California Modern - Inside the Inspired World of an Eichler Home
Mar 25, 2016 04:17PM
By Deborah Burstyn
BY DEBORAH BURSTYN
PHOTOGRAPHY BY JESSICA FREELS
Northeast Walnut Creek is a mélange of architectural styles, but none are as popular right now as the mid-20th century homes developed by Joseph Eichler. Built between 1949 and 1966, Eichler’s compact geometric homes helped define the popular style that came to be known as “California Modern.”
When Monique and John Jansen, a recently transplanted couple from New Zealand and their son Joel, went house hunting in Walnut Creek’s Rancho San Miguel neighborhood, John discovered a place that looked oddly familiar. Then it came to him. His father, a builder in New Zealand, had been fond of California architecture and John had grown up looking through his father’s architectural books. One of the books had featured Eichlers and now John was actually seeing them. What’s more, he had the opportunity to buy one.
Visionary developer Joseph Eichler had made it his mission during the post-World War II housing boom to bring quality modern architecture to the masses. His communities of homes were characterized by both flair and affordability. While only an elite few could afford a Frank Lloyd Wright-designed house, the 11,000 modestly-sized futuristic homes built by Eichler throughout California were priced for the returning World War II veterans and their families.
Perhaps too sophisticated and ahead of their time, the Eichlers were futuristic in a radical way with open floor plans, wood-paneled walls and an emphasis on indoor-outdoor living with skylights and floor to ceiling glass windows. The homes also featured stream-lined modern bathrooms and kitchens. With the current renewed respect for innovative 20th century modern design, Eichlers are enjoying new desirability.
Walnut Creek’s Rancho San Miguel neighborhood, across from Heather Farm Park, has roughly 350 original Eichler homes. Rancho San Miguel was Eichler’s first and only move into the East Bay after building extensively in the Santa Clara Valley. He enthusiastically donated land for the Rancho San Miguel Swim Club and designed the facility which still stands today.
In the minimalist living room of the 1958 Eichler, meticulously updated by the Jansens for the 21st century — even the original mahogany wood walls have been preserved. Sleek furniture in gray and white — mostly from West Elm and Ikea — are accented with pops of orange, lime green and vibrant artwork created by Monique. A glass wall looks out onto a patio and rectangular pool. Although these were additions put in by the Jansens, the rectilinear grid lines and concrete material make both the pool and patio look original to the house.
“John is the son of a builder and has a great eye for lines,” Monique says. “I’ve spent some time at art school, and between us, we have found a common ground where lines should have a purpose, and consistency is king. John and I are a great team and both love the same architecture, furniture and interior styles.”
Owning an authentic Eichler in pristine condition is a great source of pride and joy for the Jansens. They are very mindful of the home’s provenance even when changing small details. “We’ve been respectful to the original design, but when we find something that we know Eichler’s architects would have used if it had been available, we use it,” says John. That means replacing the old black plastic light switch plates with wide brushed steel ones, inserting a flat square LED light fixture into the hallway ceiling, and switching out the olive green panels in the sliding closet doors for white laminated ones. In the kitchen, the home’s original stainless steel Thermador wall oven and a 1970s KitchenAid dishwasher gleam with retro chic, along with a kitchen island that swivels for meal prep and dining. Even the bathroom sinks stand on original sleek wood and stainless steel legs.
John, a software engineer, appreciates the well-engineered design details in their retro home, while Monique, an artist and stay-at-home mom for Joel, appreciates the home’s compact coziness. Her original colorful paintings grace the home’s walls with striking contrasts, bold lines and strong definition. Even the front door features her bold striped artwork. “I might come home from work one day and find Monique painting the ceiling,” jokes John. When it comes to creative talent, John has his owns strengths, recently building Joel a mini-Eichler tree-house that replicates their home.
The family downsized from a 4,000-square-foot home in New Zealand to their 1550-square-foot Eichler. Their previous house sat isolated high on a hilltop on four-and-a-half acres of land. Here in Rancho San Miguel, the Jansens are enjoying being surrounded by neighbors, many who are restoring their homes. “It’s such a lovely neighborhood,” Monique says. “Everyone walks in this area. We have met so many people.”
The Jansens are forging ahead with other updates to their home – in period style, of course. Next on the list is an outdoor kitchen. “The place informs everything that we do. The house tells us how to do things. We just follow the lines,” John says. Thanks to a gift from his mother, for inspiration they turn to the book “Case Study Houses 1945 – 1962” with the photos of Eichlers that John first saw as a child. “Dad never got to see an Eichler. But these houses were an inspiration for him and now I have one.”