Life in an Atrium
In the warmer months, hosting an outdoor party is a great way to get friends together. Whether you’re hosting a Cinco de Mayo party, a Memorial Day shindig, or an Independence Day celebration, doing it outside is one of the great joys afforded to Eichler homeowners. Plus, there’s just nothing like the California climate.
Hosting such a get together is easier than you might think, especially if you have an amazing atrium to work with, as many Eichlers do. Start by opening the doors to the atrium so that traffic flow easily moves between the indoor and outdoor areas of your home. From there, follow a few guidelines to make the party one to remember.
The Art of Invitations
They may seem like a small thing, but invitations are essential to any party. The language and design of the invites cue how people will dress and what they will expect when they arrive to the event. Take a small step towards being green by sending out electronic invitations or setting up an event on Facebook or another social media site. In the invitation, be sure to include any information that would be helpful to guests. For instance if it’s a themed party or if it will be particularly fancy, be sure to tell your guests. Directions are always useful, and you might want to mention whether or not it’s a kid-friendly event. If it’s a potluck party, ask guests to submit their dish name when they RSVP so that you, as the host or hostess, can fill in with side dishes or entrees if the menu is coming out slightly unbalanced.
Provide the Perfect Seating
Sure people are going to be moving in and out of the space, but when they want to relax for a while, your guests are going to need someplace to sit. A great solution to seating is a set of folding chairs, but they need to be stylish. We love these Lina Folding Chairs from Design Within Reach.
They’re chic, and as versatile as they are useful. Made from leather and powder-coated steel, they have a clean, modern line to them. Your guests can move them around, place them in groups, or even fold them up and set them aside to make room for dancing.
Choose Some Great Tunes
Nothing helps to define a party quite like the music. If the event is energetic, pick some tracks that reflect the tone. Likewise, if you’re planning for an elegant soiree, some light jazz or rock oldies provide the perfect background music for your party. Whether you host your party in the atrium or out in the backyard, keep the volume low. This fosters conversation between partygoers and will keep the neighbors from getting too upset about the noise next door.
Plan a Delicious Menu
Before planning the party,think about your guests. Do any of them have special diets? Is anyone allergic to certain foods? These are considerations that should form the foundation of your decision-making process when coming up with a menu.
After that, plan a menu in line with the tone of the party. A wine and cheese gathering should feature multiple kinds of antipasti, cheeses, and fruits like grapes and strawberries. A potluck party is great if you want people to sit and relax for a while. Small hors d’oeuvres that can be eaten with one hand are better for casually elegant events, but sometimes a gourmet barbecue is the perfect party. With a little planning, the menu can be creative and as individual as you are.
Illuminate the Space
Especially when you’re hosting a nighttime party, lights are absolutely essential. Gather a mix of lanterns, Christmas twinkle lights, and candles to create different moods. Lanterns can be hung in corners of the patio or the atrium, as well as in different parts of the yard to help define the space. Christmas lights look like hundreds of tiny stars when strung overhead. For a romantic feel, place some floating candles in your swimming pool or in large fishbowls around the space.
These portable LED Ball Lamps are a really neat way to illuminate the party area:
Waterproof and rechargeable, these globe lights can be used both indoor and outdoor. Because they’re waterproof, you can even float them in your pool or any water feature you may have on your property. The injection-molded polyethylene globe is white and comes with 36 interchangeable color LEDs, so you can customize them to your party’s theme.
For outdoor spaces with plenty of ventilation, a Mid-Century Modern-inspired chiminea or fire pit keeps things cozy on a cool night. Check out ModFire for some outdoor fire elements that will suit the tastes of any Mid-Century Modern aficionado. We love the 7-feet-tall Bonfire:
Let your beautiful home serve as the backdrop for your party. With a little bit of planning and a big deep breath, it’s easy to throw an utterly fabulous outdoor party.
If you are looking for the perfect outdoor entertaining space, please contact us and we can help you find the perfect home.
The other leg of the house is what I liked to call “the bedroom wing” because it contained 4 bedrooms, two baths, and amazingly, the laundry area. In my life, I had only seen washers and dryers in garages. Why? No dirty clothes come from the garage. But there they were with a linen closet directly behind. This has since become pretty normal, but this was 1966, and it almost made me happy to do the laundry, which was between the kids’ rooms. Who realized this? To put linen closets near the dryer–sheets, towels no problem, and no toting. Just turn around!
The bathroom adjacent had an outside door! This was to bring in the grimy muddy wet sweaty children and strip them before they could get to the rest of the house. I have a photo of the kids in the tub and the water is brown, so you see what I mean. I used the 4th bedroom as a piano room, library, desk area. And also a door into the atrium. This is thoughtful architecture.
Landscaping often presented a problem to new owners. They knew they loved the house, but what kind of landscaping to go with it? I’ll tell you what WON’T go with it: picket fences, arches of roses at the gates, demure perfect little lawns. Usually people are broke when they first buy a house, so the landscaping is home-made at first. Or rip out whatever you didn’t like and wait for better times to do a good job. It was the same for back yards only you could hide them for longer. The back yards were not usually very deep, so only the people who wanted no green stuff whatever put pools in. Luckily, I had a friend with a pie-shaped cul-de-sac lot where we could swim.
At one point a new neighbor from Denmark moved in next door, right at the end of a long dry summer. The first thing I noticed was smoke coming from his back yard. Fire is not a friend to Eichlers. With no solid walls and only glue-based paneling on the walls, they would really go up in a fire. So I jumped up to the fence, saw the neighbor there, and holding down panic as much as possible, screamed “What are you doing?” He mildly replied that there were a lot of leaves and he was just getting rid of them, and seemed startled that he was supposed to take them out to the street for the garbage truck. But that wasn’t the only cultural difference. In Denmark, high schools teach kids everything about maintaining houses: wiring, plumbing, reconstruction, roofing, and the like. I was interested to see the local phone company and electric company trucks one day. The neighbor hadn’t liked the look of the electric and phone wires that came into the house, so he took them down and buried them. Buried them! Can you just see the look on the phone guy’s face after being told there was static on the line and going to the back yard and looking at the pole and seeing no wire?
Sometimes people new to the area and unaware of the wind patterns, put rock on their front yards. Rock in many colors, especially white. sometimes in swirling patterns of red and black. This would last about 3 months. Then the dirt in the air, the leaves falling, and kids running across it made it all look just like a muddle, a very expensive muddle, which you could never restore. Desert cactus gardens look great, too. But they usually used decomposed granite, a lovely golden color with the same problems as rock but with an addition: stuff could root in it.
Even a plain grass yard in California is a project. If you are fond of Bermuda grass, an invasive persistent weed which only can be eradicated by taking off the top foot of soil and replacing it, you’ll have a great lawn in the summer. It hibernates in the winter and people are even knows to spray paint it green. Regular grass involves cutting, fertilizing, weeding and edging, none of which makes it fun to look at, and any passing dog can kill it. Best to hire a landscape architect (they are amazingly cheap) and let them choose plants that take ignoring, drought, bugs and small feet.
You are going to see the inside of an Eichler, let’s say the four bedroom with atrium model.
You’ve already seen that roof that seems any minute about to fly off from the rest of the house. Some people think it looks as if it is sheltering. (Did you see Eichlers in two Super Bowl Commercials this year?) You enter the atrium, and now is when you discover what that word atrium means: a central garden area accessible by the whole house, a place for gathering. This area can handle very large leafed plants, like giant bird of paradise, Greek key plant, philodendrons. It will get lots of light but not all day, because the shadows show up either early or late, blessedly. It will also handle very small humans, so no planting poisonous stuff.
In the atrium, you are in the middle of the U and the front door is directly ahead of you. It opens into the living room with a floor to ceiling fireplace and all the walls are glass. Wow.. How you arrange furniture in here depends on what kind of kids you have. If you have boys and put the couch in front of both the door and the fireplace, it will be used as a pommel horse for vaulting into the living room. You cannot make them stop doing this. This arrangement has a lovely advantage, too: you can sit and watch the fire. Often people would put their Christmas trees on either side of the fireplace, tempting lots of gods: fire, glass, falling. Once on the couch, you can see into the back yard, or look behind into the atrium to check on any passing small humans.
As you face the fireplace, the dining room is on your right. There was a sliding pocket door between the dining room and the galley kitchen, which could be closed, hiding the mess in the kitchen from your dinner guests. How classy is that? The stove is much lower than you remember, but it really is designed so you can see into the pots on the back of the stove. The original Eichlers had cabinet doors that slid back and forth, which I loved because you could never whack your head on open cabinet doors.. But you can only see half the contents at any one time. So the kitchen looked halfway neat most of the time! There was a butcher block top set into part of the counter, which I thought was genius: yet another piece of stuff I didn’t have to buy. Then comes quite a large area (TV, desk, play room, your choice) which leads to the garage door. In the garage I kept my extensive tool set: a dinner knife, pliers, a saw, and a hammer, which I used interchangeably.
I never liked the wood paneling on the walls because it was so dark, which none of the neighbors seemed to have a problem with. Years later, I understood the original owners had them stained walnut, as opposed to honey like most people. So I painted them white. This drew the glaring eyes of the purists: the Do-not-change-anything-in-the-house people. I would have changed the ubiquitous grey floor tile, too, but the heat from them was past luxurious. If it was a cool morning, sliding your feet along the hot pipe made everything lovely and warm, like home. Some people put carpeting in various rooms, effectively insulating themselves from the heat. They were kind of defensive about it: “carpeting doesn’t prevent the heat from getting through, it just delays it sorta.” These people never understood the concept of staying warm by dressing in layers.Throughout the house were the round white bulb light fixtures. I loved them. When you thought you were becoming blind, you just stood on a chair and washed the dust and bugs from the top of them, and you could see!
People buy Eichlers because they want the unusual, modern, stylish surroundings. They brought the same ideas to holiday celebrations.
At Easter: The EBunny had a pretty funny sense of humor. Eggs would appear anywhere, including at the base of the glass walls around the atrium inside the house. There was also a ton of candy in the atrium outside right next to the walls, in plain sight.
The kids would stand next to the wall frantically looking around, never looking through the wall, into the atrium. There must be something about little kids and their interpretation of “wall” which causes them not to try to see through them.This only worked for a couple of years. We had to stop hiding eggs and candy outside because our Dalmatian could find them before the kids did. But he did leave shiny reminders for us for several days.
Labor Day. There were kids’ parades, with dressup clothes, sort of like Halloween, but more often with parent’s clothes, or superhero outfits. Tricycles became parade floats, with streamers on the handlebars and seats, and wheels with crepe paper, volleyball games among adults with the winner getting a case of beer. Then, on our court, there was our Dalmatian with technicolor spots. I handed out Magic Markers to the neighborhood kids who gave him different colored spots, ringed his tail, and made volleyball players do movietype double takes. Barbeques in the street followed.
Christmas: when you live in a glass house, where do you hide Christmas presents? In the trunk of the car, of course. My mother would send slippers for the kids, but they didn’t know what to do with them because of the warm floors. Two Christmases in a row, those warm floors presented us with a Christmas fountain: water spurting out of the floor right next to the tree.
Of all the houses in the neighborhood, this was unique. I never heard of anyone else having this problem, and I finally learned that the grid of copper pipes that conducted the water was laid, well, indifferently, sometimes inside the concrete slab, sometimes not, causing the pipes to stretch and break. Now all concrete slabs crack when they settle and dry. These cracks are harmless unless there is a whole bunch of water under pressure looking for a place to escape. Thus the Christmas fountain. It does something to your sense of security and order to have a guy with a jackhammer digging a hole in your floor on Christmas morning.
My favorite holiday was one the neighborhood itself made up. The Art Fair! It began when neighbors began to hang on their fences the artwork they had made all winter. These kid drawings and bean roosters soon gave way to a two day festival with professional artists renting booths, folk dancing, sand castle construction in driveways, thousands of visitors, and paying jobs as cleanup people for all our teenagers. The grinch of a city finally made us shut it down. Something about licenses, insurance, numbers of porta potties or the like. Obviously, the city didn’t live in an Eichler.
Eyeklure? What’s an Eyeklure? I asked just after returning to San Jose from two years living in Florence. That Florence. Italy, palazzos, monumental sculpture, the Uffizi, the Ponte Vecchio. People told me to look for this Eyeklure while I was house hunting and so depressed to be seeing nothing but California ranch style :the “tickytack” song had come out the year before.
Then I saw one. What are those houses? No windows on the street, peaked roofs, translucent glass in the car port seeming to enclose an atrium? Somebody knew what an atrium was? A Realtor doubtfully told me only 10% of the house buying public would buy one of them, but that 10% wouldn’t buy anything else. A few months later we bought the next one that came on the market, and the first night we slept on the floor because the furniture had not arrived. We kept feeling like we were getting away with something to be in such an amazing space just for us.The previous owner had left a George Nelson ball clock on the fireplace they wanted us to buy, but poverty stricken first job people who had just paid $25,000 for a house had to pass.
I kept that house for 30 years; my kids grew up there, friends were made who are still friends. It was a classic Ivory Tower. Outside the streets of Eichlers were ordinary people doing ordinary things, but nothing seemed ordinary inside. People were all about the same age; had kids the same age, had professional jobs, made about the same amount of money, were of every creed and color, which the kids never noticed, and had liberal, if not left politics. Every holiday was celebrated, and some created: there was an art festival that began with people hanging art on their fences. It went for 28 years until the city shut it down for no outdoor toilets, or sufficient crowd control, or lack of commercial licenses. Every 4th of July, I gave the neighborhood kids Magic Markers and they put different colored spots on our Dalmatian.There was an increased sense of neighborhood because the houses had attracted somewhat unusual people and put them all together. Individuals were free to pursue whatever pleased them. One guy had turned his garage into a model railroad layout and wore his engineer hat while in there. Another guy built huge, dump truck load size sand castles in his driveway. I knew of at least two families who swapped their children during some difficult teenage years.
Atria, function of: A baby could be set up in the atrium in a playpen, or set on the floor, and if you weren’t too picky about whether they ate dirt or not, could stay there for hours, while mom, inside, could do whatever she needed to, all the while able to see the kid. Actually, this applies to a baby anything: dog, cat, salamander, turtle,iguana. It was the center of the house, from which everything was visible and everything began or finished. “Put your coat on and meet me in the atrium.”
Be sure to check back for the next chapter in “Life in an Atrium: 30 Years as an Eichler Resident”. If you have any questions, or would like to find your dream Eichler home, be sure to contact us at anytime.