North Fork Chapter 2 - An Ode to Eichler Homes
Once we came to the understanding that we needed to renovate we had to determine if a full tear-down-rebuild was desired. On the one hand, the bones of the home were good. On the other hand, we weren’t crazy about the overall design of the home and felt that its layout and connection (or lack thereof) to the outside was at the heart of the problem.
The home was a split level ranch. There are many things admirable in ranch-style homes, but our weekend place seemed to have developed many of the negative qualities instead of the positive. At some point I stepped back and asked, is there any way to reimagine our home that achieves all of our goals? Is there a ranch style that works with our lifestyle and connects the outside with the inside? Can I learn to love a ranch? I finally turned to inspiration and validation by revisiting the California Eichler homes I knew from my youth.
I grew up in Northern California – in an area with an immense diversity of architectural styles and needs. Victorians, Queen Annes, modern, and ranch homes were all norms. I grew up in a small hillside cottage-like house. It felt like a tree house that was cozy but still captured the bits of light and colors available on the tree covered, hillside property. My childhood home, tucked on a steep hillside, was far removed from a ranch home, so I definitely couldn’t look to it for inspiration to reinvigorate our ranch. Eichlers, and Eichler-like homes, though, dominated in certain towns and neighborhoods nearby – usually areas not clinging to hillsides. I had many friends who lived in these homes, and while we always joked about which house style was better, I am now able to see the clear merits of both styles.
For those of you not familiar with Eichler homes, here’s a brief summary.
Joseph Eichler was an American real estate developer in the post-war era. He was known for developing residential subdivisions of Mid-Century modern tract style home, predominantly in California.
Eichler homes typically feature glass walls, post-and-beam construction, and open floorplans.
A signature concept was to "Bring the Outside In," achieved via skylights and floor-to-ceiling glass windows with glass transoms looking out on protected and private outdoor rooms, patios, atriums, gardens, and swimming pools.
Most Eichler Homes exteriors featured flat and/or low-sloping A-Framed roofs, vertical 2-inch pattern wood siding, and simple facades with clean geometric lines. Not optimal for the Eastern Long Island’s long winters and warm summers, but well-suited for many California communities.
Partly as a trade-off for the vast openness in the remainder of the home, most Eichler homes feature few front-facing windows, with those that do exist being either small ceiling level windows or small rectangular windows with frosted glass.
There were many other features we commonly see in modern design today, which are worth noting: tongue and groove details; concrete slab floors with integral radiant heating; Philippine mahogany paneling; sliding doors for rooms, closets, and cabinets; and a standard second bathroom located in the master bedroom.
Spending some time reviewing Eichler homes, I was quickly validated that yes, I could learn to love a ranch home. A tear-down-rebuild was not in the cards. Phew.
In the end, we didn’t rebuild our home in an Eichler style. In fact, until now, I spoke of the Eichler homes very sparingly, and didn’t even discuss the style with architects. It wasn’t something I wanted to replicate on the North Fork. But I did use the mini-Eichler study as a way to validate our goals, evaluate the plans, and even search for an architect.
Although I work with some extremely talented architects in NYC, for our North Fork home I chose to look closer, to find a firm that was extremely connected to the area, understood its sensibilities, and was familiar and experienced with working with the local building requirements and community.
Ultimately, we searched for and found a local architecture studio to partner with. After initial meetings with Studio A/B Architects, we toured a handful of their North Fork projects. Each project was different in its style – traditional, ultra-modern, cottage, artists’ studio – depending on the clients and the scope of the project. But across the board, each project had one thing in common. My husband said, “I really like their use of windows.” I said, “I really like how they brought the outside in.” We realized we were saying the same thing. Just like the Eichler homes, we wanted our home to pull the outside in.
From there our project started for real...
For more Eichler inspirations new and old, check out my Pinterest board.
Stay tuned, comment and please feel free to ask questions!