This Midcentury Modern Home Is Full of Family Traditions

A well lit, blue kitchen

The Spruce / Illustration by Amy Sheehan / John Shum

As many immigrant families know, there are certain things—rituals, memories, culture—that never leave us despite how far we move from our native lands. It’s what Karen Nepacena, principal designer of Destination Eichler, knows to be true. She’s imbued the philosophy into her 1600-square-foot home—transporting aspects of her family’s Filipino and Chinese backgrounds into the Walnut Creek, California space. Yet, it still reflects her unique design sense: the kitchen is swathed in aquamarine tile, an orange faucet injects joy into the bathroom, and the walls are coated in chocolatey wood.

Nepacena shares the space with her husband John, her two sons, and her rescue dog Velvet—the home is now a capsule of her family’s rich and ever-evolving story. Ahead, she shares her favorite heirloom pieces, her most exciting DIY projects, and how her family is at the center of it all.

How did you first discover your home? What about it appealed to you?

We weren’t actively looking for a new home but a close friend, who is also our realtor, saw a modernist Eichler home for sale and told us to take a look. We didn’t end up purchasing that particular home, but it inspired us to purchase a mid-century modern home. We fell in love with our home's classic mid-century lines, plus it has a lot of floor-to-ceiling windows and great light. It needed repair and restoration, which was okay because we knew we wanted to put our own stamp on the house over time.

A midcentury modern home

John Shum

Does your home fit in with your neighborhood's vibe or does it stand out? 

Our immediate neighborhood is made up of about 300 homes built by the modernist builder Joseph Eichler. So overall, our neighborhood has a definitive “midcentury feel.” When friends or family come to visit us for the first time, they tell us things like, “Your neighborhood looks like the Jetsons!”

How would you describe your style and approach to decorating your home? 

My style is a mix of modern and midcentury modern, but with a bit of eclectic and a lot of vintage mixed in. We have two super active (aka messy) kids, and a dog, so I also approach my home design with practicality. Life gets messy and I want the pieces we live with to handle it and not be too mad about it. Said another way, my house isn’t too “precious” but lived-in and friendly.

Home office with wooden walls, shelving, and cabinets

John Shum

Who or what are your biggest design inspirations?

Charles and Ray Eames—I love that they were a husband and wife design duo. My husband John and I have started several businesses together. They were trailblazers in design and their work is timeless. Ray Eames especially designed with color, fun, and playfulness in mind, which I enjoy incorporating into my designs.

How does your Filipino heritage inform your style?

Filipino culture centers on family, gatherings, and celebrations. Food and cooking also act as a means to express one’s love for others. The kitchen is the heart of any home, but most especially ours. My mom and late mother-in-law taught me and my kids family recipes right in this kitchen. When designing it, we kept in mind the need for a lot of cooking prep area, as well as room for family and friends to hang out and gather while other family members are preparing a meal. 

A well lit, blue-tiled kitchen with white cabinets

John Shum

Any other cultures you take design notes from?

My parents lived in Japan in the early 2000s and I got to visit them several times and experience Japanese culture and design. I love Japanese aesthetics, which embrace minimalism and simplicity as well as functionality. 

My husband’s heritage is Chinese. There are important fundamentals of Feng Shui that we bring into the home to create balance and energy in our environment. My husbands’ parents also lived in the UK when they first married. They had great design sense and we inherited timeless furniture that they purchased in the 1960s, such as the Cesca dining chairs we have at our cabin home to classic midcentury dining chairs that we use every day in our dining room.

A bedroom with wood walls and brightly colored decor

John Shum

What were the greatest finds in your home? Can you share a story behind any of them?

Nearly all of the pieces in the main living areas of our house are vintage or thrifted. One of my favorites is our 1970s Eames lounge chair and ottoman, which I found at a local estate sale. The seat cushion seemed all torn up when I found it, so I snagged it right away. Turns out it just needed to have the cushion zipper realigned (which I did by hand) and we had a perfectly functional chair. 

Brown Dining Credenza with a mix of colorful art above it

John Shum

Do you have a favorite design feature or room? If so, where is it in the house and what makes it unique?

One of my favorite spaces is actually not a room, but an outdoor room—our atrium. When you come into our front door, you step into an outside courtyard. Since we have a smaller house, this space acts as an extra living room space for my family. My kids and their friends hang out there in the summertime or sometimes my husband and I will take our laptops out there and work outside. 

An atrium with a above-ground concrete fire pit and soft seating

John Shum

Where in your home do you spend the most time, and what are you usually doing there?

The kitchen! I’m the avid cook in the family—although both my kids are starting to get into cooking, which is great! I am either making breakfast, lunch, or dinner, doing dishes, or hanging out and catching up with our family, all around the island.

Our primary bathroom is another favorite room. We waited nearly a decade to tackle it but now I absolutely love it. I have my own wardrobe (all to myself—I made my husband take the old closet) and I finished it off with happy details, like our orange faucet and a colorful tile pattern.

A brightly lit bathroom with an orange sink faucet and orange tiles

John Shum