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Walnut Creek Magazine

Urban Living

Mar 24, 2017 01:17PM ● By Sophie Johnson


The rise of apartment and condominium dwellings in Walnut Creek

By Sophie Johnson
Photography by Josh Isaacs

What brings them here? New residents share their stories about how Walnut Creek became home.

It wasn’t too long ago that Walnut Creek drew people primarily for its top-notch schools, pastoral hills and suburban homes with private pools and two-car garages. While this residential landscape retains its rich appeal, a new population has emerged—the city dwellers. These urbanites are inhabiting the apartments and condominiums cropping up all over town, lured by walkability to shopping and dining, plus the host of smart and stylish amenities many new residential communities offer.  


Curt and Jane Blomstrand are the definition of downsizing baby boomers—people who left large suburban residences for an urban lifestyle. Yet, the charming couple prefer to call their new way of life something else. “Reinvention is a better word,” says Curt, a retired home builder and father of three who lived with his wife Jane for over 40 years in a large Lafayette rancher before moving into their Cole Avenue condo. “I was tired of the honey-do list. Every weekend, there were chores and the little burdens of having a well-maintained home. I knew it would be an adjustment, especially for Jane who loves to garden, but our lives are so much fun now!”
After reading The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up, Jane was inspired to de-clutter her Burton Valley home and keep only items that were useful and meaningful. She also held on to a few family treasures and artwork curated from years of travel.  “Going through decades’ worth of things was so freeing.” Curt and Jane gave the rest away then used an estate company to clear out the remainder. “We didn’t want to bring very much with us.”

The Blomstrand’s efficiently designed, 2000-square-foot condo is simply stunning. Part of a 12-unit building constructed by Lenox Homes, the couple purchased the two-bedroom-plus-den residence last year for a cool $1.2 million. Panoramic views of Mt. Diablo provide the backdrop for a dazzling downtown city-scape, endlessly enjoyed from the outdoor patio and floor to ceiling windows. Attention to detail is evident throughout the spacious interior in everything from the concealed European hinges to the Bosch appliances. It’s not just the opulent materials but also the functionality of the space that impresses. “The layout of the rooms is just so practical,” says Jane.

While the chic condo is within easy walking distance to BART, food, and entertainment, a state-of-the-art car lift system provides residents with ample parking. “Every morning I walk to Starbucks, stroll through Broadway Plaza before the shops open and make a big 7-mile circle back home,” says Curt.

Friends and family love to visit. For the Blomstrand’s four grandkids, their downtown home feels like Disneyland. “We take them to the movies, dinner at the Cheesecake factory then hit S.F. Creamery on the way home. Our granddaughter Olivia laid back on the couch overlooking the city lights the other night and said, ‘I love this place, it’s so relaxing.’”
*The Lenox team is taking the concept one block over to Trinity Avenue and building a similar condominium community.


As transformative as the interior spaces are for many new urban residents, it’s living in the heart of downtown Walnut Creek that makes all the difference. Walking to restaurants and bars were major draws for Theresa Baumgartner, a personal injury attorney with offices in Lafayette. “I love the kale salad and the skinny margarita at True Food Kitchen. I definitely eat out more often now, but burn off any extra calories with a quick workout at Pure Barre just down the street,” she laughs.

Theresa was renting a sprawling 3,300-square-foot home on an acre of land in Pleasant Hill before moving into her spacious tri-level apartment at The Agora last summer. With its central location at the corner of Newell Avenue and Main Street, her two-bedroom-two-bath apartment separates living spaces into three levels: kitchen, living room and bath on level one, bedrooms on level two and a private rooftop lounging deck on level three. “I love the rooftop patio on the third floor of my townhouse. It’s private and it feels like an oasis,” says Theresa.

Caroline Doyle, property manager at The Agora, says, “Our residents are a mixture of three groups: working professionals, young families with school age children, and retired couples or singles who have sold a home and are now empty nesters. They are looking to live carefree by choosing to rent rather than to own.” Prices here range from $4000-$5300 per month depending on the space. While the monthly outlay is steep, the location and amenities are clearly worth it for residents; all 49 units at The Agora are currently leased. The contemporary community offers residents conveniences like pick-up dry cleaning and proximity to Trader Joes, Whole Foods and Broadway Plaza. “The bar at California Pizza Kitchen is just downstairs and a great place to hang out,” says Doyle.
While most apartment dwellers consider themselves lucky if a washer/dryer comes with their unit, living at The Agora comes with some nice perks—rooftop pool and sun deck, 24-hour fitness center, community kitchen and lounge, bio-filtration areas for pets, advanced sound proofing and electric vehicle charging stations. The gated underground garage may be full of parked cars, but residents tie on their sneakers to explore the city instead of driving. “I hardly move my car on the weekends,” says Theresa.

Fiancés Jeff Kari and Juliana Tokumo first met in New York City in 2014. “Jeff would drive to Queens to hang out with me, and I'd stay in Manhattan with him on the weekends,” says Juliana. “Our goal was to move to the West Coast, so when Jeff's company had an opening in the Bay Area, we jumped. We flew to San Francisco on January 24th, found this apartment at The Arroyo on the 25th and moved in on February 1st.” Escaping the winters and exploring the green hills around Mt. Diablo were compelling enough, but the couple also sees parallels to the Big Apple. “The experience we have every time we go to Sasa is always great—it’s on par with NYC restaurants.” Other local favorites within easy walking distance are Lettuce and Tender Greens.
Indeed, Jeff and Juliana both remark on the differences between living in Manhattan and living in their brand new Walnut Creek apartment. “In NYC we had only two burners, and now our stove is worthy of a professional cook.” Cabinets and closets provide plenty of useable storage space, and the couple’s cozy 2-bedroom-2-bath apartment, which goes for $4050 per month, has two outdoor patios including one off the master bedroom.
But it’s the other features at The Arroyo that make it stand out. While its exterior modern façade is somewhat unremarkable, the interior plush garden common area is a lush and inviting space complete with a coffee bar. The rooftop terrace is reminiscent of a world-class resort complete with a fitness center, cabana-style beds, sweeping views, and poolside fire pits.

The twenty-somethings already feel part of the neighborhood, commenting on how nice people are in Walnut Creek and laughing at how locals love to complain about the rain. They don’t miss the cold East Coast weather and look forward to frequent visits from family. Jeff’s mom lives in Portland and plans to visit often. “We’ve never had a guest room until now,” Juliana proudly announces.  
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