Getting to know and love an Eichler means adapting to special challenges.
“If you don’t mind being hot in the summer and cold in the winter, and you don’t mind a leaky roof,” says Opsahl with a grin, “you’ll love it.”
Many newer Eichler home-owners have spent thousands of dollars in renovations, redoing or undoing what previous owners have done to damage the Eichler sensibility (despite the innate modernity of the houses, some owners decorate them in French Provincial or some other style ill-suited to the architecture), as well as to repair those areas of the house that are particularly sensitive.
Eichler-owners may be starry-eyed about their beloved homes, but they are also pragmatic. If certain problems come with the Eichler territory-and they do-Eichler-owners say, so be it.
“These are a hole in the ground into which you throw money,” quips Verna Samhammer, adding, “I have very few complaints about this house.
“Once you live in a house like this, how can you go back?”
Single-paned glass does not make for easy or efficient heating and cooling, as Eichler owners soon find out. On the other hand, they are quick to note that opening the houses’ many doors and windows can allow refreshing cross-ventilation in warm weather. As Walton says, “You put a sweater on [when it’s cold], you open doors or windows [when it’s hot].”
Eichler homes are known for their radiant heat systems, in which water pipes are installed beneath the floor; hot water runs through the pipes warming the floor and-in theory-the rest of the house. (Not every Eichler has radiant heat, though. The Ettinger house has a forced-air system that more efficiently heats and cools the house, as do many of its Fairhaven neighbors.) Radiant heating can bring other problems with it-like leaks in the floor. But today different methods of leak detection make it much simpler and less time-consuming to locate, and thus repair, a leak.
One Eichler-owner describes a flat roof simply as a “terrible idea.” It certainly can be problematic (despite what the Eichler Homes Inc.’s homeowners’ manual says). Leaky Eichlers and regular roof replacements are not uncommon. But there are ways to minimize problems-by keeping the downspouts cleaned out, for one thing.
Karnes also recommends siphoning off the excess water. A neighbor demonstrated for her once, and she has followed his example for 40 years. After a heavy rain, she takes a garden hose and sticks one end of it in the deepest part of the puddle on the roof, holding the hose in place with a rock. Back on the ground, she sucks on the other end of the hose until she pulls the water from the puddle into the hose and down to the ground.
“[The roof is] not a big deal,” adds Brian Jacobs, Carla’s husband. “You go up and look for your leaks and patch them, and you’re good.”
Eichlers were sizable homes at the time they were built, and many of them still retain a spacious feel. They do offer less storage space than more recently-built homes, however. Orange architect Susan Secoy, who owned an Eichler and has also worked on renovation designs for several (including the Ettingers’), puts it simply: “Get rid of a lot of your stuff, first and foremost,” she says.
There are other ways Eichler-owners can get around the storage issue. “In the garage, you can utilize a lot of shelving and cabinets,” says Secoy. “With my more recent projects we have added on to the master area, [which] does enable them to have more storage in that space.”
New owners are well aware of the tighter space they’re moving into. “We had an enormous garage sale before we started construction [on our renovation],” recalls Ettinger, “and we had another one right after. We put in the storage [space] we needed.”
Many Eichler owners decide that simple décor-even a minimalist lifestyle-are for them. “Every time I take something away,” Karnes says, “this house looks better.”
When many of the walls of your home are glass, privacy can be an issue. But Eichler-owners are quick to point out that the houses are designed backwards, in a sense. Rather than having windows facing onto the street so they can easily see-and be seen by-their neighbors, Eichler homes typically have facades with few windows. Likewise, while landscaping in the front yard is often understated, backyards and atriums become sanctuaries that may feature anything from exotic plants to fountains to mature orange trees.
“These houses aren’t about front yards,” says Walton. “They’re about atriums and backyards.”
Karnes, who raised three children in her Eichler, says, “These houses are wonderful for privacy. These houses, to me, are just perfect.”
Darkness and light
The original Philippine mahogany wall paneling can be dark-so much so that many new owners are replacing the dark wood with light painted walls. The Jacobs’ home is one of these, though Carla admits that “these houses can never be dark because of all the windows.”
All those windows do make it possible to have a different problem: too much light. Not usually an issue in the morning, afternoon sun can bake rooms with west-facing windows. The Ettingers solved this problem by placing window coverings over the narrow windows in the rooms of their house that face west. They, like many other Eichler-owners, have also installed ceiling fans.
Because of the unique construction of Eichler homes, repairs and remodels can be extra traumatic. The key is finding professionals who know the houses. One local realtor, who specializes in Eichlers, has created a book filled with contact information for professionals in virtually every home-maintenance field, from tree-trimmers to roofers, recommended by Eichler-owners.
It’s something of a surprise that people so enamored of Eichler houses would want-or dare-to remodel them. But as Peterson says, “We don’t live in a museum.” Times change, and with them, people’s needs.
“The architect never intended for you to have a hard time living here,” adds Claire Samhammer. “I think what we did [in remodeling our house] is compatible with the architecture.”
It’s obvious that Eichler owners are more than willing to put up with the challenges that come with the territory. While an outsider might look at the problems that are almost inevitable-re-roofing, for instance, or hungry termites-Eichler fans like Secoy see it as something else. “Any house that’s 40 years old, that’s built of wood, is going to have similar issues.”
And, as a Nov. 25, 1995 Los Angeles Times article put it, “The hardships are outweighed by living in a modern house that proves innovation is possible in mass production.”