Mid-century modernism generated such mass-market design classics as the Eames plywood chair, the George Nelson clock, and the Arco floor lamp. But in the category of mid-century production housing, the work of Joseph Eichler stands alone. From the 1950s into the 1970s his company, Eichler Homes, built more than 11,000 moderately priced houses — mostly in northern California — that remain icons of California modernism.
Today, Eichlers are much sought after as platforms for 21st-century makeovers, and this example, in Walnut Creek, Calif., may set the high-water mark for its breed. Upgraded in layout, function, and finish, it retains its breezy 1960s spirit while providing a living experience unsurpassed by the highest of high-end custom homes.
Eichler houses were ahead of their time in space planning and style, but original Eichler homes like this one don’t come close to meeting current seismic codes. “There weren’t many shear walls around the house,” notes architect Lourdes Garcia of San Francisco–based Garcia Studio Architects, “which in California is kind of a big deal.” But she and builder Stephen Steele, of Novato, Calif.–based S&Z Construction, had learned from previous Eichler remodels how to bring the light post-and-beam structures up to code without compromising the openness that is their raison d’être. Steele stripped the exterior walls, bolted them to the slab foundation with seismic hold-downs, and sheathed both sides with ½-inch plywood to resist shear forces.
Following typical Eichler practice, the roof’s widely spaced beams supported a layer of 3-by-6 tongue-and-groove structural decking. Steele reinforced critical beam spans with flitch plates, secured beam connections with steel straps, and sheathed the roof deck with ½-inch plywood. Now, he says, “[each roof plane] is a flat shear wall. The plywood ties it all together and keeps it from moving.”
Because so much of the building’s structure is open to view, Garcia says, “we worked with what we had. And what we introduced, we exposed.” Rather than hide the steel straps and plates, she says, “we kind of celebrated all these elements.” The board-formed concrete shear wall that runs from the entry through the atrium and living area underscores the theme. “We celebrated it by pouring it in concrete and having it wrap from the entrance through the living space.”