What It’s Like to Live in a Eichler “California Modern” Dream House

published Oct 17, 2016
We independently select these products—if you buy from one of our links, we may earn a commission. All prices were accurate at the time of publishing.
Post Image
(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

We toured Hope and Pete’s home a few years ago, and it instantly became a favorite house tour of mine. The couple’s style is breezy, bohemian and effortless — the kind of adjectives I aim for in my own home’s decor. But I also loved their house tour because they live in a mid-century (dream-to-me) home built in 1956 by famed real estate developer Joseph Eichler. Though they’re not exactly rare (some estimate there are 11,000 Eichler houses), they’re anything but conventional. I’ve always loved Eichler houses, and Hope and Pete’s house tour gave a great idea of what living one looks like. But I wanted to know what it’s like to actually live in one. Hope happily answered.

Hope, who is behind the extremely hip and stylish San Francisco boutique, Marmalade, writes: “This is one of the originals built by Joseph Eichler. The rumor around our neighborhood (which is an Eichler community) is that when you bought one of these homes back in the ’60s, if you didn’t like your neighbors, Joe would buy your house back from you. Another fun rumor is that if you diverted from his original paint color schemes (house and trim), you could no longer call your house an Eichler. …What you see is pretty much all original. We bought the house from the original owner and haven’t gotten around to doing any upgrades.”

(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

How’d you become the owner of an Eichler house?

Before we bought the house, we were living at the beach in San Francisco and were getting really tired of the cold, foggy summers. Then one day we got invited to the home of a new friend who lived in the neighborhood that we live in now and that changed everything for us.

We were only 20 minutes north of the Golden Gate bridge but it felt like we had been transported to Southern California. The weather was literally 30 degrees warmer than it was in the city (micro-climates are a very real thing in the Bay Area!), and their house was so open and airy it was hard to tell where the inside ended and the outside began.

(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Gorgeous, natural light was flooding in from every window, the rooms were huge and the floor plan was so open and accommodating. Even the landscape was different — succulents and palm trees added to the Palm Springs vibe. So when we got back to the city that evening we began reading up on Eichlers and stalking the MLS — we found our house a few months later and are now just a block away from that friend! …When friends come to visit now, it’s fun to watch them have the same reaction that we had the first time we were in an Eichler.

Who was Joseph Eichler?

Real estate developer Joseph Eichler didn’t invent mid-century modern design, but he sure made it accessible, particularly in California, where he developed residential subdivisions of mid-century modern style affordable houses. Inspired by modern greats like Frank Lloyd Wright, he hired talented architects to design the houses. Eichlers are known for their open floor plans, distinctive roofs, atriums, giant glass window walls and tons of natural light. They’re a wonderful example of “California Modernism.”

Favorite architectural feature:

The atrium is probably our most favorite architectural feature. In addition to the front door, there are three different rooms that open up to it via sliding glass doors, and it’s an unexpected surprise to open the front door of a house and find yourself right back outside again. It’s like having a mini backyard in the middle of your house.

(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Least favorite architectural feature:

Probably the radiant heating in the floors…it takes hours to actually heat the house and it never really feels that warm unless we have a fire lit. Fortunately California winters are pretty mild.

How they worked with the house’s distinctive style:

We haven’t done any upgrades or restoration, but fortunately between the two of us we have a pretty good ability to camouflage the flaws and highlight the features. Our style before we moved in wasn’t mid-century at all, but we felt it was important to honor the period of the house and keep with the mid-century architectural vibe, so we bought (and built) some new furniture that fit the period and mixed it with our eclectic, global-inspired textiles and art to create a nice balance that hopefully feels warm and welcoming while still staying true to the era of the house.

(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

The downside to living in an Eichler:

We’re very lucky to be surrounded by amazing neighbors, but the funky thing about Eichlers is that there are no windows in the front of the houses — so it can often feel like you’re living in a fortress and you really have to make an effort to get to know your neighbors. It can be a bit isolating sometimes. Our neighbors organize a twice yearly block party and have these super fun progressive dinner parties so that’s fun and it keeps us all connected!

The secrets these glass walls must hold…

We met four of the five kids of the original owners, who grew up in this house and are now in their fifties, and they told us stories of how the two oldest fought over who got the front bedroom because it had a sliding glass door that lead out to the atrium, and they could shimmy up the roof and sneak out at night!

(Image credit: Kim Lucian)

Advice for living in a home with distinctive (or even famous!) architecture:

I would say try to understand the architect’s vision and find a way to blend his or her initial plans for the space with your own taste and style so the house feels authentic to you both.

Be flexible with your ideas and be open to design and decor that may be out of your comfort zone or what you’d typically gravitate to.