Designers bring global touch to local spaces

  • Jessica Kahn Wichmann and Efraim Wichmann are the architectural and interior design team of Zeitgeist Sonoma.

    (Christopher Chung/ The Press Democrat)

In their younger years, designers Jessica and Efraim Wichmann explored the world, from Morocco to India. They became temporary locals, studying not only the architecture and aesthetics of each place, but carefully observing how their homes and buildings and communities reflected how people lived. They noticed details, like how desert-dwellers had sleeping roofs to survive the nights and thick, mud-brick homes with tiny windows to survive the heat of the day.

That experience informed their consciousness about design and gave them a strong commitment to incorporating a sense of time, place and culture into the environments they create for clients.

What works in the North African desert or a crowded city in India doesn't necessarily make sense in the temperate North Bay, with its small towns and open spaces.

Zeitgeist Sonoma Home


The Wichmanns, who met in their 20s on an Israeli kibbutz, are the design team behind the Zeitgeist Sonoma design firm. For the German-born Efraim, the name was a natural. They both believe the word, defined by Merriam-Webster as "the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era," perfectly encapsulates what they strive to bring to each project.

They work out of a home office in a neatly functional converted garage behind their home. They've adapted the 1880s cottage near downtown Santa Rosa to their casual lifestyle, one that must incorporate the needs of two kids, ages 10 and 13, and two dogs.

The blue-gray house, with its stark white gingerbread trim and red door leading into a porch room they enclosed years ago to keep their toddler from running into the street, makes a strong statement.

Each brings individual skills that enable them to offer full design services. Efraim has a degree in architecture from Temple University in Philadelphia; Jessica has a bachelor of fine arts degree in art history and photography from the University of Colorado at Boulder and a master's degree in interior design from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

It was a pilgrimage to Chandigarh, a modernist masterpiece of a city in India designed by the great Swiss-French architect and urban designer le Corbusier as a "symbol of the nation's faith in the future," that planted the seed for their down-to-earth approach to design.

They found it a beautifully designed city that was completely out of place and context.

"It was spread out, which is great for the automobile, but for the rickshaws isn't so great," said Jessica. "And they had these reflective pools that would be great to add moisture to the air but they had to drain them because they attracted mosquitoes."

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