Creating a Dream Home in Berkeley, California

by Lauren Chorpening Day

Architect Cliff May is credited with designing the post-war California ranch home in the 1930s, opting to build homes out instead of vertically to promote modern livability and function. These iconic homes feature pitched roofs, open living areas and large windows to conjoin indoor and outdoor space. Eight and a half years ago, Lisa and Nick Jackson were looking for a mid-century style home in Berkeley, CA and came across an ad on Craigslist that intrigued them. After receiving only a single image of a rough exterior, the couple thought it might be a scam and decided not to go see the property. A few months later, the same home was on the radar of their realtor who suggested looking at it. What Lisa and Nick found was a gem: The only home Cliff May ever built in Berkeley. It needed some work inside and out, but they knew it was worth it.

Lisa, graphic designer and founder of Good on Paper, her husband Nick, an attorney, and their two boys, Lucas and Theo, live in this bright, beautiful home. When Lisa and Nick first moved in, they got started inside finishing the space. “The previous owners of the house were designers and already had many great things done to it,” Lisa says. “Unfortunately, many of their renovations were unfinished. The house still had its original, mid-50s roof, so that was the first thing we took care of. After we fixed the interior, it was time to tackle the outdoor landscaping. The entire process took about a year and a half.”

The family’s love of mid-century design is mixed with contemporary pieces throughout their home. “We wanted a clean, minimal space that was still warm and inviting. We love mid-century modern style with Scandanavian touches and a California/west coast vibe,” Lisa says. “We knew we wanted to have kids, so the space also had to be baby- and child-friendly. It’s funny: before kids, our space was clean and minimal; now it’s Legos and pillow forts everywhere. We wouldn’t have it any other way, but stepping on those Legos with bare feet is killer!” This unsuspecting house that they originally passed on is now their dream home. Lisa and Nick have taken what Cliff May intended and have made it more functional, charming and creative for their family. –Lauren

Photography by Lisa Jackson

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The Jackson family around the dining room table making overnight apple cinnamon morning buns. Photo by Sarah Hebenstreit.
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Lisa's love for mid-century design is seen throughout the space. The open, bright 1955 living room is perfectly styled with her selected furniture and artwork.
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"When we moved in eight years ago, there were display shelves on this wall. At first we thought it was great since we had so many trinkets, ceramics and prints to display. Over time, though, we realized that the space was starting to feel cluttered and what we needed was some major purging as well as some real storage space. Nick and I spent hours one night after the kids went to bed building these IKEA cabinets. Now we are able to store toys, dishes, vases, etc. and just display what we love," Lisa says.
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"Because of the open floor plan, this space is also part of the front living area. All of our meals, homework, drawing, crafting, and game nights happen here. I love that it's our gathering spot for the whole family," Lisa says.
"[This] succulent vignette [is] next to one of my favorite stoneware vessel sets by ceramicist Sara Paloma."
The open layout of the living area allows sophisticated style and family play to happen in the same space. It was important to Lisa and Nick, before they even had children, to find a home that would seamlessly transition with family growth.
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Cliff May loved bringing the outdoors in with large windows in his designs. The living room is flooded with natural light and views of their beautifully landscaped yard.
"The family room area is in the back of the house," Lisa says. "This is where movie night watching, pillow fort building, record playing and laundry folding happens. We don't use this room as much as I would like since we tend to congregate in the front living area more often."
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"This is a favorite room in the house because this is where I sleep -- I love sleep and wish I got more of it! I love that our house is set back from the street which provides some peace and quiet. Every room in our house has a door that opens to the outside, creating an amazing indoor/outdoor experience," Lisa shares.
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"This corner of our bedroom is now my office," Lisa says. "I work at this desk every night and while the kids are [at] school except on the three days I'm at my other part-time design job. I love that this space is just for me and that it's surrounded by photos and other inspiration."
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Lucas' room used to be Lisa's office. When she was transforming the space into a nursery, she kept a graphic designer's touch in it. "When designing his room, I knew I wanted it not to be too 'baby' like. He's now 6 and it's still fitting."
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After Lucas was born, Lisa moved into this room for her office and moved out two and a half years later when Theo was born. The playful nature of the graphics, wallpaper and colors make this a perfect room for a graphic designer's little boy.
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"The NY Rocking Chair is a favorite of mine as well as the beautiful pillow from Block Shop. It's a cozy little corner for reading at bedtime," Lisa says.
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Endless hours of labor and TLC went into Lisa and Nick's landscaping. The exterior was the biggest transformation in bringing the home back to life and took a year and a half from start to finish.
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"What I love most about my home is..."

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  • Beautiful home. Kudos to Lisa for being able to work next to that bed – I’m like her, I’d love more time to sleep. I’d have a hard time resisting that call to nap while I worked!

    Love the natural light, and every single thing in this home. It’s lovely.

  • In love with their kitchen table and that view. Green is the little design hero in that first picture. It’s the accept that pops against everything else. Love all of the use of wood and clean lines.

  • Yay! I’ve wanted to see a tour of your home since finding you on Instagram years ago. All the little snippets were never enough.
    You have such a beautiful home. You guys did a GREAT job.
    I want to see more of your yard now!

  • I’ve been a huge fan of Lisa, her designs and her home since I first came across her on D*S years ago! Your home has been a constant inspiration! Is there a place where you source some of your furniture? Where is your kitchen table from? I recently moved into a much bigger house, and I’m excited we finally get to have a big kitchen table for meals, family parties and art projects,

    • And while I’m at it, the chairs around the kitchen table too! ? I’m struggling to figure out cool, comfortable chairs that aren’t bulky and take up lots of space.

  • Gorgeous and very appropriate-feeling home. Human-forward home designs inhabited by REAL PEOPLE feel so few and far between these days.

    Love the photography of this Berkeley home!

  • ah. thank you. thank you for showing a coat rack full of coats and a bit of a messy bed, and what’s that? toys! gasp. sometimes it so nice to see a non-curated picture of a real home.

  • Hi there, it would be great to know which Ikea cabinets you used for the area behind your dining room table as we’re hoping to create a similar look in our apartment and are having difficulty deciding between different options! Many thanks.