The thing about owning a mid-century modern home is that once the repairs and decor are up to snuff, you can't help but share it. Hosting friends and family is what these houses were built to do, so what better way to usher in the summer than by throwing a house party?
The suburban California lifestyle of the 1950s and '60s was an ideal that many families wanted for themselves. It was all about creating a comfortable life for the family and keeping an immaculate home.
Median family incomes doubled in the 1950s, allowing many families to spend money on their dream homes and leisure activities. One of the most common ways then for breadwinners to spend their hard-earned salaries was to kick back and relax at home.
Entertaining let men showcase how well they provided for their families, while housewives showed off their domestic skills, whipping up multi-course meals and decadent desserts—all while keeping a pristine appearance in classic up-style hairdos, pearls, and heels.
"We didn't have much money, and television was a very new thing, so we made our own entertainment as sophisticated as we could," says Catherine Munson, who has owned and lived in Eichler homes in San Rafael for more than 50 years.
Going out to dinner was expensive back then, so most couples socialized by getting together for dinner parties, games, and conversation. After dinner, many passed the time by playing bridge, poker, and charades. Summertime lured families outdoors and to the barbecue.
"Sometimes it would be hosted by one family, sometimes on hot days people would spontaneously congregate at someone's house," Munson recalls.
Conversation was a simple way to pass the time, too. "One of the most sophisticated parties we had were discussion groups, and it was quite an honor to be invited," says Munson. "We had either 12 people, which would be six couples; or eight people, four couples. We would start after dinner.
"We had pre-assigned subjects, and we would try to read up on that subject for the next meeting. It was a very serous affair. Since most of us were in our 20s or early 30s, we matured with a more serious interest in the political situation, whether it was local, national, or international. We made some very great and lasting friendships."
Early in the '50s, decor for parties was relatively simple. "We didn't make elaborate table settings, just fresh flowers out of the garden, like geraniums," Munson pointed out.
That changed after Munson saw an Eichler showcase house in 1960 in which each room of the house—even the four bedrooms—was decorated for a party. "They were so clever—things we had never seen before," says Munson, who worked in sales for Eichler Homes for more than a decade beginning in 1958. "They used paper decorations for the tables, for kids and adult parties, and decorated elaborate cakes. They opened our eyes to being unique and original, using colors and being creative. We saw things in a whole different light."
Classic mid-century modern homes support an informal indoor-outdoor lifestyle that continues to be perfect for entertaining today. "I throw a ton of parties," says Loni Nagwani, an Eichler owner and realtor in San Jose. "Eichlers are great for outdoor parties and dinner parties. It's a modular space, so you can reconfigure the house very quickly to open it up and accommodate more people. And there's so much glass."
If you're lucky enough to have one of the distinctive room-sized atriums that were original to many Eichlers, you can entertain inside or out in a flash. The open space allows homeowners to relax in an outdoor environment with the privacy of indoors. The sunshine and night sky are all yours to dine, drink, and laugh under.