March 6, 2018

What Are Eichler Homes? Mid-Century Modern Architectural Gems, That’s What

Eichler homes have come to epitomize a certain type of Mid-Century Modern style. If you’re a fan of clean lines, traditional materials, and minimal ornamentation, chances are good you will adore this architectural style. But for those wondering who the heck Eichler is and what type of homes he designed, read on.

A real estate developer working in California in the 1950s and ’60s, Joseph Eichler was one of the primary builders responsible for bringing modern homes to the masses. He built over 11,000 houses around the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles, and changed the reigning ideology about what was possible for middle-class suburban homes.

“Eichler’s developments realized what many in the 1950s building business had hoped for but almost none had achieved: commodious design with innovative-yet-affordable construction techniques,” write Paul Adamson and Marty Arbunich in “Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream.”

Midcentury exterior design
Midcentury exterior designbuilding Lab, inc.

Eichlers—like most of the best of midcentury architecture—are highly prized by today’s buyers. Here’s what makes this type of home so special.

What do Eichler homes look like?

“Even though the homes were mass-produced, they had a feeling of being both industrial and organic, with an intimate connection to the landscape,” says Chris Lim, founder and CEO of Climb Real Estate.

Inspired by his time living in a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, Eichler wanted to take Wright’s design ideas and make them accessible to middle-class home buyers.

“Typical homes of the time were compact brick houses with asphalt shingles and small windows,” explains Andrew Mikhael, an architect in New York City. Typical features of an Eichler home, on the other hand, include big windows, clean lines, indoor-outdoor living, open-air foyers, natural light, and an open living space.

Do these sound like a lot of homes you’ve seen before? That’s because the modern aesthetics of Eichlers inspired a lot of what we now consider standard or desirable in a living space.

Midcentury exterior design
Midcentury exterior designKlopf Architecture

A true Eichler will have these features: small windows facing the street and huge windows facing an outdoor space in the back; post and beam construction; center courtyard and roofed atrium; an abbreviated entry court; carport; and “front-to-back” planning that puts the living spaces in the rear of the home.

Eichler homes also have distinctive roofs.

“These homes have thin roofs that feel like pure geometric sheets laid on top of an open plan,” says Mikhael. “If you see a house with a thin, gently sloping roof and you can see through the upper part of the house to ‘read’ the thickness and length of the roof, that is one telltale sign that you are looking at an Eichler home.”

Why are Eichler homes so desirable?

“While Eichlers originally were built as affordable housing options, today they are widely considered by buyers to be pieces of art and architectural gems,” says Justin Fichelson, The Agency’s managing director of estates division. “They are quite common in the Bay Area and sell fast.”

Eichler’s modernist vision is definitely in line with what’s in style at the moment: bright, clean, open-plan living and furniture that give a nod to Mid-Century Modern style.

They’re also easy for buyers to update.

Midcentury living room design
Midcentury living room designKlopf Architecture

“Eichlers have very clean lines and can easily be remodeled to form a beautiful, ultramodern residence,” explains Fichelson. The technology used in many Eichler homes—such as radiant floor heating—is also still coveted by buyers.

“Eichler homes rethink ideas about space and modern living that still appeal to homeowners today,” says Lim.

Modern entry design
Modern entry designBeckner Contracting & Management

Eichler’s developments weren’t just about the architecture of the homes, but also included parks and other community features, a concept that current master-planned communities are returning to. He also had a commitment to selling homes to people of color when other builders refused to. He famously offered to buy back homes from people claiming their black and brown neighbors would lower their property values.

“The modernist aesthetic combined with creating a sense of community were new concepts in suburban living,” says Lim. “These Eichler communities sought new ways to answer suburbia’s critics by offering a housing alternative that appeals to home buyers in any generation.”


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