Updating the Eichler

Publication Date: Friday Jan 29, 1999

Updating the Eichler

The modern home of the 1950s can be renovated to satisfy today's homeowner

by Fredrica Syren

With their tall windows and beamed ceilings, Eichler homes are popular in Palo Alto, but their small rooms and storage spaces can be impractical.

Palo Alto architect K.C. Marcinik says there are creative ways to remodel Eichler houses to make them more livable without harming any of the significance of the architecture.

"Most people that I end up talking to need a little bit more space. I think that there has been a change in attitude, and most people today seem to want larger houses," she said.

Marcinik focuses primarily on remodeling Eichlers. The first Eichler she remodeled was her own house in Palo Alto, which in 1996 won Metropolitan Home magazine's "Home of the Year" contest. A 1951 Eichler that she remodeled on Wildwood Lane in Palo Alto received the same award for 1999.

Marcinik and other architects who remodel Eichlers try to preserve the recognizable themes of Eichler design, including open-beam ceilings and sliding glass doors. Marcinik herself tries to build on the house's strong points while making it into what she calls a "hyper-Eichler."

"The reason that people like them is because of the high, sloping ceilings and all the glass windows and doors," she said. "This gives these homes an airy open feeling to the sky above and to surrounding landscapes."

To make the rooms seem larger, Marcinik suggests painting the walls in bright colors. Sometimes the effect can be achieved by painting just one wall and leaving the rest white or in their natural wood tone.

In the Wildwood Lane home, Marcinik added a family room, bathroom and office suite. To give the home more privacy, Marcinik also put in a frosted glass wall, made out of the same material as shower doors, which permits light to shine through and reveals the shadows of plants, while still providing more seclusion from neighbors.

There is often significant detail work around the garages, particularly in the early Eichler homes. In one Eichler that Marcinik remodeled, the detail had been covered, so she had it exposed. "It really changed the look of that old garage," said Marcinik.

In her own home, she painted the garage door yellow and used several other colors to draw attention to how the house was put together differently from traditional homes.

Remodeling an Eichler does have its pitfalls. "It's pretty easy to destroy them, actually," said Marcinik. The doors and windows of Eichlers are designed differently from those available off the shelf at stores like Home Depot, which are designed for Victorian houses, she said. Their style usually incorporates smaller glass windows with a lot of detail, whereas the Eichler design relies on larger pieces. , Renovation also can be difficult because of the concrete slab that forms the foundation of most Eichers. With the plumbing buried in the slab, relocating it can be a long, expensive process.

"You have to be creative and figure out ways to do as much as possible without changing the plumbing," said Marcinik. Visionary developer Joseph Eichler hired some of California's top architects to design his homes, which first started to appear in California suburbs in the late 1940s.

"This was not very common for a builder, who usually just would hire a draftsman to do the basic house," said Marcinik. "He sought out the best architects and told them to do the best they could as a tract-home builder."

Eichler built 10,000 houses in California, about 1,000 of which are in Palo Alto. "Eichler really (put himself) on the line to do something modern," Marcinik said. The exposed structure is something that is significant for an Eichler home. All beams that support the roof are visible and usually extend outside the walls of the house.

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