oakland midcentury modern ranch
All of the plants in Orlebeke’s yard need to be deer-resistant and drought-tolerant, so she’s used lots of herbs and native plants; planting densely means minimal weeding. “I spend most of the time cutting things back and watering the vegetable garden,” she says. “Since I am designing all day and want the garden to be a break from work, I don’t impose any design ideas on it at all; it ends up being what the deer leave alone.”

“I see wild turkeys, tons of other birds, deer on a weekly basis, and squirrels—it’s a squirrel playground here,” says Jean Orlebeke about her home’s lush yet unspoiled location on a former Boy Scout camp in the hills of Oakland, Calif. “From the outside it just looks like a ranch house, but inside there’s this drama with the ceiling and the windows. It’s like you’re stepping into a tree house. And the coolest thing is, from the house and property you can’t see any other homes; visually it’s like I have 20 acres of woods around me.”

Orlebeke, a graphic designer, has lived and worked in the 4,000-square-foot home for the last 10 years, but maintains it’s not as big as it sounds. “The whole downstairs is my design office and there are only two bedrooms upstairs. There are four bathrooms, but I use one just for my FedEx shipping stuff,” she laughs. “It’s a big small house.”

When you crunch across the gravel path and step through the glass front doors into a lofty living room, the view of the tree canopy unfolds through walls of glass wrapping the seating and dining areas. To your right, an impressive freestanding fireplace with a metal hood makes you think “Swedish ski lodge”; both the hood and accent wall to the left are painted a striking gray-blue indigo. The kitchen and den are to the right of the entry and French doors lead out to wooden decks and paths into the naturalistic yard.

Built in 1953, drawings indicate the garage was turned into a den in 1993, along with exterior work on the foundation, large retaining walls and tons of asphalt paving. “You could have parked Greyhound buses on the amount of asphalt the previous owners put in,” Orlebeke says.

Fertile Ground

Find out how Jean revamped the exterior and put 4,000 square feet to use in Part 2, out later this week!