How 'Eichlers' Brought Design to Suburbia

Jewish Builder Transformed American Ideal of Modern Homes

Passion for Design: Eichler homes are passionately appreciated by homeowners and by students of 20th-century American architecture.
david toerge
Passion for Design: Eichler homes are passionately appreciated by homeowners and by students of 20th-century American architecture.

By Renee Ghert-Zand

Published March 02, 2012, issue of March 09, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 2)

“Eichlers are a product of their time. They reflect the aesthetic of progressive architects who designed for high-end clients,” Adamson told the Forward. In fact, Eichler himself was deeply influenced by living briefly in one of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Usonian houses in the San Francisco suburb of Hillsborough. He even tried unsuccessfully to get Wright to design for Eichler Homes, his own company. “Joe Eichler was the only merchant builder working on such a large scale who partnered with architects in this way. There haven’t been developments of that class of building, to that level of sophistication, since. Eichlers really stand alone in that regard,” Adamson said.

Eichler partnered with cutting-edge architects Robert Anshen and William Stephen Allen, and later with the team of A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons. They all helped him realize his vision for indoor-outdoor living and light-on-the-ground design. The homes built by Eichler, about 11,000, represent hundreds of different designs, since the builder was constantly asking his architects to tweak their plans, especially as the exclusively single-level homes began to be built larger. However, they all share features that characterize Eichlers, including slab foundations; post-and-beam construction; flat roofs; flexible, open planning; mahogany paneling; radiant heating; built-in furniture, and central atriums.

The most noticeable feature of Eichlers is that they are “blank to the street,” as Adamson put it, and oriented toward the backyard, which is separated from the living area by huge glass windows. This notion of integrating the outdoors with the indoors is what hooks many house hunters, even if they are neither seeking an Eichler nor are fans of modernism. “I didn’t know Eichler from Shmeichler,” said 62-year-old Randi Brenowitz, who bought an Eichler in 1985 upon arriving in Palo Alto from New England. “But I loved the layout, how open and airy it is and how the outside is part of the inside,” she said as she showed this reporter around her home. “Now I feel claustrophobic in any other kind of house.”

“It’s a style of living that made sense in California. It’s appropriate for the climate,” Adamson noted. “Many Eichler owners describe it as like living in nature.” It is also a difficult style of design to achieve. “Minimalism is hard,” Adamson said, “but Eichler managed to pull it off on a large scale and in an accessible way.”

It many ways, Eichlers have become part of the public visual vernacular without our realizing it. For instance, the family home in Pixar’s animated film “The Incredibles” was inspired by a tour of Eichlers that Adamson conducted for the filmmakers. Walter Isaacson wrote in his Steve Jobs biography that the Apple CEO’s sense of design was deeply influenced by having lived in an Eichler during his formative years. The famous architectural photographer Julius Shulman, known for his shots of houses by greats like Pierre Koenig, Richard Neutra, Charles Eames and Raphael Soriano, also photographed Eichlers.

Ron Key, owner of Keycon, Inc. Construction and Design and a longtime expert in remodeling Eichlers is, like many, an admirer of Eichlers’ aesthetics and longevity. “I have a standing challenge to anyone to show me a tract house built in the 1950s that has stood up like an Eichler,” he said. He views his work as taking Eichler’s basic concept and updating it to meet today’s green construction guidelines, building code standards and lifestyle needs.

Key told the Forward that what really attracted him to Eichlers was their founder’s moral sense. Unlike many other builders at the time, Eichler, a politically progressive son of German-Jewish immigrants to New York, did not discriminate against buyers. In “Eichler/Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream,” Adamson put it this way: “Years before either the federal government or the state of California passed legislation to protect the rights of minorities to obtain loans and purchase housing, Eichler Homes maintained a firm, although discreet, policy of nondiscrimination.”

Eichler resigned from the National Association of Home Builders in 1958 when it refused to support a nondiscrimination policy. “Because Joe Eichler’s company was ahead of its time and consequently lacked legal support,” Adamson wrote, “this policy had to remain largely unknown to the general public — a situation that often frustrated Eichler and his generally liberal staff.”

For this and many other reasons, “it’s hard to put a value on an Eichler,” Amdur remarked. As modern design purists, he and his wife took great pains to decorate theirs with midcentury art and furnishings. “It kills us to this day that we had to leave that house,” he said. “As soon as we can, we plan on taking its floor plan and building an Eichler-type home here in Florida.”

Renee Ghert-Zand is a freelance writer and a regular contributor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.