Shoutout To All My Eichler Homies
September 6, 2009 3:05 PM   Subscribe

Eichler homes! Most Eichlers are located in northern California, but you can find a few developments in the southland. People restore and renovate their Eichlers, write magazine articles about them, and take lots of photos of them. Even Mr. Incredible owned an Eichler. But owning an Eichler is not for everyone. Want to buy an Eichler? Join the Eichler Network or tour an open house.
posted by mattdidthat (35 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's Request -- frimble

Yeah. I like to walk around naked. Not for me.
posted by orthogonality at 3:07 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I lived in a nice, "quaint," cranky, constantly-something-going-wrong-with-it Eichler in south Palo Alto for about three years. This was back when you (meaning someone not independently wealthy) could actually afford to buy one. The list prices on them now make me want to vomit.
posted by blucevalo at 3:15 PM on September 6, 2009

Oops, actually, those list prices are somewhat out of date. But probably still not that out of date.
posted by blucevalo at 3:16 PM on September 6, 2009

God, I've wanted one of these for so long. The courtyards in the center of the home. The vaulted ceilings. The concrete floors. I've lusted over many an Eichler in the pages of Dwell or Atomic Home.

I've even considered buying the design-ripoff equivalent Rummer homes up here in the Pacific Northwest, but there aren't any where I'd like to live.
posted by mathowie at 3:17 PM on September 6, 2009

see also Atomic Ranch.
posted by leotrotsky at 3:23 PM on September 6, 2009

You know, I've always just kind of tagged these as Usonian-esque. Thanks for the nuance.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 3:23 PM on September 6, 2009

I ❤ EICHLERS LIKE YOU WOULDN'T BELIEVE. I also love walking around my house naked. I see no difficulty reconciling the two. WIN/WIN.
posted by numinous at 3:30 PM on September 6, 2009

Growing up in Sunnyvale, I was so jealous of my friends who lived in Eichlers. I know that floorplan as well as my own childhood home.
posted by queensissy at 3:35 PM on September 6, 2009

We've moved into an "Atomic Ranch" house here in Seattle, that we've renovated. That house just needs some work. The ceiling in that "not for everyone" house is soooo beautiful.

The owner is whiney.
posted by Windopaene at 3:51 PM on September 6, 2009

It's not like there's been a revolution in sound building/plumbing techniques in the last three decades. Why weren't these buildings constructed in a sound fashion? It's a complaint you hear about Frank Lloyd Wright buildings a lot, too. Why is interesting architecture seemingly limited in its useful lifespan, for practical rather than aesthetic reasons?

Or is it just that the Sarah-plain-and-tall homes also fall apart at the same rate, but no one writes articles or forms appreciation societies about them?
posted by fatbird at 4:03 PM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

I just did some Sunday housecleaning and was pretty happy with the place, then I looked at this. My house looks like crap again. Thanks.
posted by patrick rhett at 4:06 PM on September 6, 2009

Or is it just that the Sarah-plain-and-tall homes also fall apart at the same rate, but no one writes articles or forms appreciation societies about them?

I have a friend who is a big fan of modern houses and is also in the construction industry. While I can't speak for specific homes his take on this matter seems to stem from the poor quality of materials available at the time and the innovation in architecture being so different from conventional homes that problems and things you learn from experience are simply not there. Note how she talks about the R value of her walls being around 1 while today they dictate an R value of 15+. There have been significant advances in energy efficient glass panes in the last 50 years, even in the last 10 years, especially in a highly regulated market like California. Some walls were completely glass and you can see how this compounds the problems in keeping things up to date. It is expensive to replace the windows in a traditional home, imagine the cost if they were specially designed and took up a whole wall.

So not only are you starting off from a bad point, from an on going maintenance perspective the expenses are so great that you often don't replace as you should, compounding the problem. Also note that everything in these homes is probably custom. That in the wall spice rack isn't bought from Home Depot and you in turn lose a lot of the quality controls that go into mass production objects.

So your problem is really two-fold, the construction was probably bad to start out with in the beginning due to the new materials and techniques, along with everything being custom-made and as a result of this things are so expensive to maintain they often aren't and the home is shockingly "poorly made" when really not a lot has been done to it in the past 50 years.
posted by geoff. at 4:24 PM on September 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

Or is it just that the Sarah-plain-and-tall homes also fall apart at the same rate, but no one writes articles or forms appreciation societies about them?

I think that Wright used some experimental techniques in a number of his buildings - or his designs required them at least - and the result is less rugged than boring old brick and mortar.

(I may be totally remembering this wrong tho)
posted by device55 at 4:36 PM on September 6, 2009

Little Eichlers.
posted by DU at 5:00 PM on September 6, 2009 [4 favorites]

I bought an Eichler in Sunnyvale last year, and have been fixing it up ever since. I can walk around naked all I want as long as none of my neighbors are standing on their roofs. Besides, I look good naked.

The construction techniques varied greatly over time. My house is one of the later ones, so it has insulation. That was an optional add-on in these houses, though! It's pretty bad in terms of energy efficiency. The original tar-and-gravel roofs offer almost no insulation, but new foam roofs are pretty good. The only really shoddy construction I've noticed is there's an interior wall that had siding but no drywall behind it, and that the original sliding doors were pretty crappy and are all broken in one way or another. The ceiling is tongue-and-groove redwood, which sounds nice, but you can actually see to the outside in the vee groove where the boards meet.

The maintenance of these houses is more difficult and expensive that a typical new home. For example, some of my neighbors' exposed beams are rotting because they didn't take care of them properly. It's more work because you really have to stay on top of things like that.

@mattdidthat: That sink is awesome, but it costs around $8000.

If you live in the Bay Area and are interested in these, you should go on the annual Eichler Tour in the San Mateo highlands. There are some really stunning houses, some freaking bizarre places, and you can see an almost original house too (spoiler: interior design tastes have changed for the better).

There's a ton more good stuff online about Eichlers, but Redneck Modern is the most fun blog on the topic.
posted by jewzilla at 5:14 PM on September 6, 2009

Wow -- I grew up in Foster City (NorCal), and although we never lived in an Eichler, I had plenty of friends who did (and a few whose parents still do) -- Foster City is a planned community, and I thnk in the early phases of construction, every fourth or fifth home was an Eichler. There is no way I'd live in one, but that may be a bias against the mid 60's/early 70's vintage I am familiar with. The Eichler's of my youth were uninsulated walls-on-a-slab homes. They had a little character, but the tradeoff seemed to be homes that did not heat well or were particularly comfortable. They always reminded me of the worst elements of Scandinavian design: modern for the sake of being modern, but not necessarily any more comfortable or inviting than more traditional homes. /my .02 cents
posted by mosk at 5:27 PM on September 6, 2009

Or is it just that the Sarah-plain-and-tall homes also fall apart at the same rate, but no one writes articles or forms appreciation societies about them?

Can't speak to these, but I know in New Zealand the last 20 - 25 years worth of housing are turning to shit at an astonishing rate (Google "leaky homes New Zealand". I live in a 1920s/30s home with a 1980s extension; the 20s/30s portion is still sound as you'd like and has its original Kauri weatherboards. The 80s bit has required extensive work - one whole section of bettens and weatherboards turned out to have rotted and need replacing, for example, due to bad sealing.

I would happily buy homes built through to the 1970s, I wouldn't touch an 80s or later home in New Zealand with a shitty stick.
posted by rodgerd at 5:33 PM on September 6, 2009

I love Eichler houses. Phoenix had a few Eichler-wannabes, most notable Ralph Haver. Not nearly as sexy as Eichler, but pretty cool when renovated: see a list of neighborhoods here.
posted by mullacc at 6:10 PM on September 6, 2009

These homes are a great example of how pernicious bad ideas are. I say this based on an unfortunate and ultimately losing battle with a home with a tar-and-gravel roof. Also: I can't look at those atria without thinking of that episode of Weeds where Celia blows up at Whatshisname over the awful, arid, useless space that is their Agrestic atrium.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 6:12 PM on September 6, 2009

Wow. I never really understood how regional house design is until I started clicking around on these images. Not only is my New England sense of sturdiness and insulation offended, but my inner-Puritan is worried about what the neighbors would think. I'm really curious what Norm Abraham would think.
posted by ifandonlyif at 7:14 PM on September 6, 2009

Curse you beer! Norm Abram. Norm Abram!
posted by ifandonlyif at 7:15 PM on September 6, 2009

An internet friend of mine has an Eichler home for sale-she's in California.....if anyone is interested I'll PM her for details and exact location...
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 8:03 PM on September 6, 2009

I was reading something about these Eichlers, recently... Ahh, yes: here it is.

Plumbing and electrical on the roof sounds awesome!
posted by ladd at 8:47 PM on September 6, 2009

I would love a modern home, but I would prefer a more modern Modern home, like some of the ones at FabPreFab.
posted by infinitewindow at 9:20 PM on September 6, 2009 [1 favorite]

I looked at some when we were house-hunting in the Valley and they were sort of meh-tastic. Architecturally, amazing. Typically a little on the small side for a family, although in theory there were enough rooms. But there's very few places to put bookshelves. The center atrium was nice, but not very versatile as a room - it made a poor playroom or guest room, what with all the glass and all. Not much kitchen space. And yes, poorly insulated.

If you're just a married couple, it would probably be an awesome home. With two medium-sized kids, not so much. But gorgeous houses.
posted by GuyZero at 9:44 PM on September 6, 2009

Atriums seem useless at first, but with a retractable cover, it's a great way to enjoy the nice weather we have 8 months out of the year. Add some comfy recliners and you have the best room in the house for reading or using a laptop.
posted by jewzilla at 10:48 PM on September 6, 2009


If it really were the thought that counts, Eichlers would be great: courtyards, high windows that let in light while preserving privacy, in-floor radiant heat, etc., however they were mostly hastily built and aging extremely poorly. I think many of the modern building codes are reactions to how badly Eichlers were built.

Unless you've put more money into renovating one than scraping it and building a nice Craftsman, it's falling apart and leaks energy like a wet paper bag. They didn't come with any insulation. The original in-floor piping for radiant heat has invariably corroded and now leaks, because the original builders didn't separate the copper from the steel reinforcements, and galvanic corrosion took it from there. To fix it right, you need to rip up and replace your (concrete slab) foundation. Those high windows that let in light? They also let out your heat, because they're extremely ordinary single-pane glass (no low-E, no coatings, R-0.18). But they're not really any worse than the ceiling+roof, which is a layer of boards, tar paper and gravel. Maybe it's not so bad that the heating system doesn't work, so there's no heat to lose in the first place.

Also, the electric and plumbing were barely adequate for the '50s, and the wiring that was originally installed in the roof (yes, IN the roof, like embedded under the tar paper) has long since become a fire hazard, if not completely unusable. No big deal, just pull new wire in the conduit. Wait, there isn't any conduit. They just stapled down some cable under strips of metal which came off the first time you replaced the leaky tar paper and gravel roof.

Maybe you should install some conduit and plumbing while you have your foundation ripped out to make the heat work again. Huh, or maybe you should just start over with a real house.

Also, Ugly. (Disclaimer: I grew up in an Eichler knockoff in the Pacific Northwest, many of my close friends own Eichlers, and now I can't afford an Eichler in Palo Alto.)
posted by Hello Dad, I'm in Jail at 11:39 PM on September 6, 2009 [2 favorites]

There is an offshoot of the Eichler designs that is prevalent in the Sacramento/Davis area: the Streng house (the Streng Brothers were a local developer). These houses tended to have large carports in the front.

And we had family friends in Palo Alto some years ago who had an Eichler that I have fond memories of. The bedrooms were pretty tiny (though adequate at the time for a family of five), but I liked the galley kitchen and there was a little den area near the front of the house where our friends had installed a number of recessed aquariums into the wall. Very space-age martini-land. Fittingly, the father worked at the nearby NASA Ames Research Center. After they moved out, unfortunately, the house was left unmaintained and there was significant water damage/rot on the nearly-flat roof.
posted by foonly at 12:37 AM on September 7, 2009

Retractable cover - jewzilla, you are brilliant. Would this also help with the security issue? I seem to recall people complaining about that problem as well. There's a door with no top frame that goes into the atrium, and once you scale that, there are just plate glass doors barring your entry. Not a big challenge. I guess some of the later models corrected that, but I remember this being a problem.
posted by queensissy at 12:53 AM on September 7, 2009

This 'modernist', architectural aesthetic combined with the owner's sense of near-minimal interior decoration appeals more to my sensibilities than than any ostentatious 'Cribs'-style mansion.
posted by Unwiseone at 2:29 AM on September 7, 2009

Ahh, the Eichler.... The open design with a courtyard in the middle is a perfect design to make a fire spread quickly and burn hotly. So if you are looking at one of these lovely houses, please bear this in mind....
posted by Jinx of the 2nd Law at 8:36 AM on September 7, 2009

I don't worry much about security. If someone wants to break in badly enough to climb to the roof, there's not much you can do to stop them. That notwithstanding, security film can make windows very hard to break through.
posted by jewzilla at 9:12 AM on September 7, 2009

I grew up in an Eichler. My father bought one from Eichler's son.

The open architecture, with big windows facing a large backyard are great. And waking up and putting your bare feet onto a heated floor is wonderful on a cold morning (and cats just love heated floors--complete bliss!)

But let me tell you, learning to walk in a house with concrete floors is not fun! I lost a large number of brain cells from hard face-plants.
posted by eye of newt at 10:09 AM on September 7, 2009

Eichler yes, but let's not forget the great Lustron home, another great, post WW2, small production home
posted by lometogo at 8:34 PM on September 7, 2009

Also, one Eicher I saw had wooden walls. Again, beautiful, but completely un-repairable. There was simply no way to hang a mirror or a picture without permanent damage. Plus you better like that shade of brown a lot.
posted by GuyZero at 10:05 PM on September 7, 2009

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