Celebrating Eichler Style in Miniature

The level of detailing in Meredith Phillips' mini creation is impressive, with even the headlines of the newspapers being to the period. New photos by Dave Weinstein

For 21 years Meredith Phillips lived in an Eichler home – but she never loved it half as much as the tiny Eichler-inspired home she recently built herself.

Meredith, a book publisher by trade, is a miniaturist by avocation. “I’m a craftsman or an artisan,” she says. “I’ve always enjoyed fooling around with arts and crafts.”

Her most recent fooling around resulted in a two miniature interiors inspired by the Eichler home in Menlo Park in which she lived and raised a family from 1972 to 1993. The home was on a hidden, flag-shaped lot behind another Eichler home in a tiny subdivision of Peninsula Way.

It was while living in the Eichler circa 1975 that  Meredith discovered the joys of creating miniature rooms, after a dollhouse and miniature store opened in town. She was raising two children and had a new baby.

She got serious about it too, taking classes at the store, attending seminars and shows, and even selling her work there.

But she wasn’t making any mid-century modern miniatures back then.

“My original inspiration were Mrs. Thorne’s rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago,” she says. These were rooms constructed by craftsmen to instructions by a wealthy lady who wanted to show the progression of styles through miniature rooms from homes from the 14th through early 20th century.

Meredith took some liberties with the window treatment here. The photo of the pool and a portion of the house seen through the window is special. It's a photo of the house Eichler had built for himself and his family in Atherton.

“Why do I like miniatures?,” Meredith writes. “Hard to answer! I suppose it's a way to control the chaos of the real world. Miniature roofs never leak, the rooms don't get messed up by kids, and the mortgage payment is never due!

“What is equally enticing to me is reusing and repurposing common objects around the house. If you have this mindset, everything you see becomes a possible something else, one-twelfth the size!”

Over the years Meredith has created a wide variety of tiny habitats. “I’ve always been interested in Art Deco,” she says of one inspiration. She created a “Roman villa with an atrium” and, in a literary reference, “a house for Heidi.”

Working between 1975 and 1985, Meredith says, she created ten to 15 of these miniature worlds.

But building interiors and raising kids weren’t the only things keeping Meredith busy. A mystery fan and writer, while living in Menlo Park she founded Perseverance Press, an enterprise that continues to this day.

Its focus? Literary mystery tales.

Details of the interiors include period posters and a game of cards.

Do any miniatures ever sneak their way into these mysteries, Ms. Phillips?

“I’ve edited several books about a miniature maker and her granddaughter who stumble across dead bodies, and they all include something about miniatures.

The series, by Margaret Grace, is called 'miniature mysteries,' and features such titles as  'Malice in Miniature' and 'Matrimony in Miniature.' The author, real name Camille Minichino, is a miniature maker like her editor.

Considering how small Meredith’s mini-Eichler is (ten inches high, 15 inches wide, and nine-and-one-half inches deep), there’s surprising detail to be seen and enjoyed. And much of it is handmade, or adapted from found objects. Today she uses many leftovers from her 1970s days as a miniature maker.

Cool modern tables are made from the plastic doodads that pizzerias use to keep the pizza from colliding with the top of the takeout box.

“I had kids living at home who ate a lot of pizza,” Meredith says. “I’ve saved them all and turned them into tables.”

“About the Eichler living room,” she says, “the painting over the fireplace, a Utrillo print, was bought years ago at a mini-show sale. The fabric on the sofa … was chosen to echo the lines and colors of the painting. The mock-Rothko, on the left-hand wall, was from an art gallery catalogue.

“The books on the coffee table (a Japanese lamp turned sideways) are ‘Peyton Place’ and ‘The Fountainhead.’ The 1950s newspaper headlines, taken from mini photos in The Chron, concern H-bomb testing and civil rights demonstrations.”

The structure itself began life as an iMac box.

Meredith Phillips displays one of her mid-century modern rooms inside her house -- which is interesting in its own right. It was created by the famous architect Ernest Kump as a blend of Craftsman style and mid-century modern.

How she came to build this tiny Eichler is core to the story.

By this time Meredith was living in what she calls a ‘Craftsman wannabee’ – a brown-shingled house in the rural reaches of Palo Alto. It had once been a chicken coop, then expanded to be home of the famous architect Ernie Kump (Foothill College, among many other works), who, neighbors said, roasted pigs in its immense fireplace to entertain women friends.

Meredith, a true enthusiast, says, “I got immersed in the Arts and Crafts movement. In fact, I visited houses all over the country. I bought furniture from all over the country and shipped it back to Palo Alto to make my house look as Arts and Crafts as possible.”

It was a love for a style she had never felt for her Eichler.

“I’m one of those terrible people who move into an Eichler and start changing it, not respecting the mid-century modern ethos,” she says. “We were making it more traditional, adding wallpapers and paint, and a mantle over the fireplace.

“Mea culpa. Now I would not do that.”

Seeing Don Draper’s New York City apartment in 'Mad Men' inspired Meredith to create her first mid-century modern miniature. “I thought, hey, I could do that, and I could make it look like my Eichler living room could have looked like if I’d decorated it properly.”

Here's the Eichler home where Meredith Phillips lived for many years with her family in Menlo Park. Courtesy of Meredith Phillips

Editing the miniature mysteries, some of which are set amidst Eichler homes, evoked memories of her former home.

 “I have been here 23 years, and I find myself missing Eichlers more and more,” Meredith says. She’s looking to buy one, hopefully not far from Stanford, where she studied, and where she enjoys walking and attending cultural events.

Meredith, who got back into building miniatures in 2005, has built 13 since then. When each is finished her son takes photos, and she sends the photos to friends and families, “Then I put [the miniatures] on a shelf and go onto the next project.”

Friends have suggested she mount an exhibit. She might do that to benefit charity. Meanwhile, as she runs out of leftovers to use on her miniatures, Meredith is contemplating her next, and possibly last, construction, of an establishment she once frequented and one that would use up some Asian goodies in her storehouse.

“The last thing I may do will be a tiki bar.”

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