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  • Michael Scharff

Berkeley Hills Living May 2023

Meet Michael and Andrea Scharff

Passionate about Berkeley Architecture, Travel & Meeting New Neighbors

Article by Karen Walker and Photos by Gary Schatan

A chance meeting with Michael and Andrea Scharff and you'd pretty quickly find yourself immersed in an engaging conversation about some aspect of their unique home, international travel, art, literature, computer science (Michael), their latest discovery (or yours) or just simply

find yourself appreciative of their welcoming friendliness.


Guaranteed you’d leave with a smile, the wonder of having learned something new and interesting, and a sense of gratitude for such great neighbors!


“Live life to the fullest in your own unique way!” echoed through their earlier years of international travel, art, literature and careers exploring archeology and artificial intelligence. But these days, Andrea and Michael have punctuated that full life with an exhortation to “Share life to the fullest to celebrate all our unique ways together!”





Andrea and Michael welcome neighbors in the dining room. Note a taste of the home’s unique architectural details, including a most unique radiator cover detail, bottom right. Also, the necklace Andrea is wearing was made by local artist Barbara Natoli Witt, whose work is featured in the Smithsonian Museum Collections.





The Great Adventure

“We met at a bar called Noc Noc on Lower Haight Street in San Francisco on April 15, 1988,” they share happily, as though it were yesterday.


“I was living with my parents in Napa at the time, having just come home from a months-long trip through South America,” says Andrea. “And I was living in San Francisco with some co-workers,” adds Michael, “and working at The Good Guys!”


Andrea and Michael welcome neighbors in the dining room. Note a taste of the home’s unique architectural details, including a most unique radiator cover detail, bottom right. Also, the necklace Andrea is wearing was made by local artist Barbara Natoli Witt, whose work is featured in the Smithsonian Museum Collections.

Michael & Andrea at the Taj Mahal, 1996


Then the encounter takes an interesting twist... and their great adventure began.


First stop: Five months in a remote, A-frame cabin in the rainforest of Monteverde, Costa Rica, where they did a lot of birdwatching, reading and hiking.


Next: Winter in the Scottish Highlands, near Glencoe, where they were “perhaps the only Americans foolish enough to spend February in Scot-land,” they laugh. “We enjoyed lots of peat fires, strong beer and a little bit of Haggis.”


After that, it was three months in India and Nepal. “Taking our time to get to know each other in so many different world contexts helped strengthen our relationship and learn what each of us really prioritized,” they agree. “In Michael’s case, he longed for the structure and camaraderie of work, while Andrea longed for time to hike, garden, write and play around with art.”



A year later, Michael and Andrea bought their first home, “a beautiful little Spanish Mediterranean Style home with some Arts and Crafts touches, in the Thousand Oaks neighborhood,” they explain.



Michael surrounded by the Northern Lights in Norway


Five years later they left Berkeley and spent the next 10 years in three different states. In Minnesota, Michael helped launch the first e-commerce business at Best Buy, ran the computer division, and helped lead the Strategic Alliances group. In Boston, he worked for Staples for two years. And finally, in New Jersey, Michael joined ToysRUs, leading the global e-commerce, new ventures and innovation teams.


And yet, they always knew they’d return to Berkeley... one day.


Studies, Surprises and Growth

Before marrying, Andrea completed her bachelor’s degree at SF State University, focusing on identifying animal bones at archaeological sites, in hopes of returning to South America. She also volunteered to help organize the department’s tapestry collection.


Although her studies didn’t pave a path back to South America, they became foundational in researching a treasure trove of discoveries at their current home. More about that later.


These days, Andrea spends most of her time gardening and working on projects related to “Art & Lit,” a most creative and unique miniature art gallery outside their home, located just above their free little library box.


“I also dabble in many different kinds of art, play a bit of music and enjoy sharing tea with people in the garden,” says Andrea. “There are so many interesting people around!”


Michael’s path was quite different.


Michael moved to Berkeley’s Elmwood district in 1985, after studying Computer Science at the University of Iowa. His first job with The Good Guys lasted 15 years. Fast forward to 2013. After ending his Toys R Us job on the East Coast, Michael did advisory, board and consulting work with several tech firms and retailers.


In 2019, he took the entrepreneurial plunge and launched Evolv AI, where he’s been CEO and Co-founder ever since. The company now has more than 40 employees across the U.S. and Europe and serves a number of well-recognized customers in retail, telecommunications, media and financial services.


Michael loves hiking in the Bay Area hills. Neither he nor Andrea tire of the “amazing array of architecture, wonderful parks and gardens, friendly neighbors, and the Berkeley Pathways that make roaming convenient.” He also enjoys cooking, exploring cuisines from throughout the world, fine wines and supporting Andrea’s creative endeavors.


The couple enjoy membership in a number of local organizations, including the Hillside Club (founded in the late 1800s, as well as the Berkeley Historical Society and Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association. Michael recently helped launch a new non-profit, Berkeley Historic Building Fund, to help preserve and restore historic buildings in Berkeley, including the Hillside Club clubhouse.


The Senger House


“The Hillside Club Is a wonderful place to connect with others who love the history of our neighborhood and the people who influenced the architecture here —such as Bernard Maybeck, who was an original club member and who designed the original clubhouse in 1905. The club hosts public talks and concerts as well.


“It’s a modest place with a huge soul,” the couple agrees, noting that Michael is looking forward to serving on the board beginning in June.


As for neighbors, Andrea and Michael say “our neighbors are absolutely wonderful. We are a tight knit community, each family with its own interesting life experiences, activities and contributions to the neighborhood.”


“Between all of us neighbors,” the couple continues, “there is such a range—ducks, honeybees, opera, art, gardening, hiking, dog walking, teaching and, best of all, a general sense of goodwill!”


A Most Innovative Public Art Gallery


Andrea is the curator for Art & Lit, the name of the couple’s tiny art gallery mentioned above. “Every three weeks I show a different artist’s work in the little gallery, often shrunk down to accommodate the 3-inch-high space,” says Andrea. “I mostly show local artists’ work, although several neighbors have allowed me to include their art as well. Although I maintain the gallery, it really feels like a group project!


The gallery openings sometimes include celebrations with the artists, neighbors and friends, not to mention plenty of lemonade, cookies and wine. Every now and then a musician or an “excellent baker” show up, along with “our wonderful artists talking about their work. These modest gatherings can be really fun for us and draw the community together,” adds Andrea.


Challenges overcome


In 2018, Andrea tripped while walking in Los Altos and sustained a “mild” concussion that resulted in more than a year of in-home cognitive therapy, incredible personal effort and family support in order for her to converse, take walks and start to feel like herself again.


She has mostly recovered, but some effects remain. Her memory is no longer sharp. She no longer drives or cooks. That said, her beautiful family quickly adjusted. She is responsible for jobs that require less cognitive stamina, such as gardening, maintaining the house and property. Others take care of the rest. “Having everything I need within walking distance has been important to me,” says Andrea. “As challenging as that injury was, we have found a life in which I hardly notice my limitations.”

Resident


Nadia

The Scharff's have a very quiet Russian Blue cat named Nadia, who spends most of her time in the library upstairs. Welcomed into their home as a five-year-old from an Oakland animal shelter three years ago, Nadia came with some old paw and shoulder injuries that limit her ability to climb or scratch, “making her well-suited to a house full of antique walls and furniture."


The Senger House

In January 2020, Andrea and Michael purchased The Senger House. Located around the corner from the Berkeley Rose Garden and Codornices Park, a few blocks from the original Peet’s, near a wide variety of restaurants and shops. It was the house itself that “sold” them.


Long time fans of Arts and Crafts style, and always admiring Maybeck homes as well as those by Julia Morgan and others, they never dreamed of someday owning one. “Buying this home was definitely an unexpected surprise and quite a journey,” Andrea and Michael explain, but they wouldn’t trade it for the world!


“This house has so much beautiful space, both indoors and out,” they continue. “We are lucky to have an actual barn (also built in 1907) for all our outdoor entertaining, art, workshop and gardening needs, and big redwood trees to give us the sense of living in a forest.”


The indoor spaces are filled with details such as redwood paneling, carved wood, hammered brass, detailed plaster fireplace, gold wall and ceiling treatments, unique light fixtures and so much more. “We never get tired of looking around us and absorbing the beauty.”


Intriguing discoveries

The couple discovered cardboard boxes stuffed with original curtains and tapestries in the basement. On the adjoining lot, which had a 1905 home until about 1940, they’ve unearthed wagon wheels, bottles and at least 100 tiles located near the foundation of the now-fallen garage.


Andrea’s college studies have become foundational as they continue to uncover mysteries about their home and property. Understanding the history of their home is a shared passion and mission for them.


“Senger was one of the founders of the Sierra Club, along with John Muir and a few others,” Andrea says.


“We hired landscape architect Hugo Larman to design one area of the yard with native plants in their honor, and another in keeping with the style of the Arts & Crafts movement, which was about rather naturalistic cottage gardens (ala Gertrude Jekyll).”

“We’ve devoted considerable effort to research the history of the home and Professor Senger,” continues Andrea, "using a number of local sources, including the UC Berkeley Environment Design Archives (the home of Maybeck’s records), UC Berkeley Bancroft Library (Sierra Club files and numerous architecture-related records), Berkeley Historical Society, Berkeley Architectural Heritage Association, and many local friends with a passion for history and Arts and Crafts. The fruits of our research efforts have led us to create a website about the home to share what we’ve learned.”


Andrea and Michael’s talented 21-year-old son, Gabriel, maintains the family websites: Sengerhouse.com and BayView-ArtandLit.com. We encourage you to check these out!


In February of this year, Andrea and Michael traveled to the 36th Annual Arts & Crafts Conference and Shows in Asheville, North Carolina, “to connect with people from around the U.S. who know so much more than we do about this era. One of the speakers, Dianne Ayres, even shared information about some of the tapestries and curtains that we found in our basement!”


A message to sponsors and neighbors “Thank you to the sponsors who make this magazine possible,” say Andrea and Michael. “We have enjoyed learning about more of our Berkeley Hills neighbors.”


To neighbors, they are quick to add: “Feel free to come on by and say hi—we love meeting new neighbors!”

And to Andrea and Michael, Berkeley Hills Living says thank you for granting us a peek into your most interesting lives, passions and home architecture!


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