Eichler houses, found throughout Northern and Southern California (and even outside of New York City), are some of the most celebrated tract residences in the United States. Built by a company founded by Bronx-born Joseph L. Eichler (1900-1974), the homes were constructed between 1949 and 1966 and brought midcentury-modern design to the masses through tract houses constructed in postwar residential subdivisions.
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Eichler himself was not an architect or designer, but rather a developer who found himself inspired by the Frank Lloyd Wright home he lived in for a time in California. Already a successful businessman from his family’s dairy business, Eichler hired local modernist architects to design homes that would be different from the traditional architecture found throughout most of postwar suburbia, like Levittown, New York.
At the time, modern architecture was typically seen in higher-end custom homes and large corporate buildings rather than middle-class residences, but Eichler homes proclaimed their modernity on both their exteriors and interiors.
The style came to be known as "California modern:" a local, nature-inspired take on the architectural principals of modernists like Mies van der Rohe and Frank Lloyd Wright. With flat or low-slung gabled roofs, an emphasis on low, horizontal forms, and few (if any) windows, Eichler facades were initially seen as unconventional, but the light-filled interiors with skylights, floor-to-ceiling windows, and private outdoor rooms and gardens quickly caught on in California.
On the interiors, the homes are fitted with local materials, like redwood in Northern California. They were constructed with walls of glass in order to create open, inviting living spaces that would blend the indoors with the outdoors. Finally, they emphasized functional layouts that allowed for sight lines across the more public areas, and privacy in others.
The layouts of the home were also efficient and practical, typically featuring sliding doors that took up less space than swinging doors, a second bathroom in the master bedroom, and at times, open-air entry atriums that acted as buffers between inside and out. Interior finishes often included vertical wood siding and exposed-roof rafters.
By the mid-1970s, Eichler’s company had built more than 11,000 homes—more than any other single-family tract developer—and the company’s impact on modern design in California was irrefutable. The homes received countless design awards and continue to be highly desirable today, with architecture buffs and midcentury-modern lovers appreciating their now-classic designs. In fact, local networks and websites have sprung up, offering advice on how to renovate Eichler homes while considering the original construction and design intention.