House of Questions

"How can we add on to our Eichler without losing the aesthetic or friends around us?"
Add On
Like the original Eichlers pictured here, sometimes it's best to
"don't mess with a classic." Photos: David Toerge
Add On
Architect John Hopkins of Hopkins Studio.
Add On
General contractor Craig Smollen of Smollen the
Builder.

"It's not easy" seems to be the consensus of building and design professionals in the know.

Nothing says "uninformed homeowner" like an addition that does not fit the overall style of the house. So how do you add on to a house as stylistic as an Eichler? And is it really possible to do it without affecting the privacy and views of your neighbors?

We asked two Bay Area design and construction professionals with considerable experience working with, and preference for, mid-century modern homes—architect John Hopkins of Hopkins Studio and general contractor Craig Smollen of Smollen the Builder. They said it can be done, but within certain parameters.

Is it more difficult to add on to a mid-century modern home than to other architectural styles?

Hopkins: That is possible. Possibly some of the Eichlers might naturally fall in that category...In a way, though, working on a mid-century modern is going to be easier than working on, say, even a Craftsman or some older style.

From an architect's standpoint, it's more natural to be working with a contemporary style rather than trying to mimic whatever particular style [house] you're working in. The more contemporary, the more natural for an architect to work on. It's familiar territory.

What I tell my clients is, I aim to make the new part the best part of the house and, in that process, remove the worst part of the house. That way, the whole design quality of the house sort of leapfrogs to another level.

Do certain Eichler floor plans work better for a room addition than others?

Smollen: It depends on the lot, first of all. But certainly, my favorites are always the Quincy Jones designs. They lend themselves nicely to it...It also depends on what jurisdiction you're in. Some places have design guidelines for Eichlers that you need to maintain.

What about 'going up?'

Hopkins: Adding a [second] story is a very touchy subject in the Eichler community. There are a lot of people that are completely wedded to the notion that an Eichler is a one-story building, and there can't be any other variation. And I appreciate that sentiment.

However, as an architect, architects like to invent, and there's always a solution that will work, and not only work, but [but one that] can really will be an improvement to the building. I could add 'up' to any Eichler, I'm pretty sure. A second floor, a whole second floor—no. That would probably ruin any Eichler.

If you get the proportions wrong, then it's not going to work...