Modernism, Mid-Century and Otherwise

Eichler home

I grew up in a contemporary home, though I was young enough that I did not know that at the time. Until my teen years, home sweet home meant L-shaped, multiple sliding glass doors, skylights, a flowing floor plan, a patio and decks, and odd bits of furniture that could have been at home on the set of Mad Men. As an adult, I realize what was going on: my mom wanted a cozy Victorian, and my dad wanted a science fiction future, so they compromised in the muddle.

My husband and I have moved several times. We enjoyed a home that turns 110 years old this year and outfitted it with custom-made stained glass; we enjoyed living and entertaining in a likeler. If you’re unfamiliar with that term, builder Mr. Eichler hired several architects to design mid-centurary modern homes, of which there are many thousand primarily in California. Several of those architects wandered off at various times and designed similar homes for other builders — much like Eichlers, but not actually from Eichler, hence “likeler.” Steve Jobs famously attributed his interest in design to growing up in an Eichler, and was corrected to having grown up in a likeler instead, in a neighborhood that mixes both side-by-side. It takes some work to tell them apart, unless you become a trifle obsessed with it all. Hypothetically speaking. And when you learn Woz grew up in an Eichler, the achingly beautiful modern home he lived in makes sense.

Woz’s former home

Post-world war II Eichlers were designed for young families of modest means. By the 1970s they were more expansive and upscale, but still solidly targeted to the middle class. Today, particularly in the San Francisco bay area, they are a bit more dear. $1.5 million is not atypical. While I drool over the Eichlers that make it to MLS, it is hard to imagine spending so much for what are often small, dated homes in need of updates.

The good news is it turns out I don’t covet an Eichler in particular. What I am drawn to is interesting ceilings, expansive views, glass, natural and dramatic light, the warmth of hardwood floors, privacy designed in, and the sense that the future can be an improvement upon the past. Passive solar remains a great idea, but update to current materials and solar power, please. Likelers were built in earlier times before climate change. Now we need insulation, which changes the roof concept. Now we need air conditioning, which challenges radiant heating as the only climate control. And of all that lovely glass? Single painful. The bad news is that it is very hard to find newer modern homes for sale, and when I do, they often fetch more than Eichlers. I may never find something that works for us. I keep watching for the house we can make our own home. And that, in itself, is fun.

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