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.
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.