Architectural Profile: Eichler Style Homes

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In my newest architectural profile we will delve into the history and key aspects of the popular California home style: Mid-Century Modern Eichler.

Joseph Eichler was a builder with a dream. A strong proponent of fair housing, he wanted to bring modern design to middle-class homeowners. Eichler became a suburban developer after World World II. He left the dairy distribution business that his in-laws owned and went after his dream. Intrigued by modern design, Eichler lived for two years in a Hillsborough, California home designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright. It was then that he became intrigued with Wright’s designs, and he decided to design his own in postwar residential subdivisions so that the middle class could benefit from Frank Lloyd Wright’s artistry. Eichler wanted to make his homes affordable in a time when racial housing discrimination was practiced. He wanted to sell a home to anyone who wanted to buy one. His company Eichler Homes, Inc. built almost 11,000 single-family homes in California from 1950 to his death in 1974, particularly Northern and Southern California. Eichler is credited with building 10,000 homes in the Bay Area alone—including 2,700 in Palo Alto, 1,100 in Sunnyvale, 900 in San Mateo, another 275 in Mountain View, and many others in San Jose, Cupertino, the East Bay, and Marin County.

Decades later, Eichler homes continue to impress with their modernity on both their exteriors and interiors.

Here are the key design features that define modern, Eichler architecture and design:

Eichler style homes have a signature feature of running materials both inside and out to reinforce the idea that house and site are in fact extensions of one another. An example of this is using brick for a fireplace.

Indoor-outdoor living was a key component to Eichler’s house design visions. He was passionate about connecting with nature, especially at home. Eichler’s signature atrium is a fine example of this. Not all his homes have atriums, but most do. They can be accessed usually through the indoor living space, using wall-to-wall glass as mere separations from indoor and outdoor. In a renovation of a Northern California Eichler home, the area that was formerly the atrium was transformed into the dining room, creating an open, airy, and light space.

Overhanging eaves help to prevent overheating the home in the summer by blocking out high sun angles.

It’s no secret that Eichler loved the light shining in. With soaring floor-to-ceiling windows and skylights, his homes emphasize boldness and optimism, with virtually no smaller windows in the homes. The lucky residents of his designs don’t have to suffer from lack of privacy, though. The houses were smartly designed with the living spaces opening up to the rear, while garages often face the street. There’s also plenty of privacy with outdoor rooms and gardens, as well as solid panel entry doors and fences.

Radiant-heat floors are another Eichler signature component to most of his homes. The floor is heated by the circulation of hot water from a boiler through the slab on which the homes are built.

The layouts are often functional, practical and one-story, with dramatic vaulted ceilings. Homes typically have exposed beams, flat or low-slung gabled roofs, and are fitted with local materials, like redwood from Northern California.

Though Eichler’s homes were initially viewed as unconventional, the simplicity of these gorgeous, wood and glass designs quickly became an integral favorite. Owners enjoy letting natural beauty into their homes.