Eichler Lighting

Beyond the usual Eichler challenges, there are viable options to improve interior lighting

There's no question that reworking the interior lighting in an Eichler home can be a challenge. After all, there's no attic to run wiring through, or crawl space beneath the floor. These features ("It's not a bug, it's a feature!") give Eichlers their clean, ground-hugging look. The downside is that homeowners can't just drop lights down from the ceiling on a whim. This lack of lighting flexibility is often mentioned as an "Eichler drawback." Still, where there's a problem, there's a solution; in fact, there are several.

interior lighting

For those who are planning on re-roofing in the near future, that project will present an ideal opportunity to have a qualified electrician add new electrical lines on top of the tongue-and-groove roof decking. The existing lines that provide power to the original ceiling lights in the living areas and hallways can be readily tapped, though one should check the circuits to ensure the existing breakers can handle any new loads.

For owners who like their roof just the way it is, but need more light coming down from above, Joel Barron of Lighting Design Center in San Mateo suggests considering low-voltage (12-volt) lighting, which doesn't need to be contained in conduits and can be run just about anywhere. It's available in a wide variety of styles, many strikingly modern, that fit right into the Eichler look. The wiring can run exposed on specially designed mounts or through a rail system that lies flat against the ceiling. For safety reasons, Barron recommends that the 12-volt transformer not be placed inside the wall, but rather in some unobtrusive corner or under a piece of furniture.

Barron also likes to use wall sconces for general ambient light, as they can be positioned to reflect light off the ceiling in dramatic ways. If a sconce is going to be located in an area that is not convenient to an existing switch, it can be switched remotely with an "X-10" switch replacing the existing switch in the room. These are available in dimmer or timer models as well.

Another alternative is constructing a "soffit" where the ceiling meets the wall. Essentially, a soffit is an enclosed space that drops the level of the ceiling over a limited area, say 12 inches out from the wall. Recessed lighting is mounted within the enclosure, and the wiring can be run down the inside of the wall to tie into the existing power.

Finally, floor lamps are an all-purpose solution that require no carpentry or electrical skills whatsoever. Here again, the range of styles offered is almost overwhelming, from high, arching lamps to ground-hugging designs that throw light across a broad area. Our personal favorites, that just scream "mid-century modern," include Achille Castiglioni's "Arco" model, a stainless steel 95-inch high arc on a marble base, and the classic George Nelson "Cigar" lamps covered in "self-webbing" plastic. Many of Nelson's designs were used to decorate Eichler model homes; you can't go wrong taking that route.

Turning to the exterior, over the years many Eichlers have lost their original, classically simple outside lights. Many were replaced with ornate carriage lamps, or industrial-looking floodlights thatg throw out enough light to illuminate the entire block. Fancy brass lanterns clash with the clean lines of an Eichler, so consider contemporary lights in a simple style. However, it can be challenging to find exterior lights that are similar to those originally used by Eichler. Homeowners thinking of discarding their original lights should think again. Though the anodized aluminum finish cannot be brought back to life, for a modest cost old lights can be sandblasted, powder coated, and have new wiring installed (check the Yellow Pages for "powder coatings"). The result, even for a heavily corroded 50-year-old light, is a nearly brand-new finish.