Monday, March 28, 2016

Mid-Century Modern March: Eichler Homes

What would a month-long mini-survey of Mid-Century style be without a look at Eichler homes? Contrary to popular assumption, Joseph Eichler was not an architect but a real estate developer. As a businessman, he was inspired to create modernist houses after his family spent a brief period of time living in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed home. He initially teamed up with the architect Robert Anshen of Anshen & Allen to design the initial Eichler prototypes in 1949. In later years, Eichler homes were designed by other architects like A. Quincy Jones and Raphael Soriano, and by firms including the San Francisco firm Claude Oakland & Associates. Between 1949 and 1966, Eichler Homes built over 11,000 homes in nine communities in Northern California and homes in three communities in Southern California.

The Eichler style came to be known as "California Modern" since one of the main goals in his home design was to bring the outside in, to blur the line between interior and exterior, and our mild California climate certainly allows for that concept. Flat or A-line roofs cap façades that are mostly solid; floor to ceiling windows are placed in the inner courtyard and the sides and rear of the home, taking advantage of grassy views instead of asphalt streets. The exposed post-and-beam, open plan homes featured a lot of design and material innovations at the time such as radiant heat embedded in poured concrete floors, tongue and groove siding on ceilings, pocket doors, and bespoke kitchen cabinetry that featured sliding fronts.

Nowadays, Eichlers are highly sought after. There are entire real estate network sites dedicated solely to Eichlers, and there are forums specifically for owners of Eichlers. Remodeling one can be a sensitive undertaking since the homes have not stood the test of time too well. The flat or A-line roofs tended to sag or rot. When the radiant heating coils failed in the flooring, few people wanted to jackhammer up the entire foundation to repair them. The thin, laminated cabinet doors in the kitchen tended to chip and crack. But a properly restored Eichler can be gorgeous. I recently consulted on an Eichler kitchen remodel and it is important to pay attention to period details like globe lighting hanging from the ceiling or mid-century modern sconces on the walls. Using period-correct details like Heath tiles for bathrooms will add an air of authenticity as well. And finally, a liberal peppering of Eames chairs and Saarinen Tulip tables and chairs provide the proper set dressing.

The classic Eichler design even showed up in Pixar's delightful animated film "The Incredibles!" Look at the screen shots below and notice the Eichler-esque façade, the roof line windows, the stacked stone, and the general Mid-Century vibe of the interior!

Happy designing!

No comments: