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.
One of the most distinctive themes of mid century modern homes is the concept of inside/outside living. Atriums and courtyards help realize this idea by creating an ‘outdoor room’ full of natural light which is shared with the interior space through windows and glazed doors. It is well documented how levels of light can have a positive impact on our sense of wellbeing and this is one of the appealing aspects of living in a mid century modern home
These outdoor rooms form a welcoming entrance with roof openings providing natural light that bounces from surface to surface. On a functional level, it also works as a buffer between the street and house, from the noise of the outside world to the order of home.
The atrium is a hallmark of an Eichler home and one of the most attractive features of an Eichler or, indeed, any mid century modern bungalow. Although not always at the center of the home in true ‘atrium’ style this space is also to be found at the front of the building as a bright and spacious courtyard leading to the front door.
How we treat this courtyard is very personal to our lifestyle but used well this light and airy space can enrich our day to day lives and, ultimately, our quality of life. It is easy to make a feature of this architectural detail. Here are a few treatments worth considering.
1. Planting & Sculpture
Planting is one of the easiest ways to link the exterior with the interior. Succulents and grasses provide structure and interest with color, reflection and shadow. Planting also helps to soften hard surfaces and provide contrast. A sculpture or piece of art that you enjoy creates a focal point particularly where the living areas surround an internal atrium.
2. Color & Material
Light colors on walls and ceilings bounce light around the space and provide natural interior light through glazed walls.
The front door is often the only feature that offers a pop of color. Although Eichler’s choice of colors were slightly muddier tones, modern trends are towards funkier oranges, greens and yellows. Introducing color to the space by painting one isolated area to match the door color will create unity while continuing the color through to an interior wall will create an illusion of depth.
Tongue and groove exterior cladding and mahogany interior cladding were popular mid century materials. Tastes have evolved and we now tend to opt for a paler palette. Wood finishes can still be included by cladding a smaller area or by incorporating wooden outdoor furniture or planters.
Flooring will easily unite the exterior with the interior. Concrete and ceramic tile is a practical finish and works well to provide continuity between outside and inside rooms. There is a strong trend for wood flooring on interior floors so using a similar tone of wood on cladding, planters or furniture can help capture that same visual link.
4. Furniture & Accessories
Whether you are the mid century purist for whom nothing but an original Nelson bench will do or you are the young family whose mantra is IKEA practicality, choose furniture that is functional and free of unnecessary detailing. Typically, mid century accessories such as light fixtures, door furniture and house numbers are simple, geometric shapes focused on functionality.
Whether your outdoor room be a dwelling space for relaxing or the threshold where the kids kick off their shoes, enjoy it. Feel uplifted by it. Live in it.
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.
A survey by the American Institute of Architects (AIA) revealed 64% of architecture firms report that their clients express an increased interest in outdoor living spaces. Although Americans may be spending less and less time outside, they still need proximity to a green and living world. Eichlers, with their glass walls and atriums, satisfy this need handily.
Although a few Eichlers exist in New York, developer Joseph Eichler built designs primarily for California and hired architects that believed in integrating the home into the surrounding environment. While floor plans of Eichlers may differ, they contain common elements that expressed Eichler’s desire to bring sunny California climes into his homes.
The key element of “bringing the outdoors in” is the central atrium found in most Eichler homes. Newcomers are startled – and delighted – to learn that stepping inside an Eichler often means stepping outside into a private secluded open atrium. While some homeowners use this space as little more than a second front yard or extended foyer, others develop the atrium in unique and fascinating ways, such as a private Japanese garden, an area where yoga enthusiasts perform the sun salutation outside in complete privacy, a space for parties and even outdoor home theatres. For those Eichlers in which bedrooms open onto the atrium, it serves as an extended living space and has the effect of opening the world for those that live there.
The atrium isn’t the only element that satisfied Eichler’s desire to bring the outside in. Huge windows that double as walls grace the rear of many Eichlers. This has the effect of opening the kitchen and the spare room to the backyard. While Eichler kitchens tend to be small, they never feel small because your gaze is invariably on the world outside. Opening the rear of the home to the outside makes it easy to keep a half an eye on small children playing in the back yard. Moreover, the flow of energy from the kitchen to the backyard makes dining on the outside deck a regular year round option.
Well-placed skylights and transoms systematically bring the outdoors in. Hallways that would otherwise be dark become bathed in natural light, which complements the wooden tongue-in-groove ceilings, natural wood and post-and-beam construction. Even the formal dining room found off the kitchen in many homes receives natural light flooding in from the kitchen.
The magic of an Eichler is that all these elements combine with a closed front to make the outdoors yours. The closed front of the house gives the sense that the external concerns are far away. You go home to an enchanted world that opens outside, but leaves unwanted problems on the front curb. In that sense, Eichler created an charmed world for young families of the ‘50’s and ‘60’s to grow up. While some other modernist approaches often feel cold, Eichler’s emphasis on bringing the outside in creates feelings of expansion, warmth, and growth. The wisdom of that approach is reflected in their enduring appeal and enhanced value.
As always, please feel free to contact us with any questions you may have, or if you are looking for the perfect Eichler Home for you! Contact us
Article written by our contributing writer: Megan Winkler