Eichler Homes: The San Francisco Treat

First, you think of Victorian architecture. But the affordable Modernist form is just as characteristic of the locals: fun, cute and easy to live in.

Photo by: Zillow Expanded, upgraded and remodeled throughout, this exquisite Eichler home was originally built in 1955. Tranquil gardens, patios and walkways surround the residence.

Most people think of those vividly hued Victorians as the quintessential Bay Area home, but there was a later movement – just as exciting, and lately, just as beloved – that is equally emblematic of Northern California. In the late '40s and throughout the '50s, a visionary developer named Joseph Eichler hired top architects to design modernist houses affordable to the booming middle class. This was revolutionary for its time: The homes were about as far from the traditional suburban home as Don Draper's open-plan apartment is from Betty Francis' gloomy manse. 

The Mad Men reference is key: The groovy Jetsons style, with floor-to-ceiling windows, flexible space and simple geometric forms, was part of America's reinvention of itself after World War II. This was what we had fought for, in a way: a breath of fresh air in architectural form. Eichler took these ideals further: politically progressive in his personal life, he quietly opted out of the restrictive policies used in most housing tracts to keep out certain buyers. He was taking a huge chance. At that time, some banks wouldn't even lend money for the purchase of such weird-looking homes, and many builders wanted nothing to do with them. But buyers went wild.

The appeal of an Eichler home is simple: rather than keeping nature at arm's length, you're immersed in it, via large windows, and the details are kept simple. Renee Adelman, a Realtor who pens the blog EichlerForSale.com, says "the indoor-outdoor lifestyle is the California dream, and that resonates with people. The sun streams in, or on a rainy day you experience it from your cozy couch. It's really hard to have a bad day in an Eichler."

In recent years, these homes, which expertly tiptoe the line between art and kitsch, have been snapped up by buyers who then form a community based on their shared love of the modernist form, the friendliness inherent in the planned-community model, and the progressive principles underlying the whole experience. One of them even created a documentary exploring five homeowners living in Eichlers. Though they're beloved, they aren't usually limited by historic-site rules or homeowner associations, and they remain – well, as affordable as anything is in the Bay Area these days. 

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