An airplane romance led one ocean-loving couple to a permanent layover on the California coast.

By Susan C. Kim
April 27, 2007
Brian Vanden Brink

Jim and Pam Robertson first exchanged glances on a United Airlines flight from Boise to San Francisco. “Seat 2B would like to know if you’re married,” a fellow flight attendant told Pam. “I walked over to Jim and said hello,” she says. “We’ve been together ever since.”

Instant attraction may have brought this couple together, but it played no part in their decision to buy a house on Belvedere Island, across the bay from San Francisco. “When I first saw this house, I thought to myself, ‘I could never live here,’” Pam confesses. “It was old and dark, the complete opposite of the bright, airy beach house we had hoped for.” But Jim, who spent summers on the New Jersey shore, saw potential in the dramatic waterfront site overlooking the stepped hills of Sausalito and the orange arches of the Golden Gate Bridge.

In July 2000, Pam and Jim closed on the tired 1960s property—and discovered they’d purchased an icon: Their home was one of the few midcentury modern designs on Belvedere by famed California builder Joseph Eichler.

The Robertsons carefully renovated the entire structure on their own, hiring a contractor only to knock out a wall. Jim took the reins on the electrical work, while Pam ripped out overgrown landscaping and planted new trees. Almost every inch of the previously drab interiors—walls, rafters, brick fireplace, bookshelves, even the outdoor atrium—received fresh coats of white or gray paint. “I visited the paint store so often that the employees knew me by name,” Pam remembers.

Their design-savvy daughter, Alex, whose 10-year-old vocabulary includes such words as “focal point,” “eclectic,” and “accent pillows,” helped Pam realize her vision of a beach home. Sand and sea inspired the light blue and dusty tan colors in the seashell-print pillows and sea-grass flooring. “The family room’s tones range from foamy tangerine to orangesicle depending on the time of day,” says Alex, her blue eyes and freckles belying her seriousness. Pam adds, “This room is the color of the sun when it’s setting behind the mountains across the water.”

Today, even Eichlerholics delight in the face-lift the Robertsons gave their house. The architect’s folded gable roof, post-and-beam modular design, and rectangular atrium draw sporadic drive-bys from fans, who sometimes knock on the door and ask to see the interior. One peek inside justifies their enthusiasm. Pam and Jim’s view shoots straight from the front door through the atrium and living room windows out to the waters of Richardson Bay.

Standing on their deck is like being on a cruise ship. Steamer-style lounge chairs with white cushions piped in blue, nautical-flag pillows, and life preservers underscore the luxury-liner feel. At one end, a glass wall protects a wicker dining set should the breeze kick up.

Many days, Jim walks down to the boat dock. Hopping on his runabout, he says, “Everyone here uses a boat to get around.” He points out a pizza joint that delivers via water from nearby Tiburon, which is where he catches the ferry to get to work in San Francisco. “Before my first business trip out here, my father warned me that if I went, I’d never come back,” Jim says. “And he was right.”


Sky Smiles
Take a peek inside the Robertson’s updated mid-century modern home.