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.
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.
5 Eichler Homes for SaleView All 15 Photos
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.