Glow from the Soul

Retired architect perfects his technique for maintaining Eichler lauan interior paneling
Fridays on the Homefront
In 2010, when retired architect Grant Reiling bought a roomy, four-bedroom Eichler in Walnut Creek’s Rancho San Miguel, he began experimenting with methods to restore his lauan interior paneling. What is his secret? Above: Grant keeping his walls looking sharp. Photo: Debbie Frank. All photos courtesy Grant Reiling

“A house is a home when it shelters the body and comforts the soul,” wrote Buddhist author Phillip Moffitt, and indeed that is what Grant Reiling seems to have found in his Eichler.

Furthermore, Reiling brought some woody wisdom of his own to his Walnut Creek home, and he has enjoyed sharing it with his close-knit neighborhood of Rancho San Miguel.

That soulful wisdom happens to encompass maintenance of Eichler interior paneling—a regimen of care Reiling would now love to pass along to Eichler owners everywhere.

Fridays on the Homefront
Outside Reiling’s Rancho San Miguel Eichler.

“As an architect, I’ve always loved mid-century modern design,” says Reiling, whose MCM story starts with growing up in a modernist home near St. Paul, Minnesota, designed in 1957 by Elizabeth and Winston Close. Recalling its use of white oak with maple flooring, Reiling says, “I would say that sort of primed me for my later experience at RISD [Rhode Island School of Design], just sort of, ‘wood and what you do to take care of it.’”

After beginning college in 1981, at Oakland’s California College of Arts and Crafts, Reiling sought out his next school, where he could gain certification as an architect. His goal was to study at “the American Bauhaus, and it turns out RISD is about the closest you can get.”

There, he studied under Tage Frid, a Danish-born woodworker and author who was hugely influential in the studio furniture movement of the latter 20th century.

Fridays on the Homefront
Reiling’s hallway is lined with rich mahogany walls of beauty.

“He kind of taught us the old-school ways to care for wood,” Reiling says of Frid, who was a professor of woodworking and furniture design at RISD. “He actually taught us how to make our own wood oil.”

Reiling eventually started an architectural practice in Rhode Island and began specializing in designing schools and museums. Then, his career was brought to a sad and abrupt halt in 2003 by a medication-caused brain injury that robbed him of the necessary coordination skills.

He returned to California in 2007 and continued his rehabilitation at John Muir Medical Center in Walnut Creek. One day a driving instructor there, knowing of Reiling’s professional expertise, directed him to the Rancho San Miguel Eichlers.

  Fridays on the Homefront
Well-maintained, original mahogany is also a feature of Reiling’s living room. Photo: Phil Toy
 

Smitten by the clean lines and tree-shrouded neighborhood of mid-century homes, “I got in touch with [Eichler realtor] Heidi Slocomb, and we spent three years looking for an Eichler,” he said of his house-hunting process.

“I really wanted as pristine and original Eichler as I could get,” Reiling recalls, and his search began—through East Bay Eichler neighborhoods that extended from Concord to Oakland to Castro Valley and back to Rancho San Miguel. “Heidi and I looked at a couple dozen of them.”

Ultimately, in 2010, Reiling settled on one in Rancho San Miguel that admittedly “suffered from an accrual of deferred maintenance” but had the advantage of an already installed set of steadying disability bars.