The Re-uppers

For many raised 'modern' as children, no other house feels like home today
The Re-uppers
Some former kids say: "Once you live in an Eichler, no other home will do." That feeling has lasted a lifetime for Steve Thatcher (far right), seen here circa 1962 at a backyard birthday party at San Jose’s Fairglen.

There are things you notice as a child that you don't notice as an adult.

Little things. Maybe it's because you are little. Or maybe it's because you don't quite know how the world works, because you have no certain notions.

Some of those little things you just never forget.

Karen Johnson-Carroll, who grew up in an Eichler home in Mountain View and lives today in an Eichler in the San Mateo Highlands, remembers the high vent window in her childhood home's bathroom. Lying in the tub on a rainy night, she could see the reflection of houses and trees on the wet glass of the window. She would marvel.

"You saw the whole neighborhood," she says. "There are little things like that you don't get in other houses."

Steve Thatcher, who grew up in Eichler's San Mateo Highlands and San Jose's Fairglen tract, had a close physical relationship with the family home. "I loved the radiant heat. I loved lying on the floor as a kid," he says. "I knew where the hot spots were.

  The Re-uppers
Steve Thatcher in the Fairglen family atrium on his new scooter, Christmas 1962.
 

"I loved to hear the pounding of the rain on the ceiling. Have you ever been in an Eichler when it rains? It's loud."

The Thatchers moved from San Mateo "because my father didn't like the fog," Steve says. Steve bought the family home in Fairglen years after moving out, and raised his own family there.

"We loved the glass in the backyard, where we could see squirrels and birds," says Kerry Little, who grew up with a sister in an Eichler in Concord. "We loved the atrium because it was a place that was outside but still sheltered. When we discovered there was radiant heat, we loved that as well."

Kerry too returned to Eichlers as a grownup, buying in an adjacent Concord neighborhood.

Visit almost any Eichler or Streng Brothers mid-century modern tract with more than a couple of dozen homes and you're likely to find homeowners there who grew up in an Eichler or Streng and, as adults, came back to re-up with the same lifestyle. Some returned to their parents' home but often not.

Karen says that's not surprising. "Living in the homes," she says of herself and her childhood friends, "you knew they were Eichlers. It imprinted on me."

  The Re-uppers
Steve, wife Stella, and Hunter at home today.
 

When Karen, a professor of interior design, and her husband, Hal, sought to buy a new home, they focused on the San Mateo Highlands because of its quality schools, not so much because of the Eichlers, she says.

Or was imprinting quietly at work?

"That was 29 years ago," Karen says, remembering the day she decided to buy her current home. "It was pouring rain. I walked into this house, it felt like it was home."

Kids in Eichlers or Strengs become adults in Eichlers or Strengs because of deep desire, happenstance, or a combination of the two. Some say that once you live in an Eichler no other home will do.

Every child who grows up in an Eichler, it seems, comes away with a different take on the experience, depending on circumstances and personality.

Karen was born after her folks bought their Eichler in 1955 so never knew another home as a child. But for young people moving into modern tract homes from other homes, it could be jarring.

"We didn't want to move there," Kerry Little says of herself and her sister, recalling when her folks moved the family from a traditional home in Martinez to an Eichler in Concord's Rancho del Diablo.

The Re-uppers
Inside the Thatchers' Eichler living room today.

"It just seemed so foreign," she says of the home, which had been badly remodeled. "It was very dark, and had ugly colors none of us liked. We didn't see the potential. But my dad saw what it could be." She says both she and her sister soon grew to love the house. Today Kerry and her husband are raising a daughter in a neighboring Concord tract, Rancho de los Santos.

Nancy Brazelton Philleo, who lives today with her husband in a Streng home in Davis's University Estates tract, also had parents who loved the style—in a way their two children could not understand back then. Nancy was in sixth grade when her family moved into a Streng in Davis.

She came to love the home—despite some issues.

"It was certainly different," Nancy says. "My mom and dad were really into the whole Streng thing. They got Sunset magazine all the time and were really into the feel of it."

"What I found totally different was eating dinner at the counter. We didn't have a dining table. We even had our holiday dinners at the counter," she recalls.