Real Estate

Bringing back the Eichler aesthetic

New owners better incorporate atrium, create great room

by Karla Kane

Eichler homes are beloved for their light-filled open spaces, their clean design and harmony between indoors and out. But what happens when an Eichler atrium goes wrong? That's the challenge met by architect John Klopf on a recent project in Mountain View.

While the home, built in the early 1970s, was designed with an atrium, previous residents roofed it in, creating what the current owners considered an awkward space.

"When these guys bought the house, all the glass doors, walls and windows were there but it had a roof over it. It was theoretically interior space but not really part of the room," Klopf explains. Rather than opening onto an outdoor courtyard, the sliding-glass doors simply led to another room. Same with the kitchen window, which had an odd, interior view rather than facing the world outside.

"We have worked on a lot of Eichlers, but we haven't combined an atrium with the rest of the house before because we don't really recommend enclosing an atrium. In this case, what's done was done, there was no going back."

In addition, the kitchen, dining and living-room areas had not aged well, with faded beige paint, outmoded design, wood paneling in poor condition and an overall dark, disconnected feeling, contrary to the aesthetic most Eichler aficionados seek, Klopf says.

The current residents, a techie couple with young children, desired to combine the rooms into one large, open great room to be shared by everyone. They also wanted to give the home a bright, clean, free-flowing layout.

By knocking down the walls dividing the disjointed spaces, a multipurpose living zone was created. The kitchen was reoriented to become part of the open space, and a pantry box was eliminated. To keep the project within a reasonable budget, some elements were not updated, such as some doors and windows, and the original brick fireplace and chimney.

Because the atrium was originally designed as a patio, its floor was lower than that of the main house.

"We raised the floor, put in new floors, painted everything bright and made it feel open," Klopf says. The former awkward atrium is an airy dining area, with the table positioned under the existing skylights over new, light, ash hardwood flooring.

Turning several rooms into one was not without its technical challenges. Some walls were load bearing, so posts from the former walls remain throughout, with the occupants simply working around them. Removing them while making sure the house was still supported would have been a much bigger, higher-budget job, and leaving them "doesn't detract from the space." Klopf says. To avoid having to break through and lay new foundation and walls, a new entryway was opted against, as was a new doorway to the garage.

Aesthetically, "we were going for a calm and restful experience in the space, with everything aligned, " Klopf says. Clean white paint throughout complements the light tone of the new floors and matches the residents' minimalist, modern style.

"Their lifestyle is not very cluttered. They're pretty well suited to living in a big open space," he says, with children's toys and play areas neatly integrated with furniture from Ikea and Design Within Reach and retro Herman Miller prints.

"We tried to make it feel like one big open space where you could just hang out all day," he says. Sounds like an ideal Eichler experience.

Goal of project:

To create an open "great room" space out of existing kitchen, dining room, living room and atrium

Unanticipated issues:

Posts remaining from load-bearing walls; lack of entryway space

Year house built:

1972

Size of home, lot:

1,900 sq-ft-house, 400 sq-ft-garage on 7,000 sq-ft-lot

Time to complete:

6 months, from design through end of construction

Resources:

Architect: Klopf Architecture (Project Team: John Klopf, AIA, and Angela Todorova), San Francisco; 415-287-4225

Building contractor: Flegels Construction, San Jose, 408-269-1101

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