Zach and Rachel’s Evolving San Diego Loft

We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Dave Murphy)

Name: Rachel, Zach & Skye
Location: Little Italy, San Diego, California
Size: You’d think that we would know that since Zach’s dad is the architect, but we have no clue. Big enough for the three of us!
Years lived in: 11 years

If you want to live in one of the coolest concrete lofts in San Diego, it doesn’t hurt to be related to the architect. Just over a decade ago, Zach Smith and Rachel Ehlin nabbed a ground-floor unit in the Essex, designed by Zach’s father Ted Smith, San Diego’s godfather of design-build. As the couple’s needs have grown, the loft has evolved right along with them.

(Image credit: Dave Murphy)

Units at the Essex are a blank slate, ready for the occupants to define. Over the years, Zach and Rachel have taken over some of the connected spaces to expand their own. Zach, who plays bass in the popular indie band Pinback, built a recording studio in the back of their home, and when their adorable son Skye arrived, the family designed a tranquil bedroom that’s connected to their main living space via an outdoor patio. When Skye is a little older, they’ll redefine the spaces again so he can have his own room. Rachel, a talented weaver and designer, also hopes to set up a proper studio for Mr. Blue Skye, her expanding line of “organic-comic-modern” weavings and dyed-silk home and fashion accessories.

“I love that our home has been able to evolve with our needs,” Rachel says. “We’re always trying to think of a better way for us all to co-exist together and have multiple uses for something. Our home has been a place for us to work, be creative and have a family. I think the openness of it has allowed us to really live the lives that we want.”

Rachel, who used to style tables for food magazines, is a DIY maven, and regularly blogs about her various projects (she can hide Skye’s toys like nobody’s business). She also designed the build-outs of her formerly barebones kitchen and bathroom, maximizing storage and style on a budget and only splurging on little finishing touches, like Heath tiles in the bathroom.

The clean-lined loft makes the perfect backdrop for Rachel’s impressive collection of ceramics from Eva Zeisel and Heath, displayed alongside gorgeous enameled pieces from Brooklyn’s Kiln Enamel, owned by Rachel’s twin sister and brother-in-law. When it comes to decorating, Rachel, an inveterate thrift and flea shopper, has impeccable style no matter where she finds her latest object to love. Incredibly, Skye hasn’t knocked over a single vase. “We taught him from the beginning that these are Mommy’s toys,” Rachel laughs.

(Image credit: Dave Murphy)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

My Style: Clean, light, white & bright.

Inspiration: I am really inspired by the simplicity of Japanese and Scandinavian design. And after 15 years of living in SoCal, I think it’s starting to rub off on me too. Right now my go-to books for inspiration are Northern Delights by Emma Fexeus (I could look at that book every day) and Handcrafted Modern by Leslie Williamson (my goal is to tour as many of the houses as I can).

Favorite Element: The tall ceilings, glass walls and indoor/outdoor living.

Biggest Challenge: We used to get the most beautiful natural light in the loft, but a few years ago a huge building was built right up to our property line and we lost all of our natural light. It’s really difficult to photograph in here now and it always looks dim. We also don’t have a lot of storage so we’ve really had to get creative with that. IKEA’s Pax Wardrobes in the bedroom have been a life-saver, and we also built a large storage closet in the back of Zach’s recording studio last year.

What Friends Say: Where does Skye sleep?

Biggest Embarrassment: We have a lot of dog- related furniture casualties. Our dining table legs have been chewed and there is hole in the sofa that our dog that recently passed away dug. I threw a sheepskin on and you can’t tell!

Proudest DIY: Probably the headboard that my mom and I made together. I dyed the fabric and she upholstered it.

Biggest Indulgence: We don’t own anything that’s too expensive, but the dining table was a real splurge for us when we bought it a few years ago. It’s modular and reversible.

Best Advice: Live with what you really love.

Dream Sources: Normann Copenhagen, Hay, Huset, Shaker Workshops, The Potters Guild in San Diego, Nakashima Studio, Joinery NYC, DWR, Muuto

(Image credit: Dave Murphy)

Resources of Note:


  • Blu Dot Bonnie & Clyde Sofa
  • Normann-Copenhagen Tablo Table
  • Wire Chair Thrifted
  • Media Console Ikea
  • Kite Wool Kilim Rug from West Elm
  • Raw Silk and Linen Dyed pillows made by me
  • Noguchi Silk Screens From the Noguchi Museum
  • Noguchi Lights from The Noguchi Museum
  • Ceramic Hanging Jug from the Potters Guild San Diego, CA
  • Copper Candle Holder from Hay
  • White Bulb Vase Heath Ceramics
  • Wood Candle Holders by Mira Nakashima from the Nakashima • • Studios in New Hope, PA
  • Piano from A-1 Piano in San Diego
  • Rabbit Tapestry from Ikea by Hella Jongerius
  • Paintings by Skye
  • Enamel Mobile from Kiln Enamel
  • Bird Sculpture from Kiln Enamel
  • Basket from the Farmers Market in Little Italy, SD
  • Vases on the piano are Yumiko Kuga
  • Dining Table from Mixture San Diego, CA
  • Salt Dining chairs from DWR
  • Vintage Chiavari chairs from Zach’s grandmother
  • Gainey Planter from Klassik Mid-Century San Diego, CA
  • Shelf from IKEA
  • Paintings from The Museum of the Living Artist San Diego, CA
  • Long weaving made by Rachel


  • Butcher Block Cabinets from IKEA
  • Lack Shelves from IKEA
  • Appliances Whirlpool
  • Dishes Heath Ceramics
  • Glass Jars IKEA
  • Eva Zeisel and Klein Reid Vases, Pitchers and Creamer & Sugar
  • Wire Baskets from World Market
  • Ceramic Spoons by Umiko Kuga
  • Art Print No 04 by Spenderbuks from Kollekt

  • Bed Creative Futons
  • Pax Wardrobes
  • Night Table Ikea
  • Stool IKEA
  • Bedding from Joinery NYC
  • Pioneer Chair from Joinery NYC
  • Throw Blanket by Jetter Green from
  • Orb Garden from Tend Living
  • Noguchi Lights from the Noguchi Museum
  • Weaving made by me
  • Enamel bowls from Kiln Enamel
  • Throw Pillow by Allison Fox for West Elm
  • Wall Dots from Muuto by Lars Tornoe
  • Jute Boucle’ Rug in Ivory from West Elm
  • Small weaving made by Rachel

  • (Image credit: Dave Murphy)

    Thanks, Zach and Rachel!

    • HOUSE TOUR ARCHIVE: Check out past house tours here.
    • Interested in sharing your home with Apartment Therapy? Contact the editors through our House Tour Submission Form.
    • Are you a designer/architect/decorator interested in sharing a residential project with Apartment Therapy readers? Contact the editors through our Professional Submission Form.