Birgit Sfat, owner of the online children’s store Over the Ocean, lives with her husband, Raul, and daughter, Milla, in a gorgeous house in San Francisco’s Noe Valley neighborhood. Since moving from Munich two years ago, they’ve managed to build a warm and inviting space, filled with family heirlooms and personal touches. Here’s a look around…
On first impressions: When we moved here from Germany, we were immediately struck by how helpful and open people were. We were staying in different Airbnb rentals because we didn’t have a home yet. We also had no car, no preschool, nothing. I’d go to the playground and start talking to other moms and they would say, “Oh, you don’t have a preschool? I can recommend one.” “Don’t know where to live? Here’s a good spot.”
On flexible furniture: It’s always helpful to have neutral furniture that can work in different spaces. Most of our furniture we’ve had for many years — some from before I met my husband! We’ve moved these things through four different homes. I guess we thought one day when we owned a house we would start over from scratch, but that’s never happened.
On the family pet: Our dog Charlie is one crazy pup. Milla’s second word after “Mama” was “Vava,” which was her version of the German word for puppy. She’s been nuts about dogs since she was a baby. Even before we had Charlie, we spent more time at the dog run than the playground!
On family dinners: My husband Raul and I both cook — he makes impressive meals that take more time and I make the quicker meals, like pasta. Milla also loves to cook, so once a week she and I will make vegetable soup together. We eat a green salad with every meal, and Milla makes the vinaigrette by herself. One of our family traditions is family pizza night. Raul rolls the dough until it’s very thin, and we cut the olives, mushrooms, artichokes and mozzarella. Milla sits at the head of the table painting while the pizza is in the oven, and Charlie sleeps underneath. Then Raul chooses the records while I open the wine. We even have these red-and-white-checked napkins for our pizza evenings.
On embracing the old: The kitchen hasn’t been updated; it’s really old. When you open the drawers, they come off in your hand. But we like that it has character.
On the magic of paint: We had to get creative with the dining table, which used to be dark teak wood. It looked beautiful in our old apartment, but not so much in our new one. We painted it with white boat paint and have been happy with it ever since.
On family activities: We don’t watch movies as a family, because Milla is afraid of them. We tried a bunch of Disney movies, but it didn’t really work. So, most of our family activities happen at the dining table. We have a huge craft basket, and Milla draws while I cook.
On a beloved ritual: Weekend mornings are a very relaxed time for us. Raul often leaves very early to go surfing, and when he comes back we love to eat breakfast for hours. What starts with croissants, fruit, granola and coffee evolves into lunch — without ever clearing the table!
On stealing some quiet time: Whenever I have a moment for myself, I like to make myself a cup of tea and sit on this daybed. Our sunroom connects to the dining room and has a view of the yard, and I’ll read a magazine and relax. It’s not very exciting, but it’s one of my favorite things!
On growing roots: For our first three months in San Francisco, we were like, “This is great!” But after the initial excitement wore off, we started missing our deep relationships at home. That was hard. It takes some time to build new relationships and routines — to find your favorite bakery and café and grocery store. But I’ve found that in the U.S., you end up finding everything you want, including our favorite European staples. We’re very happy now.
On hand-me-downs: This flower painting in Milla’s room hung in my grandmother’s living room a long, long time ago. The record player is an old one from my father. I love having family heirlooms, especially since we’re 6,000 miles from home.
On keeping German traditions alive: We still care very much about German traditions. For her first day of school, I gave Milla a Schultüte (“school cone”), filled with treats and school supplies. She’s really proud of her German backpack, even though the other kids think it looks strange. Our Christmas celebration is to decorate the tree together on Christmas Eve, which very traditionally German.
Goose pillow: Over the Ocean.
On playing dress-up: Milla loves costumes, so we have a clothes rack with lots of them. She often pretends to be a teacher or a doctor. Whenever friends come over, the adults will be at the dining table, and suddenly the children will appear from upstairs. The costumes will be all mixed together, and they’ll put on a show for us.
On special collections: I collect wooden and ceramic birds, which are scattered throughout the house. Also, I took a trip to India once and learned that elephants are supposed to bring strength and good luck, so we keep several elephants in Milla’s room.
Goodnight wire sculpture: Anthropologie.
On launching a business from home: I run my children’s store, Over the Ocean, entirely from my studio in the basement. It’s where I store all the pieces, where we package things to ship, where I take all the pictures. Sometimes Milla will help me package the orders, and she’s proud when she can be involved. But I have to be careful that when the day is done, I stop working. That can be difficult; I’m not great at it.
On finding inspiration: When we came to San Francisco, I didn’t know what I was going to do. At the playground, people would approach me to ask where Milla’s clothes and shoes were from. When I told people they were from Europe, people were very open to the idea of a store. There are so many beautiful European countries, each with a very specific style. I thought it would be wonderful to share this — not just a store, but a place for inspiration.
On renovating the garden: The garden was in pretty bad shape when we moved in. Then our artist friend from Munich came to visit for two weeks. He wanted to do something helpful, so he and my husband worked each afternoon in the garden to build the wooden path. It created structure without having a manicured garden. It’s a magical place, we feel really lucky.
On having outdoor space: Except for rainy days, we eat all our meals — breakfast, lunch and dinner — on the deck. Even if we have to put on scarves or a vests, we love sitting outside year round. It reminds us a bit of the cafés in Europe, where people spend time outdoors.
Table and bench: Handmade by Birgit’s husband, Raul. Chairs: vintage.
Thank you so much, Birgit! Your home is so warm and inviting.