The Eichler Homes Remodelling Experts

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We have covered the work of Klopf Architecture already in few articles. Today is John Klopf to tell us about Eichler homes and their remodeling.

Our design style is rooted in the culture, aesthetic, and climate of California. There is a large modern influence in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley that dates back to the mid-century modern period. We’ve noticed a real resurgence in interest in modern, ranging from the warmer Mid-century style to the more contemporary gallery-like style, even to industrial modern (but that is not as usual in this part of California).

We have an indoor-outdoor climate in many areas much of the year, we get no snow along the coasts, and this area has beautiful natural light and spectacular views from so many vantage points. My opinion is that the best way to take advantage of all those conditions is with a modern home design.

In terms of culture, the architects who have gone before us, like the Case Study architects and other Mid-century modern architects, experimented a lot here in California, not only because of the conditions listed above, but also because the culture on the west coast was open to new ideas and experimenting.

We have inherited both their sense of openness and exploration, as well as the designs they created and left behind. In California we have a “classic” modernism that may not be present in other areas, and which allows today’s homeowners who may not be into experimenting to feel comfortable with modernism because of familiarity with the modern examples present in the built environment over the last 65 years or more.

Some of our clients grew up in Eichlers or even inherited their homes from their parents, who may have been original owners. Others never knew they wanted a modern house until their relators had them look at an Eichler Home… but then fell in love with modernism and would settle for nothing else.

You specialised in Eichlers remodel, how different is working at those houses compared to ‘normal’ ones?

Working with an Eichler Home, or on any Mid-century modern-style home, is different from working what you call a “normal” house in so many ways it’s hard to list them all. So I’ll give you the top three differences. 

“Normal” homes are conceived as boxes with holes poked in them to let in a little light and air, while Eichlers are conceived of as a series of horizontal and vertical planes with completely “open” walls that allow the exterior to blend visually, and sometimes literally, with the interior space.

The indoor / outdoor feeling in these homes has to do with the exterior materials running through from out to in to out, the walls of glass, the way that roofs overhang and the ceiling is continuous from the interior to the exterior with only a minimal break at the (small) window frame, and the way many homes have courtyards or atria that become “interior” outdoor living spaces. This approach of filtering the elements while allowing the interior and exterior spaces to blend inspires us.

Eichlers were designed with the occupant in mind

Eichlers and Mid-century modern homes are from the modern school of architecture as opposed to the classical. They are meant to be what Le Corbusier called “machines for living.” In other words, they were designed with the occupant in mind, to fit the needs of Mid-century families.

They included amenities that “normal” houses of the day may not have had, ranging from the banal (a second bathroom, clothes washers and dryers inside) to the sublime (the afore-mentioned atrium). The purpose of the homes was to act as homes, not to be objects that people grudgingly had to live in.

This allows us, as architects, to consider the original goals, not just the literal aesthetic, of the architects and the homes, and update them by pushing these concepts farther. Therefore, when we’re updating these homes, we wager that the original architects would applaud the effort to taylor the homes they created for the needs of 21st-Century families. Likewise we believe they’d be open to alternate materials and aesthetics that are compatible and in-the-spirit, not advocating for strict preservation of the homes as they were 50-60 years ago.

Eichler Homes have many technical challenges based on their post-and-beam, minimal construction type. Not only are the alignments and clean lines important to make the design work, there is also no attic, no basement, no crawlspace, and many areas that have nothing but a sheet of glass for a wall.

Running utilities and designing structural upgrades to make the houses comply with today’s standards can be a real challenge. In “normal” homes, windows can be about in the center of a wall and look fine, wires can run in the attic, and ducts under the floor. Homeowners can go to the local box store to buy rolls of insulation and insulate their attics. In Eichlers, architects and contractors need to be a little more creative about these technical requirements to preserve the design intent when updating the homes.

 

Tell us about an Eichler Home remodelling or renovation that you are particularly proud of. The house, its story, client expectations, your approach to the project and the thinking process that brought you to the final result.

One house we just had on the Silicon Valley Home Tour (A Remodelled Eichler in Palo Alto by Klopf Architecture) takes the concept of openness and minimal detailing to the next level. We removed the walls (both solid and glass walls) on both sides of the main space and replaced them with a folding door system.

To get the space completely open on both sides, we also eliminated the chimney and moved the kitchen out of this space to an adjacent “bonus room.” The result is an open-air pavilion-like feeling, as the courtyards on the sides of the house open straight through the main living space and out the other side to the opposite courtyard. Other walls were opened up as well, and the dark green-painted exterior was upgraded.

The house is now conceived of as two mostly wooden boxes that seem to have been pulled apart to create the open-air great room. Landscape architects Arterra LLP designed courtyards that act as a continuation of the interior spaces, allowing a 1700 square foot house to seem very large indeed.

The clients wanted their house to have a cleaner, updated, sophisticated feeling. They appreciate modern architecture and art, and have a very minimal lifestyle. Also, they wanted the house to be really open (for example, we designed them a bathroom with the fourth wall being completely glass, facing the back yard because they wanted to feel like they were showering outside). Our collaboration was very smooth since our goals were aligned, but there is one story of a challenge that became an opportunity.

Early on we had decided to move away the kitchen and open up the two side walls to create the new great room space. But the clients wanted to preserve their fireplace, which happened to have a very heavy concrete block chimney taking up an entire beam bay (typical of many Eichler Homes). At first we tried to get them to remove the fireplace to no avail, and then we were going to cover it with tile. But the tile was going to be expensive, so that was also failing. Here the landscape architects saved the day. Vera from Arterra suggested the owners have a fountain on the entry side of the house, and centered opposite it in the other courtyard they’d have a firepit with benches around it. Voila! The clients saw that a firepit would be much more social than an old-fashioned chimney fireplace, and dropped the requirement to keep it. So away it went, and the wall could then open completely just like the wall opposite.

By respecting the original vision behind the house, but updating it, we achieved what the clients were looking for

Throughout the design and construction, we used minimal detailing, clean lines, alignment with the beam bays, and good quality materials at every turn. By respecting the original vision behind the house, but updating it, we achieved what the clients were looking for. We’re proud of the project, and the clients say they love living there.

Who inspires you from outside your field?

I hate to say this because it sounds like (as my old friend Eric used to say) rooting for Coke. But Apple computer has been an inspiration for designers, so hats off to the industrial designers there and the direction from above to create beautiful, efficient, symmetrical, elegant objects that are user-friendly and “just work,” as well as the concept of inventing new gadgets that, once you have them, you can’t imagine living without.

I’ve never owned a non-macintosh computer and wouldn’t dream of switching. To me, that is the feeling people get who have really noticed the lifestyle possibilities available in a well-designed modern home. Once you get that, living in anything else is just settling.

What is your ideal project?

Our ideal project… Let’s see, we more have an ideal client, not an ideal project. We work on modern residential projects, and have worked on 100 Mid-century modern home additions / remodels, but to us the ideal is to have a client who appreciates the modern style. Those who would tear down a small Mid-century modern home and replace it with a large non-modern home in order to maximize the lot don’t usually call us, and that’s fine!

Of course we do hear from clients interested in putting up a modest new modern home where a tired, dilapidated older modern home stands now. If the client is also interested in sustainability / energy efficiency, that is certainly a plus. So perhaps a modern, net-zero energy house would be our target project, but probably that has more to do with the fact that a client who wants a modern, net-zero energy house will probably be an ideal client for us.

Where do you think architecture will be in 20 years?

Architecture in California is marching toward net-zero energy use. Within 10 years, all new homes are likely to be required by code to use net-zero energy. So that is a trend that will probably continue along.

In terms of style, Californians, at least in the Bay Area and Silicon Valley, seem to appreciate modern design more and more each year. We noticed people starting to invest in the Eichler Homes back near the turn of this century but it’s snowballed since then, especially since the end of the recession. While I have no idea if this will or won’t continue, I hope it does!

Do you own an Eichler Home and would like to be featured on MidCenturyHome? Drop us an email to: [email protected]

Photos via Klopf Architecture.

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