Determined Do-It-Yourselfers

East Bay couple's dreams come true with a fixer-upper they call 'Destination Eichler'
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Karen Nepacena in the new DIY kitchen she and husband John Shum designed and built. Photos: courtesy Destination Eichler.com.
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Karen and John.
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'Before' shot of Karen and John's kitchen.
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'After' shot of their new DIY kitchen.

Karen Nepacena and John Shum have become diligent do-it-yourselfers—turning their Eichler fixer-upper into an ongoing work in progress that now has the whole family, even the kids, pitching in.

Today, Karen and John team together to expand upon the website DestinationEichler.com, which documents the continued progress of their ambitious renovation.

But it all started with a realization the East Bay couple came to six years ago about the Eichler home that lied ahead in their future.

"We were living in another house in Walnut Creek that we were unconsciously trying to make more modern," says Karen, thinking back to 2009, when she first saw the light—and began to dream.

It was then Karen and John started to hunt for a house more suited to their tastes. They continued to look primarily in her native Contra Costa County, including visits to a few Eichlers that "were in pretty rough shape." Then, in 2011, they attended an open house for a faithfully restored Eichler.

"I didn't know much about Eichlers until then," says Karen, a product manager for YDesign Group in Walnut Creek. "It opened our eyes to what these houses could look like for a modern family."

It was then that their 'destination' came into view.

"I had a vision of how we could take all the great things about Eichler and bring it back," she says of her dream, yet admitting, "I think my husband didn't see my vision until later."

Furthermore, given the couple's skill as photographers, they also had a plan to share the family's Eichler experience with the world—but timing was crucial for these would-be modernists.

"We wanted an Eichler so bad, but you don't want them to know how desperate you are," Karen says of the carefully timed launch of their website in 2013, which had to wait until escrow closed on just the right fixer-upper that the young couple could afford.

"We knew that [a fixer-upper model] was the only way we could get into one," she says. "Besides, we didn't want to buy someone else's 'perfect' home."

"We were pretty sure about Walnut Creek," says the Concord native. Knowing about good schools there, the couple considered the Rancho San Miguel Eichler neighborhood, she says, "a great fit for our family."

"Structurally, the house was fine," she says of their new home, noting that many of the most expensive aspects of...