Obviously by now everyone knows I am an architectural junkie. I am a huge fan of the 50’s especially during the Mid-Century boom, sometimes known as the golden age of design and architecture. It was a time when people started to break away from the more conventional design principles and started doing things more daring. If you don’t know what Mid-Century Modernism is, the best way to explain it is to look at 2 very big companies. The first is Ikea, the home furnishing store. Their ideas in design are based on this era. The second is actually Apple. A lot of Apple and Ikea designs are based on the emphasis of the modern aspect of this era. It just so happens I am huge fan of both companies, and it has a lot to do with their designs. One of the agents in my office, Anthony Vasquez came across this house and knew that I loved these kinds of homes. When this property came across my desk I knew right away who built the house and who designed it. Throughout the 1950’s and 1960’s there were a select tract of homes throughout Southern California that were being developed by Joseph Eichler. His vision was to build these homes based on the designs of Quincy A. Jones and Frederick E. Emmons. The idea behind these homes was to have open concepts with large glass windows and sliders with post and beam construction. The vision was to inspire open thinking and for people to explore the world around them by bringing the outside in. Another aspect behind these homes was that they can be built with readily available materials at that time. You have to imagine after the second world war there was a surplus of material such as plywood and steel. It was a perfect storm for this era to grow into an iconic period of society. You had people who wanted to forget the war just happened and to do that you had to usher in a new era of forward thinking and designing. (Enough with the history lesson. I get carried away sometimes. I actually made a whole post about Eichler Homes, which can be found here.) I was very intrigued by this home, so we set up a showing because I had to see how much of the original features were still intact. On our way to the house we drove through the neighborhood to get an idea of what these homes looked like. When we pulled up I could immediately see that there was something missing.
This particular track of homes all had an open outdoor atrium you would walk through before actually getting inside the house. When you first walk into this particular home you stepped right into a tiled living area. It was very big, but I knew it was not correct. To the right was the dining room and kitchen. Straight ahead was the living room and to the left was the bedroom and bathrooms. I walked the house for close to an hour so I could envision what this place looked over 50 years ago. I could see that at some point one of owners removed all the glass from the atrium and actually poured new concrete to bring the old atrium up to floor level. They also patched over the roof where the opening use to be and put in sun lights instead.
The kitchen was dated and I could tell it was remodeled at some point but definitely not era specific. Same with the tile throughout the house and the carpet in the living area. To the untrained eye, one could not fathom the amount of work required to get this place back to how it should look. I spent many hours trying to come up with a budget on this place and I will be honest there were a lot of variables that I could not accurately project. The biggest of all was to bring the atrium back. After a long discussion with Tina and going over the numbers we felt we could take this project on and make a profit. I have to admit that I was very excited to get to work on an Eichler.
Once we closed escrow I went to work immediately. We wanted to take on the biggest challenge first and again, that was the atrium. I brought the demo crew in to remove all the tile from all the floors, and I had them jack hammer the atrium floors. I had to get that level lower than the rest of the house and I had to find the drain that would lead all the water outside for when it rains. Believe it or not, an exterior run off drain is one of the most important things to have when dealing with a multi level area. Without one the lower area would flood every time it rained. If we didn’t have a drain we would need to trench one from the atrium to the exterior of the house and this would cost $3000-$4000. I had my fingers crossed that day. Luckily for us, my crew was able to locate the drain after the demo and when they tested it, it appeared to be in perfect working condition. First disaster averted!
Tina and I walked this house after the demo was done and I started looking over the floor. It was a concrete slab that went through out the house. I have always been a big fan of polished concrete in homes. You see them in a lot of commercial businesses and even in some higher end offices, but you rarely see them in a home. I wanted to bring that look and feel to the house. It would meld perfectly with the open concept and all the glass that would be surrounding the house. So we made the call to a local vendor to get a bid. They came in and gave us a fair price so I gave them the approval and they knocked it out in 4 days. It was more than what we would regularly do, but I believe the result is worth the cost.
Now we had to design the kitchen since we changed the lay out completely. Is was easy since we now had a blank slate to work with. Tina was extra excited because she loves doing large kitchens. She had it planned all along that we were going to do a water fall style kitchen island that would be able to entertain and act as a dining table. We also wanted to go ultra modern with cabinets so we decided on a flat panel style kitchen with a wood look veneer.
With the color choices we knew we had to bring in some bold statements to make the kitchen really pop. For the backsplash we went with a dark blue square patterned texture tile. Very hard to find by the way but Tina knew exactly where to go. On the side of the wall that featured the upper wall cabinets I didn’t like the idea of going with the same style base cabinets. I wanted to bring more of a 1950’s element to the kitchen.
On one of our trips to Modernism week out in Palm Springs I would see a lot of furniture that had sliding doors that revealed when slid back and forth. I wanted to something with that effect, but with a modern flair. I pitched Tina the idea and she loved it. She also added that we should do a bold color veneer on the doors so there would be more color in the kitchen. After some research she found a place that sells just what we were looking for. We went with a dark blue and a gold veneer to bring out the blue back splash and the wood grains of the base cabinets. Once we got the design figured out I went to work building these cabinets. I had never built anything like this. Our usual custom build cabinets are doors that swing open like a door. This design required them to slide open on both sides. After some trial and error, I figured out how to make the slot where the doors would sit and we made it so is would slide back and forth easily.
Next we had to put our focus on the bathrooms. We knew we wanted to go with several shades of white for the walls and ceiling for most of the house so that we can add bright colors to make everything pop. We did the same for the bathrooms. In the master we went with the same type of tile in the kitchen but instead of dark blue we went with teal. In the hall bath we did the same thing but with an orange. With the straight lines of the tile pattern and the layout we chose it brought everything together.
We were pretty much done with the interior at this point but I felt something was missing. I honestly couldn’t figure it out but Tina went through our photos when we visited the Desert during Modernism week and she saw that a few of the homes had a lauan accent wall. The true Eichler purist of these MCM homes would have caught it right away. The problem is we didn’t really have any walls to spare. In the kitchen we had cabinets on all the walls and to be honest we really liked the white. Tina came up with an awesome idea. She decided to do it on the partition wall in the master bedroom separating the room from the closet area. This was just the right amount of wall space to give the room some life without over doing it.
The next big project was installing all the tempered glass surrounding the atrium. I was very nervous when they were doing the installation but the guys we hired from WMB Glass were very good at what they do. The last big item we had to complete was the gas fire pit. You can’t have an indoor outdoor living style house without a conversation fire pit. When they were forming the concrete pads for the atrium I had my plumber run a gas line to a spot where I knew I wanted the fire pit. Personally I have never done one so I did a little research and learned that it was not that hard. All we had to do was form 3 separate layers at 3 different times. Once we formed the base we waited for it to cure. Then we added another layer and repeated. Once the last layer of concrete cured we just removed the forms and “Tada!” a fully functional gas fire pit.
Now, we were done on the inside. All we had left was to install a flat panel garage door to match with the era and add some landscape to brighten up the front. At this point I handed it off to the my designer savant Tina. She told me she felt added pressure on this one because we had to make everything look authentic as possible. There are a lot of critics out there, especially with mid century modern homes. There is a certain look to them that boarders modern and natural. It is easy to overdo it on the modern side of it. You can spend a whole day at “Ikea” or “Scandinavian Designs” and go on a shopping binge, but you would not get it 100 percent right. We had to dig deep on this one and we made a bunch of phone calls. We finally found a place in Highland Park called “The Hunt Vintage”. They specialize in custom vintage mid century furniture. We set up an appointment to meet at the store with the owner. When we got there it was like a blast into the past. I was like a kid in a candy store. I wanted to buy everything! After walking the place with the owner we knew we found the place. He was very intrigued by the show and he wanted to help us out. It was pretty clear that we did not have the budget to buy enough furniture to furnish the entire house so he decided to lend the furniture to us. This was so elating to hear. After all the added expenses we finally caught a break. Whooo Hooo! All we had to pay for was the delivery fee and that was it. We were able to really deck this place out with true Mid Century furniture. On staging day we as a family had a lot of fun. Our boys Carter and Mason were able to join Mom and Dad to complete the house. It is always nice to be able to spend time with the family while working. It is the one true benefit as a business owner that Tina and I can say all the hard work pays off in moments like this. Once we were done we ordered pizza and just sat around the kitchen island and had dinner. A well deserved treat for the hardest working family on HGTV! J
The term “Eichler” has become practically synonymous with Mid-century Modern houses in California. More than 11,000 Eichler houses were built in California between the late 1940s and mid-1960s, with the highest concentration in Northern California. But here in Southern California, Eichler neighborhoods in such cities as Orange and Granada Hills are still hot properties for folks who like sleek, modern design.
The name “Eichler” actually derives from the developer, Joseph Eichler, a businessman whose architectural aesthetic was said to be inspired by living in a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house. After World War II, returning soldiers and the following baby boom increased the demand for middleclass housing. Eichler’s houses contrasted with most of the other tract houses going up during that era—usually boxy traditional or ranch-style houses. The modern houses simply became known as “Eichlers” because of their unique architecture.
Eichlers are best known for blurring the lines between indoor and outdoor living. Floor-to-ceiling windows and sliding glass doors all but make walls invisible and flood houses with natural light. The floor plans are typically U-shaped, forming an open-air atrium in the center of the home. The genius of the houses’ layouts is that despite all the large windows, there are few if any windows in the front so it’s completely private from the street.
So what are the characteristics of Eichler houses and why are they so different? Here’s a brief list of some of the most notable Eichler features.