Category Archives: Eichler houses

Idea Collecting at Heath Ceramic’s New Tile Showroom

Beyond the Backsplash

I just toured the newly opened San Francisco showroom for Heath Ceramics — the famous mid-century modernist tile factory based in Sausalito — and found it full of suggestive ideas for storage and display, not to mention the vast array of products, from field tiles to tea pots, in colors and finishes that look positively edible. Husband-wife owners Robin Petravic and Cathy Bailey have turned a former linen shop and laundry located in the city’s Mission

District into an airy design lab and gallery. The building layout and renovation was designed by San Francisco architect Charles Hemminger; the showroom interior was done by the Los Angeles firm Commune. The palette of unpainted wood, concrete, glass, and tile evokes a spare Japanesque/Scandinavian esthetic, which seems very appropriate for the strong simple shapes and nature-based hues of the company’s products. The retail showroom wraps around a

clerestoried atrium that will soon house tile-making operations and a Blue Bottle Coffee cafe (dishware manufacture will remain in Sausalito). So you

will be able to sip from a classic Heath “Coupe” line cup while watching the tile for your backsplash emerge from the primordial clay. But here

it’s not only the tile that’s alluring — as shown by sample panels that swivel so you can see the colorful glazes in different lights — but also the ideas for

flexible and built-in cabinetry. The kitchen island is especially suggestive, with butcher block counters flanking the range  for easy food prep before cooking,

and open shelving for convenient pot and pan storage. The floating wall shelving (bolted to the studs) against the vivid blue tile backsplash creates a spacious uncluttered look. The unpainted wood makes a perfect foil for the

tile, ensuring its starring role. Setting the tile perpendicular to the counter edge so that it connects with the tile running up the wall creates visual continuity for a very clean and unified design. The display tables are on rollers

so they can be used to reconfigure the space or combine with other tables for larger arrays. Heath has also begun a program of rotating exhibitions here and is currently showing work by Japanese Master Akio Nukaga. In sum,

the space deftly combines art and commerce. In effect, everything in the space

is carefully curated to feed the imagination…Say, wouldn’t these tiles look great in an outdoor shower on a house like this one by architects Braxton

Werner and Paul Field, Plan 491-2. I can see placing it around the corner to the left, not far from the pool. On that panel by the last window — a tall accent wall of blue-green classic field tile, don’t you think?

“Mad Men” and Mid-Century Modernity at LACMA

Stereos and Studebakers

The start of Mad Men‘s fifth season this week on cable TV is fortuitous. Though the series spawned a new appreciation for slick Madison Avenue Modernism of the early 1960s — not to mention accompanying cocktails — it wasn’t easy to see

where part of that esthetic came from (photo courtesy But now you can, thanks to the exhibition running through June at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art called Living in a Modern Way: California Design 1930-1965 curated by Wendy Kaplan. In fact, the advertising firm that the character Don Draper runs, seen above at his desk with drink in hand, ought to be developing campaigns for many of the products in the exhibition, like the Studebaker Avanti of 1961-2 by Raymond Loewy, below.

California — and especially Los Angeles — became a remarkable incubator of modern design during the middle of the 20th century. The benign climate, burgeoning post World War II economy and population, and movie mystique attracted imaginative designers and take-a-chance clients. I toured the exhibit recently and was impressed with the way it explores connections between popular and high style design, from furniture and clothing to houses and cars while bringing the Left Coast side of the Mad Men era to life.

Time here begins in the 1930s, quite literally, with one of the first digital clocks,

the Zephyr clock by Lawson Time, from around 1938 (photo courtesy LACMA blog). My uncle had one of these and I always admired it — when the numbers turned over they bounced slightly before resting in place (perhaps a metaphor for hanging fire?). Time did appear to be hustling as new tracts developed across

the LA basin. Modern architects were designing houses and filling them with furniture like this 1931 bent plywood chair by Richard Neutra or this squared off

corner grouping by A. Quincy Jones from 1961 and Mondrian-esque glass coffee table of c. 1950 by Milo Baughman for Glenn of California  — which look like they belong in one corner of Don Draper’s office. Living In A Modern Way shows how California designers celebrated the casual indoor-outdoor living that

the California climate made possible, as in this promotional image for a development called Monarch Bay Homes at Laguna Niguel by delineator Carlos Dini, from 1961 (image courtesy LACMA).  My favorite part of the exhibit juxtaposes two elegant designs from 1961 by LA’s most minimalist architect,

Craig Ellwood: a superb elevation of his Rosen house and the Rosen’s custom stereo cabinet. Now this takes Machine Age abstraction to its logical extreme: house and stereo are extensions of each other, if not virtually indistinguishable —  do I live in the stereo or does the stereo live in me? Talk about surround sound! The only real difference, besides scale and some plumbing, is that the stereo has four bays while the house has only three. Clearly the sort of house where you would expect to hear Frank Sinatra, not to mention the architect, crooning My Way — and sotto voce “or the highway.” (Images courtesy LACMA.)

Even Barbie went modern, and her Dream House of 1962, shown below, is fun to

to see. The largest element in the show is a replica of the loft-like living room of  the Charles and Ray Eames house of 1949, the most famous structure in the

Case Study House Program of the late 1940s and early 1950s sponsored by Arts + Architecture magazine (photo courtesy NY Times). It functions both as a frame for nature and an elegant specimen box for the Eames’ collection (1,869 items in this space alone!). Which reminds me: Case Study House #3 shown below, by William Wurster and Theodore Bernardi is not in the exhibit but is in the Signature Studio and is Plan 529-1. See how it too blends indoor and outdoor space into a seamless whole: the house is the lot. Our Eichler Plans offer further variations on the modern living theme. They’re all part of the Mid-Century Modern design history you can own.

So, Don Draper — time to put down that highball and get back to work. You have a lot of selling to do!


Major Ranch House Exhibition at UCSB

From Corral to Cul de Sac in the Southern California Home

I just saw “Carefree California: Cliff May and the Romance of the Ranch House” in the Art, Design & Architecture Museum at the University of California, Santa Barbara, curated by Jocelyn Gibbs and Nicholas Olsberg. It’s the first scholarly  exhibition on the history of the suburban ranch house at UCSB since the late architectural historian David Gebhard founded the museum’s design archive in the 1970s and collected the Cliff May papers along with those of many other influential Southern California architects and designers (catalog to be published in April). The fence on the intro wall aptly expresses both the ranch house idea

and the intent of the show: to corral the many facets of ranch house history into a coherent narrative while showing off holdings from the museum’s extensive architectural drawings collections. It’s mostly about ranch house designer, developer, and popularizer Cliff May, who began his career in San Diego in the early 1930s with courtyard designs like this one, which cloaked functional planning and space for the automobile in the romance of history.

They were inspired by early California ranchos with their covered “corredors” or porches. In 1934 he moved to Los Angeles and soon began developing Riviera Ranch, an equestrian-oriented subdivision off Sunset Boulevard near Brentwood. With larger lots his plans could “sprawl” across the site.

This house — for his own family — became his best sales tool and a laboratory for trying out new ideas like residential incinerators and walk-in refrigerators. In the 1950s he and his architect partner Chris Choate developed their “low cost ranch house” concept using standardized, pre-cut elements.

(Image courtesy AD&A Museum.) Window walls and shallow gable roofs were signature features, as shown in the brochure plan and the supergraphic of another May design that dominates a section of the exhibit (below).

May’s designs resemble Eichler tract house plans of the same era — the ranch house concept was everywhere at that time and very malleable. The tract ranch house became popular for developers, which is when the word sprawl took on

a less positive meaning; this is an aerial view of Lakewood Rancho Estates, in Long Beach, California (image courtesy AD&A Museum). Meanwhile May was still designing larger and more lavish custom homes for people like the inventor of

the Lear jet and the composer of the theme song for the TV show Bonanza. The typical pool and patio example above — one of many in the exhibit — became synonymous with California living (image courtesy AD&A Museum).

By the early 1960s Cliff May ranch houses had spread across the country as this wonderful pin map — which I remember seeing in Cliff May’s last office — demonstrates. Some of the pins represent subdivisions of more than 25 houses — his designs are in almost every state as well as as Canada and Mexico.

The show includes ranch house designs by other Southern California architects, from John Byers to Rudolph Schindler, proving that Cliff’s wasn’t the only game in town. As Jocelyn Gibbs, who is the curator of the museum’s Architectural Drawings Collection, told me: the intent was “to suggest that the ranch house and modernist ideas are not incompatible.” Indeed, the ranch house idea was stylistically very loose — simply a one story house with a modern open plan and strong outdoor connections. It had little theoretical baggage.

The need to exhibit only work from the museum’s collections is understandable but I wish there had been a way to include the wider architectural context, from William Wurster’s Butler house at Santa Cruz, California of 1935

(image courtesy Modern in Melbourne), to John Yeon’s Watzek house in

Portland, Oregon, of 1937 (photo courtesy Inside Oregon), to Frank Lloyd

Wright’s Herbert Jacobs Usonian House in Madison, Wisconsin of 1936 (image courtesy to Walter Gropius’s Arnold Wolfers house in

Brooklin, Maine of 1947 (image courtesy The Downeast Dilletante). Most architects took the ranch house in a more strictly modern direction and didn’t acknowledge Cliff May’s contribution. Nor did most of the design critics of the day. But though Cliff May was left out of architectural debates at the Museum of Modern Art and elsewhere, it’s clear, as this exhibition vividly demonstrates, that Southern California had a richly experimental residential design tradition and that Cliff had the last laugh. The show remains on view through June 17, 2012; museum hours are Wednesday through Sunday, noon to 5; free.

Modern Paint Color and Eichler Plans

Nature-Oriented Paint Palettes

We’ve just added four more Eichler mid-century modern house plans (by architect Claude Oakland — see them at the end of this post) to our Signature Plans Collection and this has made me think about interior paint colors that might be appropriate for contemporary homes. And it’s spring: spruce-up time! The Yolo Colorhouse palette of no VOC paints (volatile organic compounds) sprang to mind.

The colors are organized in nature-based categories, from Air to Petal. One advantage of Yolo Colorhouse is that you can order poster-size color swatches (instead of smaller paint chips) to see how the color will look (remember that online paint color is only an approximation and you should refer to a dry paint chip sample before purchasing paint).

Because the range of color possibilities is so wide, I asked architectural color consultant Jill Pilaroscia of Colour Studio, who has directed color projects for Herman Miller and a wide variety of community developers, for her advice.

She suggested taking cues from the design, the materials, and the lifestyle characteristics of the typical Eichler home: its open plan, use of wood and warm-toned laminates, casual organization and clean lines; its rooms oriented toward and connecting with the garden; and its abundant daylight through window walls and interior transoms.

She says: “All of these basic characteristics set the stage for a range of natural  and organic colors that will harmonize with the building’s given elements.  Warm reds, rusts, browns, taupes, olives, greens, buffs, greyed tones that mirror those found in shadowed natural settings look wonderful in these homes. Sometimes an owner will find the colors heavy and oppressive and determine they want to paint the ceiling beams, and paint out the woods.  Subjective color likes and dislikes are deeply ingrained with the emotional connotations. This in no way means this is the only way to deal with an Eichler.  Some clients will choose to work in strong colors that suit their personal subjective color needs and can make it work. “

Jill suggested twelve Benjamin Moore hues in several categories as a starting point (swatches shown below).

Warm Accents

035 Baked Clay

077 Fiery Opal

194 Hathaway Gold

Softer Organic Warm Yellows to suggest light:

177 Mushroom Cap

186 Harvest Time


492 Dune Grass

495 Hillside Green


513 Limestone

1522 Inner Balance

Metal color:

1547 Dragon’s Breath,  for deep metal accents

and Deep Browns:

HC-72 Branchport Brown

2114-20 Mississippi Mud

On the Benjamin Moore website you can use their Virtual Fan Deck and Personal Color Viewer to see the paint applied to walls in several sample room photos, like this:

which uses Dune Grass on the fireplace and trim and Hillside Grass on the walls.

Here’s the same room with Hathaway Gold on fireplace and trim and Mushroom Cap on the walls. Beware, the click-and-cover feature can definitely become addictive… For information about colors used in the original Eichlers see CA Modern, the magazine of the Eichler Network.

Our latest Eichler Plans

The most recent additions to our Signature Plans Collection are four more historic Eichler plans from the early 1960s.

The 4 bedroom, 3 bath, 2,733 sq. ft. layout of Plan 470-6 (original model HPO-15) — organized around an an open-air atrium — allows windows on two sides of every major room for cross-ventilation and balanced light.

The plan is both elegant and practical: a spacious loggia connects the kitchen/multipurpose room with the living room, and a laundry hall opens to the garage. The street front

centers a big welcoming gable porch over the entry beside the flat-roofed garage.

In Plan 470-8 (model NY-254), one of the very few Eichler homes also built outside California (in the Hudson River Valley outside New York City),

a long horizontal facade — part garage, part wall — preserves privacy for the  front courtyard.

The 4 bedroom, 2 bath 1,706 sq. ft., L-shaped house wraps around two sides of this open space. The living dining area and the master bedroom open directly to the rear yard.

Plan 470-7 (model MC-34) shows how the so-called “multipurpose room” is no longer part of the kitchen (where it appears in the previous two plans) but its own separate space,

that now really functions as a family room. The “Gallery” in this 2,364 sq. ft., 4 bedroom, 2 bath plan includes a variation on the atrium idea, only this time it has a roof and is part of the interior. The segmented gable

extends from front to rear, across the gallery. These Eichler designs celebrate easy indoor-outdoor living and remain seductive for people who want to live on one level. We are able to offer copies of the designs by special arrangement with the Environmental Design Archives at U. C. Berkeley; a percentage of the plan price supports the Archives.

Collecting Retro Modernity

Paper — Or Plastic — Chase

Design collecting takes many forms. I recently attended a workshop on the mid-century modern design photographer Maynard Parker at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California and met Charles Phoenix, resplendent in a vintage Hawaiian shirt, who is one of the great collectors of 50s and 60s modern Americana, a frequent guest on NPR and Martha Stewart and author of Americana The Beautiful: Mid-Century Modern Culture in Kodachrome (Angel City Press, 2006)

His enthusiasm for popular culture — from high style to kitsch — is infectious and his frequent slide lectures

— showing a vast collection of Kodachromes like the one above — are famous. He calls thrift shops “museums of merchandise” that are “the perfect place to study the underbelly of our mass consumerism culture.” I agree and think a lot can be learned about our culture by studying everyday life in any decade — just think how the phrase “better living through chemistry,” which became synonymous with the 1950s and derived from a Dupont slogan adopted in 1935 (according to Wikipedia), has now acquired an ironic edge. And don’t forget the “one word” that Mr. McGuire said to Benjamin (Dustin Hoffman)  in The Graduate (1967) : “Plastics.”

Charles’ interest in ordinary mid-century life made me think about the parallel universe of high style retro modern imagery — also called classic  modern —  that’s visible in current paper goods like these eye-catching note cards by Annacote (6 cards and envelopes for $12), available at Esty.

The famous diamond-pattern metal chair designed by Harry Bertoia, originally produced by Knoll, makes a vivid design, as do the even more  famous

Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe — designed in the late 1920s but coming to embody a corporate American look in the 1950s — and the

bent plywood chair by Charles and Ray Eames. These sleek and elegant forms remain powerfully seductive. Perhaps a Happy belated Valentine to the designer in your life!

Vintage modern plans are seductive too — browse our Mid-Century Modern Plan Collection, for example. The Stock plan exhibit mentioned in a previous post has made me review my own collecting habit.  I am fond of ranch house plan brochures like this

one from 1946. And in doing my research for Cliff May and the Modern Ranch House (Rizzoli, 2008 — Shameless Self-Promotion Department!) I found this brochure

from the early 1950s for May’s tract ranch houses in Denver. With some updates — kitchens and bathrooms always need adjustment for today’s living patterns, and low-e glass, and higher grade insulation are essential — such a plan would work for today. Robert Nebolon’s updated Eichler (Plan 438-1), shown below in floor plan and elevation,

is comparable — and he’s already done all the upgrade work! For similar plans see our Ranch Style Collection.

Stock Plans Old and New

Building Patterns

Plan books  go way back, as the exhibit Stock Options: Houses for Everyone,

which just opened at U. C. Berkeley, vividly demonstrates. Curator Elizabeth Byrne traces the history of the western home through the profusion of pattern books and brochures published by building companies since the nineteenth century.

This is where most of the designs for the houses that shape our cities and towns come from.

The New York firm of Palliser & Palliser was one of the early plan companies. As the economy and the middle class expanded, home building grew apace, especially in the early 20th century, when

bungalows, promoted by builders and magazines alike, took the country by storm and became identified with California and the good life. Truly the model T of home design in that era, the bungalow — like the automobile — overran towns like Pasadena, California, where there’s even a neighborhood

called “Bungalow Heaven.” And by the way, garage plans suddenly became important. The pent-up demand for housing produced by the Depression and then World War II resulted in a huge building boom at mid century

when plan books flooded the market. For example,  prominent Los Angeles architect Paul Williams published two books of plans in 1945 and 1946.  Plans like “The Ulster” shown below, with its efficient central courtyard arrangement

appeared in The Book of Small Houses, also in 1946. (The books themselves are shown in a photo at the top of this post). Ranch houses became the post-war equivalent of the bungalow, only more open to the yard, as this Cliff May plan from Sunset Western Ranch Houses of 1946

shows. Note the headline, which rings even more true today, when scarce land for building makes every inch count. To continue the auto metaphor, you could say the ranch house became the Ford Mustang of home design in the 1960s, especially as it metamorphosed into Eichler tract houses and other contemporary designs. The exhibit brings us down to the present by showing recent prefab work by Michelle Kaufmann and online home plans like our very own Flexahouse by architect Nick Noyes. For an  exhaustive scholarly history of the pattern book see Houses From Books: Treatises, Pattern Books, and Catalogs in American Architecture: 1738-1950: A History and Guide, by Daniel D. Reiff (Penn State Press, 2000).

Our Newest Exclusive

I’m excited to present work by our latest exclusive architect, Bud Dietrich. It vividly continues the stock plan story into the future.

This elegant house — Plan 481-1 — combines a traditional outline with modern indoor-outdoor living in a crisp orderly plan.

Spatial surprises abound, from the home office/den in its own window bay to the

barrel vault in the living room and the daylit basement

play room opening to a broad stair up to the garden. I like Bud’s design philosophy: “We should create right-sized homes that are gentle on us and our resources. Rather than getting distracted by questions of architectural style let’s use our own wisdom and common sense to create homes that are appropriate for their time and place.” His beautiful multifunctional design shows just how far the stock plan has come.