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Spurred on by passion, charity and even profit, ambitious organizers and proud homeowners welcome in throngs on tours of their modern homes

A goal of Modern Home Tours, Swinney says, is to promote modern architects, many of whom Spencer met while delving into their work for Architectural Record, where she was managing editor, and is now a contributing editor.

"Modern architects get a bad rap," Swinney says. "They are viewed as very artsy and only interested in really expensive showstopper houses. That's not how they are. They're about how to make fantastic designs fit in the context of what's around them. You realize they just love what they do, and they want the opportunity to do it."

Architects often spend tour days in homes they have designed talking to visitors about design and materials—but rarely if ever about costs or specific jobs.

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Ingrid Spencer of Modern Home Tours.

"I'm not sure if anyone contacted me after for work based directly on the tour," Klopf says about his experience at the Highlands' tours. "But I did hear from clients later. 'Oh yeah, I remember seeing that house on the home tour.' It may not lead directly to referrals, but it's something people remember."

Others who benefit

Roofers, general contractors, flooring installers, and other service providers often set up booths in tour homes, Siguenza says, recalling what happened after she opened her own home on the Highlands tour. "The people who did our floor got so much business, they were like a year out with jobs after the tour. It was nutty."

Some homeowners show their homes because they hope to benefit directly. Sometimes they show a home that is for sale. Occasionally they show homes that are otherwise available.

Robert Pollack, whose website identifies him as a "visionary," allowed the public to tour his white-on-white, "box within a box" designed by architect Alexander Gorlin on Modern Home Tour's Chicago expedition.

"Chicago de Blanco," as he calls the place, is rented out for photo shoots, TV commercials, and more. "We've had it all," he says.

But, except for the tour, the home, with its huge collection of autographed celebrity photos, is never open to the public. "It's very museum-like, and people really got their money's worth in this case," Pollack says of the tour. "The only thing, we told people, you can't take pictures here."

Realtors can also benefit from home tours, says Melissa Prandi, owner of Prandi Property Management and an organizer of past Eichler tours in Marin that benefited Hospice. Tours not only expose tour goers to attractive, well-staged homes and a variety of house designs, they can also stimulate interest in actually living the lifestyle.

"I know several people who bought an Eichler after going on the tour," she says.

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While tour goers gaze, organizers promote preservation.

But raising funds for Hospice, and raising awareness of its services, was the goal of the 'Open Hearts' tour, she says, not selling real estate. "I wanted to bring an audience to Hospice they'd never had before," says Prandi, who was chair of the Marin Hospice foundation at the time.

"Some people didn't know what Hospice was," she says. But in the end, awareness was increased significantly, and "the effort really brought the community together."

Community & preservation

Bringing the community together comes up a lot when talking to tour promoters. Siguenza says the Highlands tour "brought the Eichler community together," by attracting people from other Eichler neighborhoods. "We feel a kinship with them."

Kaaren Sipes remembers her neighbors streaming through her home on the tour. "A lot of the people from the neighborhood I hadn't met before. I got to meet some really new people."

Siguenza has attended Eichler neighborhood tours throughout the state, going as far as Orange County, often meeting up with friends.

For many tours, a major goal is "promoting the cause of preservation," Gretchen Steinberg says.

Her 2010 tour led to the creation of the group Sacramento Modern, and attracted attention to the city's mid-century modern architecture. A portion of the proceeds was donated to a local needy cause. Besides homes that were open for visiting, tour goers were directed to modern commercial and public buildings they could drive by.