A “California Cool” Condo in a Former Elementary School

updated Feb 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Name: Steve and Robin Anderson and their two sons
Location: Cambridgeport — Cambridge, Massachusetts
Size: 1,700 square feet
Years lived in: 8 years; Owned

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Robin and Steve’s condo in a former elementary school is a playful convergence of colors and textures. It’s an ode to surf, sand and sun. But it wasn’t always that way. They purchased the condo pre-construction almost a decade ago, when the developer was still in the process of converting the school into residences. Having just left a 350-square-foot apartment in Boston, their new 1,700-square-foot condo felt palatial, and with a new baby in tow, they weren’t in any position to think seriously about design. So like many first-time homebuyers, they ended up with wood cabinets, beige walls, and, you guessed it, brown furniture. There’s a lesson to be learned here, for even a beautiful blank canvas can be daunting to fill. Ideas don’t always come overnight. And sometimes, you just have to unpack your adjectives and let inspiration strike.

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Robin grew up surfing in San Diego, and meeting her makes you realize the saying really is true—you can take the girl out of California, but you can’t take California out of the girl. Overall, a carefree vibe permeates the home. Yes, Robin’s taste is stylish; but more importantly, it’s fun. The art on display evokes adventure, from a majestic photograph of the Southern California coast to an entertaining underwater candid of Robin’s oldest son. Robin isn’t afraid to experiment and change things around (she’s repainted her upstairs bathroom at least four times…it’s currently a beachy aqua) and she draws inspiration from the online design community. “I started the blog as a way to stay connected to the outside world after leaving the DA’s office to stay home with our son,” she says. “I soon found a virtual network and my own site became a great way to share the projects that I was doing in my own home.”

(Image credit: Samara Vise)

Family roots and traditions also play a role. Steve was born in Switzerland, and the blankets and art in the boys’ bedroom speak to their Swiss heritage. Costa Rica, where the family takes surfing vacations, has become an important part of their lives and also influenced elements of the home. The guest room, with its bold colors and global textiles, feels like a mini retreat from the world, or, at the very least, from winter in New England.

“This is the home where the boys will be spending their entire childhood, and I want them to remember it as being a fun and cozy place,” Robin says. “…I definitely try to keep it tidy, but I hope the boys feel as though they can really feel free to let loose in it.” Indeed, the energy of the Anderson youngsters is undeniable, and, perhaps, a fitting ode to the hundreds of children who once filled the former school’s classrooms. Robin’s youngest son will enter kindergarten this year, and before I leave I tell him that his living room used to be a kindergarten classroom. How do I know that? Well, I went there.

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: I [Robin] have a pretty laid-back aesthetic, what I refer to as “California cool.” I like a lot of bohemian-inspired elements but also crave minimalism. I am not afraid of color and definitely can’t get enough navy in my life. The goal from the beginning was to make our home feel like an expression of our family, and I think I definitely accomplished that. Each of us are represented in some way and the best compliment that I receive when others enter our home is that it feels like we really live in the space.

Inspiration: I get most of my inspiration from blogs and online media like Pinterest. I will often see something that inspires me and immediately try it out in my home, especially when it comes to paint! I’m not afraid of changing things up and love mixing different styles, so I read blogs from a number of different design views and incorporate what I like best.

Favorite Element: In general my favorite part of the home is how warm and inviting it feels. I want people to come in, kick their shoes off, and feel like they can grab a glass of wine and plop down on the sofa. My favorite piece in our home has to be our navy sectional! It used to be a brown, microsuede sofa that was stained from when the boys were infants. Instead of getting a new one I decided to recover it because it was just so incredibly comfortable, and I absolutely LOVE the way it turned out. The fabric (a textured velvet) is so soft and virtually stain-proof, and the addition of the nail heads and the tufting really elevated the piece, even more than I imagined it would! I get offers all the time through my site to buy it, but I’m pretty sure I will be buried with that sofa!

Biggest Challenge: How to insert more personality into the space! When we moved in we had brown furniture, brown drapery, brown walls and cabinetry. It was such a boring space and as much as I loved our home and neighborhood I hated the way it looked. One day I decided to start painting a wall, and then another, and from there everything really took off. Sometimes I think I may have gone a little overboard (we have a lot going on!) but at the end of the day it’s so opposite from how it used to be and that it makes me so happy!

What Friends Say: Everyone remarks that it feels like such a warm yet designed space, and that it really is exactly what he or she would think my home would look like.

Biggest Embarrassment: We bought our unit pre-construction and picked finishes only thinking about resale. At the time neither of us knew anything about design and we thought we would only be here a few years, so we made choices that I would never make now, like the tile in the bathrooms. We have “Tuscan” style in one bathroom and a shiny one in another. Luckily shower curtains were invented!

Proudest DIY: The painting of various rooms! It made such a difference and the high ceilings our home boasts proved quite the challenge! The bumblebee stamps in the entry and boys’ bathroom are another proud DIY (the idea came from Pinterest). It changed the space so much; I really would stamp anything at this point! It’s a great affordable alternative to wallpaper.

Biggest Indulgence: This has to be the quality pieces that we have really committed to having for the rest of our lifetime. Things like the Eames lounger in the bedroom, the quality headboard, the sofa, and some of the artwork. I really balance these items by purchasing the accessories from affordable, big box stores, but don’t skimp when it comes to the actual furniture. After a decade replacing our old IKEA furniture we really want pieces that will last!

Best Advice: Sometimes you just have to start a project! I have so many friends that wish they could change their home but don’t know where to start…so they do nothing. I am a big proponent of just jumping in. Paint a wall, buy a chair, switch out your pillows. Once you get started the ideas really start flowing so the key is to just do something. I’m also a big fan of switching things out. Just like your hair or wardrobe, you home is a fluid thing. Don’t be afraid to change things, even seasonally. Giving new life to your home feels so good and I can’t recommend it enough!

Dream Sources: I wish I could cover my home in wallpaper from Eskayel. Their watercolor prints are so beautiful; I spend more time on their site than I should! I also love tile and would love to re-do our bathrooms in a tile that is similar to the Ann Sacks that we used in the kitchen. For furnishings I love Jonathan Adler furnishings and also wish I had more textiles from John Robshaw. His bedding is amazing!



  • Master bedroom (above): Farrow & Ball Downpipe
  • Boys’ bedroom: Farrow & Ball Parma Gray
  • Guest bedroom: Benjamin Moore Super White
  • Master bathroom: Farrow & Ball Hague Blue
  • Guest bathroom: Benjamin Moore Copper Patina


  • Shoe cart (formally a media center): Crate & Barrel
  • Fabric: Trina Turk
  • Bumblebee stamp: The English Stamp Company
  • Photo: enlarged from disposable underwater camera


  • Rug: West Elm
  • Sofa: Restoration Hardware, recovered in Midnight Blue velvet by Fratelli
  • Gold side table: Target
  • Library lamp: yard sale, spray painted
  • Painting above TV: blogger MFAMB
  • Drawings of boys: Carter Kustera
  • Other artwork: Society 6

    • Tulip table: Rove Concepts
    • Chairs: John Vogle for West Elm
    • Rug: IKEA
    • Curtains: West Elm (two panels sewn together)
    • Lamp: Hudson Home
    • Sideboard: Lekker Home
    • Photography of Black’s Beach: Myles McGuinness


    • Barstools: Blu Dot
    • Tile: Ann Sacks
    • Hardware: Schoolhouse Electric
    • Rug: RugsUSA
    • Countertops: Lumber Liquidators


    • Bed: Atlantico
    • Bedding: Restoration Hardware
    • Chair: Eames
    • Desk and desk chair: West Elm
    • Desk lamp: Target
    • Floor lamp: CB2
    • Dresser: Room & Board
    • Wall sconces: Shop One Forty Three
    • Boob pillowcases: Gravel & Gold
    • Side tables: Stones by Maya Lin
    • Hug Holland: replica from wax poster
    • Wood photography: Myles McGuinness
    • Photograph over bed: blogger MFAB


    • Beds: The Land Of Nod
    • Bedding: Pottery Barn Kids
    • Swiss Army blankets: Etsy
    • Rug: Pottery Barn Kids
    • Desk: The Land of Nod
    • Chair: Eames replica
    • Toy storage: oeuf
    • Shelves: West Elm
    • Dresser: Crate & Barrel
    • Pendant light: Rosenberry Rooms
    • Curtains: Pottery Barn Kids
    • Superman painting: SOWA Market


    • Bed: BlueDot
    • Duvet and shams: Serena & Lily
    • Sheets: Target
    • Suzani throw: Uzbekistan
    • Stool: Serena & Lily
    • “Goodnight”: Anthropologie
    • Ceramic deer: Faux Taxidermy on Etsy
    • Curtains: Pottery Barn Kids
    • Wave print: Kara Rosenlund
    • Wall sconces: Shop One Forty Three


  • Bathroom rug: H&M
  • Tray: H&M
  • Kate Moss Supreme poster: eBay

  • Shower curtain: Pottery Barn Kids
  • Bumblebee stamp: The English Stamp Company
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    #boys (Image credit: Samara Vise)

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    Thanks, Robin!