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.
One of the most quintessential architectural styles in Southern California has to be Spanish Colonial Revival—it’s perfect for the weather and the Spanish heritage we enjoy here. We see a lot of Spanish houses in our work and we love fixing them up and restoring them to the glory they deserve.
Spanish Colonial Revival first became popular in California around 1915 after the Panama-California Exposition in San Diego. After that, the style caught on like crazy and started to pop up all over California. It fit in perfectly with what was going on with architectural trends at the time—the revival of older and classic styles.
One of the big appeals of Spanish houses is how they blend indoors and outdoors. Homes often have large windows that flood rooms with natural sunlight. Some buildings—either residential or commercial—are even U-shaped to form an atrium area. There are several distinctive characteristics of Spanish Colonials so let’s take a look at some of the most popular.
Wrought iron is typically found both inside and outside Spanish houses, from decorative bars over the windows to railings to light fixtures. It’s a timeless element that lasts forever because of its durability. Wrought iron is used in more than just Spanish Colonial—you can find great examples in Craftsman architectural elements for instance—but it’s an easy way to convey that Spanish feeling.
There are multiple types of tiles found in Spanish homes, starting with the red tile roofs. Terracotta tiles are often found both inside and outside and usually come in a rich brownish red color. It’s used for almost all roofs and if you use it on the ground it’s a perfect way to extend indoor floors all the way outside without any seams.
Another classic element is hand-painted tiles that are typically found on stair risers. Often each step has a different pattern in complementary colors but that’s up to you. This is the perfect area to go wild with vibrant colors or crazy designs because these are accents rather than large focal points. But painted tiles aren’t just for stairs. They’re also found around fireplaces, in floors, kitchen back splashes—anywhere that could stand a little dose of color, really.
Doors, windows and room transitions are frequently arched and give the building a graceful look but they’re also really functional. Modern building standards and techniques are much more sturdy than they were centuries ago, but old school builders realized that arches were stronger than squared-off windows and doors. These days it’s more decorative than anything but arches still evoke old world charm.
Exposed, dark wood beams that span across ceilings typify Spanish style, especially in the common areas such as the living room.
A lot of older homes have little niches and alcoves for, say, a telephone and Spanish Colonials are no different. They’re versatile so the only limits are your imagination. Most people don’t have much use for telephone alcoves anymore, but smaller niches can store anything from knick-knacks to books to family photos. Some are even large enough to throw a pillow down and sit in.
Some doors are more ornate than others but the typical look is dark wood. This harkens back to when doors were handmade and carved with decorative elements. Bigger, fancier houses tended to have more details back in the day but now homeowners can have just about anything they want. Common accents usually include wrought iron rivets and hardware, especially for front doors, to make the look more authentic.
A lot of older homes have fireplaces, although improved heating systems make fireplaces less of a necessity and more of a decorative feature. Still, they top homeowner wish lists and make a great focal point. In Spanish-style houses, fireplaces are pretty versatile. They come in stucco, tile, brick, terracotta, wood mantles—you name it.
Typically, Spanish exteriors are stucco and usually in various shades of white, beige and cream, although recent years have seen creativity in house colors, such as terracottas, browns, yellows, pinks and grays. Add pops of color to trims and landscaping elements such as flowerpots and fountains.
When you work with old houses, you get used to the idea of finding beauty that can easily be overlooked. The key is to appreciate the one-of-kindness of things, which sometimes means loving flaws. The Japanese word kintsugi originally referred to the art of fixing pottery, usually with a fine metal such as gold, silver or platinum. In fact, kintsugi loosely translates as “to patch with gold.” The idea was to incorporate the cracks into the pottery’s aesthetics rather than hiding them—in essence, the cracks and repair become an integral part of the piece’s history.
The meaning of kintsugi has since broadened beyond pottery. Now it means finding the beauty in the unique, the flawed and the broken. Instead of throwing something out, the crack or dent or flaw or whatever is highlighted and becomes celebrated. Not only does this keep items out of the landfill, but it also becomes a unique and often special element for a home.
Kintsugi can apply not only to plates and pottery, but to built-ins, floors, walls—you name it—and creates a dialog between the past and present. Rather than tearing something out or repairing it so that flaws no longer show, the spirit of kintsugi may be a fun option when restoring your own home. It might even be better than new!