The distinctively plain front door is a signature feature of the Eichler style, and one that is perhaps replaced more often than anything else. Yet, points out Peninsula architect David Solnick, owners should carefully consider any such alteration, especially when it includes replacements that are decorative and traditional. "With Eichlers, I specify a solid wood slab, or if the client has the budget for it, I might use steel or even stainless steel, but still with a flush face," he says. "To pick a froo-froo door out of a catalog is a travesty—and the same goes for garage doors. I do not say this because I feel the need to be authentic. I simply think that it's the best design choice. Eichler's original choice of doors was just right!"
Peninsula architect Guy Ayers doesn't minimize the difficulty of finding the right replacement door for an Eichler. "There may be some half-way decent, off-the-shelf modernist doors, but I haven't found any," claims Ayers. "There are a few European and American suppliers of nice interior doors, but 99 percent of the custom exterior-door companies don't do modern. If you want a reasonably priced door, use flat solid-core fir or a paint-grade, exterior-grade door. But since many custom door companies, just like custom cabinet companies, will make whatever you want, you just need a creative designer with an eye for modernism who understands how doors are fabricated."
As Solnick points out, garage doors are another frequently modified aspect of Eichler exteriors, particularly those that slide horizontally. This often happened because unaware homeowners brought in their local garage-door repairer, asking for their doors to be repaired, or even automated, only to be misled by the unscrupulous, who simply wanted to register a bigger sale.
Homeowners are often told by garage-door companies that their original doors can only be automated if they converted to a roll-up style door. That is simply not correct. In fact, homeowners can even add an electric opener to their horizontally sliding doors themselves, as Tod Fitch did to his Sunnyvale Eichler. He used a standard Sears worm drive opener (make sure any opener you buy is UL approved, as required by California code) with optional full extension and photoelectric sensor, and mounted it himself (photos here).
If such a project seems over your head, you may want to call on companies like Artistic Garage Doors on the peninsula. According to Artistic's Ron Fouts, "We use the Genie worm drive opener with some custom brackets to automate Eichler sliders. We do a lot of custom doors, and the Eichler doors are some of the simplest ones for us to work on." Artistic's services include rebuilding Eichler garage-door frames and putting new matching siding on them. "Eichler sliders are the most maintenance free of all types of garage doors," continued Fouts, "because they just hang there! As long as they don't hit against the concrete, they'll last forever."
When it comes to Eichler exteriors, the biggest challenge of all is adding rooms to your Eichler without altering the look of the house from the street or impacting neighbors' privacy. Bay Area architect David Thimgan of the Thimgan Architectural Group claims that the original Eichler design has a powerful influence on design proposals he makes to his clients. "It completely affects my design approach," he explains. "My whole objective is to make the addition or modification an extension of the original design as best as I can interpret it. I want people passing by the house to be unable to tell where the addition begins and where it ends."
Fellow-architect Ayers finds that many Eichler owners typically want to add more space to their homes by adding a bedroom or enlarging the kitchen. "I've been pretty conservative," he confesses. "I try to make the addition look like it's part of the original house."
Eichler owners treasure their rear 'wall of glass,' but all that glass can leave them vulnerable to the actions of their neighbors, particularly to ones that add a second story. Ayers believes that "most of the time it's tough to add a second story to an Eichler and have it look decent. They tend to loom over single-story houses." However, with careful planning, a well-orchestrated addition can accommodate the rights of neighbors, while at the same time maintain the design integrity of the house as viewed from the street. This can best be done by enlisting the services of a qualified architect.