Guest Blog by the Modern Architecture + Design Society
In 2001, architect John Klopf set up his Bay Area-based practice after graduating with a master’s from U.C. Berkeley. In 2002, he renovated his first Eichler home. Recently, John began his milestone 100th mid-century renovation. We sat down with John to take stock of the mid-century modern resurgence, why homeowners are so drawn to the design, and the challenges of updating an Eichler.
Joseph Eichler was one of the most prolific real estate developers in post-WWII America, responsible for the construction of over 11,000 homes throughout California over just two decades.
Your firm is known for doing remodeling and additions on Eichler and other mid-century modern homes – What accounts for the surge in popularity of these homes?
I can’t claim to know why the resurgence of these homes, but I can tell you what people tend to like about them. Our clients like the openness, brightness, cozy scale, and clean lines of mid-century modern homes. They also seem to like the indoor / outdoor living opportunities that arise from combining our Bay Area climate with courtyards, atria, walls of glass, overhanging roof eaves, and openable walls. We have observed from owners that in the 1980s and most of the 1990s mid-century homes were considered “just another home” and may have sold for less than a similar sized home in a similar neighborhood. But starting in the late 1990s and gaining more momentum every year, home-buyers have paid the same or more for modern homes, and have been looking for them specifically. That increase in awareness of and appreciation for the style explains the 100+ mid-century modern homes we’ve worked on so far.
What have you found to be the greatest challenge in bringing an Eichler home into the 21st century?
Many of the challenges are technical in nature, but the overall biggest challenge is that the houses are relatively small, and the spaces have been just about as efficiently used as possible in many cases. Therefore, in order to create larger spaces out of the sub-standard spaces in the house, sacrifices may have to be made. Sometimes we have to add on. Sometimes we have to re-arrange spaces and lose a bedroom for instance. People have changed, possessions have changed, and technology has changed. Fitting today’s people, possessions, and technology into very small houses can be a challenge.
It’s easy to think of the Eichler as a very American – specifically Californian – design. But it’s actually borrows a lot from Japanese design ideas. Can you speak to this Asian influence, especially given your time abroad?
Modularity like the post and beam construction, the sense of guidance between outdoors and indoors that sliding panels, decks, patios, and overhanging roof eaves provide, the heavy use of wood, and the concept of bounding space not with the wall of the house but with the wall of the courtyard— all these Asian concepts really fit with California’s available building materials and climate. When I was studying architecture on the independent Branner Travel Fellowship I spent two months in Japan studying the modern and classical architecture. The classical architecture there has the modularity, repetition, clean simple detailing, and transitions between indoors and outdoors that I feel in love with in school and have been fortunate enough to work with on the mid-century modern homes and new homes that we’ve designed.
In his biography, Steve Jobs talked about how his growing up in an Eichler-esque “likeler” home (designed by Anshen and Allen) influenced his design sensibility. How do you think the spaces in which we live affect the ways in which we live?
People like to be connected to the outdoors, but also protected from heat, cold, too much sun, wind, and rain. Growing up in a boxy home with small punched windows prevents people from noticing the weather, connecting to the landscaping, or feeling a sense of relief that people can get in a more open, airy home that has good connection to the outdoors. If I lived in a home like that, I’d feel more grounded and would appreciate the views of nature and sense of being in a place that this type of architecture provides.
As for the design style in particular, clean, simple lines are uncluttered and allow people to display their furniture, art, and lives against a simple, unified, and understandable background.
Thanks to John Klopf for his insights on the continuing MCM trend!
The Modern Architecture + Design Society produces architecture and design events across North America.