Design trends blow hot and cold, drop in and fade out, but midcentury modern design has stood firm since the movement began. San Francisco based Creative Designer Aaron Pou and his wife were already Eichler fans when they stumbled upon a charismatic A. Quincy Jones design online.
After making an offer and spending their holiday in a midcentury home, everything fell into place as their offer was accepted. We spoke to Aaron about the story of their Eichler home and inquired about the pros and cons of the midcentury modern living.
First of all, could you tell us a little bit about your background?
My name is Aaron Pou, originally from Los Angeles. I’ve lived in Seattle, New York, Portland and the Bay Area, where I currently reside with my wife, who is also a designer, and our 8 year old daughter. I’ve been working in the creative industry for 15 years now, and currently I’m the Creative Director at a digital branding agency
How did you come to live in your house and what drew you to the mid-century style?
We got lucky. Living in the East Bay since 2007, we had been looking for a few years and were never really willing to pay $1M + for a tiny 2 bedroom house, with no architectural charm in a good school district.
We have several friends who own Eichlers, so we were already Eichler fans.
We saw one Eichler for sale listing for under $1M in Concord, which sits next to Walnut Creek, and we decided to take a look. It was exactly the type of house we could imagine us living in and watching our daughter growing up in.
We viewed it, fell in love with it, and made an offer. We then waited a few days, took a quick vacation to Palm Springs, and stayed at a remodeled mid-century to help us get in the mood. It must have worked, because our offer was accepted and the rest is history.
What do you think was so special about this period in American design?
America was in the midst of the Space Race to get to the moon. President Kennedy had brilliantly rebranded the ‘Space War’ with Russia as ‘The Next Frontier’ – which meant that America had a new design sensibility.
Everything around us in that decade was designed differently — cars, houses, toaster ovens – everything. I think mid-century modernism was one of America’s most incredible eras to be alive. Or so I hear from those who lived it.
What did you know about A. Quincy Jones before buying your house?
A Los Angeles-based architect and educator, he was arguably the most prolific architect of Eichler homes. He’s known for innovative buildings in the modernist style and for urban planning that pioneered the use of greenbelts and green design.
Our Eichler — called Plan OJ-1184 — retains a lot of the original charm, some might label it a ‘purist’ in so much that some things have been updated (bathrooms and kitchen) while maintaining the integrity of the original design. Nothing has been remodeled in a way that makes it feel too slick or like a developer got their hands on it. It feels like we’re living in a time warp.
Have you had to renovate any part of the house? If so, which area(s)?
Yes, the first thing we took care of was the roof. The sun beats down hard in Concord and the flat roofs are coated with a dense white foam material. We were told that it had been about 10 years since it was updated, so it was time to update. We hired a roofing company known for working exclusively on Eichlers.
Next was adding the AC system. Amazingly, these houses do not come equipped with standard HVAC so we had to outfit our house with a mini-split system in 2 bedrooms and the living room. It also doubles as a heater in the colder months.
I also weather-proofed our exposed wood beams throughout by using molded aluminum meant for drywall corners. They just happen to fit the width of our beams perfectly. A coat of matching spray paint and some strong adhesive did the job. That one was my first DIY home repairs.
We also recently remodeled our master bathroom. The sink was the original vanity counter. It was pretty old and had seen better days. That was the second DIY project I took on. After removing the original, we purchased a new double vanity, dropped it in, and installed the backsplash tile. Thank goodness for YouTube.
Lastly, we just had the master shower gutted and put in a brand new Roman shower. So we basically have a new master bathroom, which was frankly the only sore spot of the house.
What are the advantages/struggles of living in a mid-century house?
The advantages are countless. As a designer, it feels like all my hard work has finally paid off. Often I pinch myself when I pull up into the driveway after a hard days work. I’ve always been house proud, but never proud of my house. Until now of course.
The only struggle is it’s like having an old vintage car as your primary mode of transportation. You need to keep maintaining it. Constantly checking in on things. Original parts can be hard to find. For example, our garage door is the original single wood piece that swings up at a 90º angle. Just the other day, the torsion spring broke and trying to get that fixed has proven very challenging.
Do you feel constrained in your interior design choices because of the property’s heritage?
No, not at all. We don’t subscribe to the mindset that every piece of furniture needs to honor the mid-century aesthetic. In fact, we’re influenced by lots of other choices. Indian textiles, and Scandinavian design adorn our house and it all mixes well with other key pieces that are American mid-century.
What’s your favourite part of the house and why?
The view from the family room through the atrium at night. The floor to ceiling glass allows for a complete view from one wing of the house into the backyard. It’s feels very cinematic. Imagine if you will, you’re Don Draper holding a glass of scotch, with Miles Davis playing on the Sonos in the living room, the glow of evening moonlight flooding the atrium, being able to see your family walk by. It’s pretty great.
Last but not least, do you have any tips for people interested in buying a mid-century house today? What should they pay attention to and why?
It’s a lifestyle. If you really love the aesthetic, be prepared to invest a lot of time and money. It’s a constant project. But it’s well worth it.