Escape from the Bay

From Boise to Sacramento to Portland—flight paths that lead to modern living without sky-high prices
Escape from the Bay
Economics drove Randee, Eero, and Andrew Templeman (above - L-R) from their Concord Eichler in 2017 to a more affordable 'modest modern' alternative in Boise, Idaho.
Escape from the Bay
Home today to the Templemans, Boise has been identified by Forbes magazine as one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Above: Downtown Boise at night.
Escape from the Bay
Nature isn't far from Boise's urban center.
Escape from the Bay
Escape from the Bay
Escape from the Bay
Top: The Templemans enjoying life as mid-century modern enthusiasts in their Boise living room. Middle: The front exterior
of their Boise home. Above: At the rear of the Templemans' home—a lovely view of the Boise Foothills.

Job hunting for Andrew Templeman meant more than finding something with good pay and benefits. It meant finding a job near Eichler homes.

A man "obsessed," as he says, with all things mid-century modern, he'd become an industrial designer because of his love of modernism. So when he spied a job listing in Walnut Creek, he pounced.

"I knew the most affordable Eichlers were in Concord, so I landed a job in Walnut Creek, within commuting distance," Andrew says.

Andrew and his wife, Randee Cole, who shares his enthusiasm, were living in Oregon. But they visited California, touring Eichler tracts, admiring Eichler's all-steel X-100, checking out the architect-designed Case Study houses in Southern California.

These are folks who love modern design so much they named their son Eero, after architect-designer Eero Saarinen.

By 2013, Andrew and Randee were living their dream—in an Eichler home designed by one of Andrew's favorite architects, A. Quincy Jones, in Concord's Rancho del Diablo.

"We had $90,000 from Oregon, all the equity we had built up [in their home] over ten years," Andrew says. "It was just barely enough to put 20 percent down on $460,000 for a fixer upper."

They loved the atrium, "this little private oasis," Andrew says, and turned their new Concord home tropical, with a bird of paradise plant that soon popped past the roof.

"Neighbors threw a welcome-to-the-neighborhood party when we arrived," he says. "I'm an introvert, so it was an easier way to get me to open up. I would never go up to someone who was working on their yard and start talking. After that we were borrowing milk from each other."

So why are Andrew and Randee living today in their hometown of Boise, Idaho?

The answer suggests something troubling about the future of Eichler homes, as prices rise to exorbitant levels—for Eichlers and for all houses—throughout the Bay Area, not only in Silicon Valley.

What does it say about the community when folks like Andrew, Randee, and young Eero cannot afford to live in an Eichler? And how about to the small business people, teachers, professors, and middle-level professionals who once brought their talent and enthusiasm to Eichler neighborhoods but can do so no longer?

Must it be Boise for them too?

The answer also suggests something positive—that modern enthusiasts who cannot afford $2 million Eichlers in Palo Alto, or $750,000 Eichlers in Concord, are moving instead to less costly markets where modern homes can be found for much less, and bringing with them much of the Eichler spirit.

And it's not like they are importing their enthusiasm into design deserts. The revival of the style has been a nationwide phenomenon for years, and many cities have active bands of enthusiasts, and real estate agents who focus on the style.

Among other cities that have been attracting Bay Area modernist refugees are Sacramento and, to a lesser extent, Davis, where there are Streng homes, built by the Streng Brothers Jim and Bill, and custom modern homes; Portland, Oregon, where there are mid-century modern homes built by Robert Rummer, who managed to closely mirror Eichlers; and such further-flung locales as Denver and Phoenix.

While none of these towns have as many modern tract homes as the Bay Area, and few have any as purely modern as Eichlers, all have their attractions. These include a simpler lifestyle, lower cost of living, less traffic in most cases, and lower-cost homes.

Why are people moving, and who is doing the moving? It doesn't seem to be existing owners of Eichlers cashing out to buy less expensive homes with more cash in hand, say brokers in several markets, including Marisa Swenson, who's been selling modern homes in Portland for a dozen years.

Instead, she says, "I have people who have wanted to purchase in the Bay Area but find themselves priced out, so they came up here to purchase."