Photo: Berkeley Hills Realty/EBRD

A native of Minnesota, Olsen studied under Walter Gropius at Harvard before setting up his architecture practice in Berkeley in 1953.

Set on stilts among mature oak trees and lush greenery, the 1,904 sq ft home is akin to a modernist tree house. It was designed to take advantage of bay views, but the growth of surrounding trees soon put paid to that idea.

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While the home is certainly striking, and covetable for those who love its retro, international style style, it was nevertheless surprising to see that someone had stumped up $10 million to buy it. The number, which appeared briefly on real-estate site Redfin (pictured), has since been amended.

Another Olsen-designed home in North Berkeley, at 123 Fairlawn Drive, came on the market in 2010, and sold for $970,000.

[Hat tip: Jason Gardner.]

Berkeley home prices soar: just don’t call it a bubble (06.20.13) 
Berkeley house prices tick up after years of slump (02.15.13)
William Wurster homes are still in demand (10.14.11)
Open house pick: Donald Olsen mid-century modern (02.19.10)

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  • Hyper_lexic

    Certainly seems like a reasonable price given today’s market!

  • Aram Jahn

    What a cool house. I hiked down around Hinkel Park one day and didn’t even notice it. I doubt the previous owners threw stones, but if I had just scored this baby I’d be celebrating by “stoning” in a different sense…and in Berkeley who’d care? (I could even do it nude.)

  • Reader

    A new monograph on Donald Olsen written by Pierluigi Serraino will be available from William Stout Publishers in September.

  • Pierluigi

    This article is factually incorrect. Don and Helen Olsen live next door to this house, which was designed in 1952. The house in Greenwood Common was designed later. It is the other way around.

  • Pierluigi: you are of course correct. Thanks for spotting the confusion. I have made the necessary corrections.

  • Melamy

    Nice modern house, but I need something like this –

  • Charles_Siegel

    How does it compare with the price of similar houses in the neighborhood? Is it selling for more because it is a historically important modernist house? Or is it selling for less?

    The price sounds low for a house in the hills.

  • Guest

    Sounds low to me too, but I know the house and the neighborhood well, and I am guessing that there are some reasons. First, if the house is a landmark it may not be possible to change it at will, or at all – that always depresses the price because many people want the option of enlarging or otherwise changing a house. Second, it is built in a gully, sort of a dank spot – in this neighborhood, the best lots were built on earlier, and newer houses are often found in sites that aren’t as desirable. Third, living in it might be sort of like living in a shop window (albeit on a pretty quiet street). Finally, there is a lot of tree cover there, and probably no view or hope of one. Still, to me it seems like an excellent bargain at that price.

  • Charles_Siegel

    Maybeck houses are landmarks, and that seems to increase their price.

    You are right that it is like living in a shop window. “Functionalist” architects didn’t seem to consider that one of the functions of a house is to provide some privacy.

  • Guest

    Each of those Maybeck houses is different from all the others and anything else, while the world is awash with modernoid houses not so different from this one (but most of them aren’t landmarks and can be torn down or altered at will). Still, I think someone got a bargain – I’ll be able to see just who, and what sort of housekeepers they are, pretty soon.