Eichler Tour Mixes New Designs, Classics

Approximately  1,500 people enjoyed the San Mateo Highlands Eichler Home Tour May 6 and 7. This home was lightened up in color on Yorktown Road and comes with several photogenic touches. Tour photos by Dave Weinstein

You might expect a heavy retro vibe on a home tour that was taking in homes that are between 50 and 60 years old. But that’s not how the 2017 edition of the San Mateo Highlands Eichler Home Tour came across to this visitor.

Maybe mid-century modern homes have suddenly become simply 'modern' again, as they were then they were created?

On May 6 and 7, 1,500 or so tour-goers visiting 11 homes admired, purred over, or gaped at such features as a living, planted wall in a hallway; an awesome glass-walled shower; and a rug that appeared at first to be made of aluminum shavings.

All the homes were Eichlers except for one new, modern home that replaced an Eichler that had been destroyed by fire.

“We wanted to focus on well-curated homes that show care for the Eichler aesthetic, where the owners have made great choices and have lovingly restored their homes,” Jim Palmer, the tour’s chief organizer, said.

Tour lead organizer Jim Palmer showed his largely original home as well, including this little Tiki scene.

San Mateo Highlands contains about 700 Eichlers, “the nation’s largest contiguous collection of Eichlers,” according to the well-designed tour brochure.

Fans of original mahogany paneling might have caviled that too many homes had been done up in white. But there were homes on the tour to please even diehard plywood fans, including one beauty at 25 Powhatan whose paneling throughout the house was pristine.

And several remodeled homes retained paneling, or incorporated new paneling in the redesign.

As always, meeting other Eichler fans and some of the homeowners was a major appeal on this tour. Variety was vast, showing what a large tent the Eichler phenomenon takes in. It also shows that love for the Eichler aesthetic takes many forms.

One homeowner was showing off the home he grew up in, where he is now raising a family of his own. He was proud of his low-water, native plantings, and discussed the greywater system that allows it to thrive using recycled water.

He much enjoys the home’s new, lighter interior. A DVD playing on a TV screen showed the darker paneled house 'before' the remodel. Purists, of course, would have preferred the 'before.'

Undoubtedly the most authentic house on the tour, and the most historic, was the all-steel X-100, designed for Eichler as a show house, and a show-off house, in 1956 by Jones and Emmons.

A recently installed artistic steel-link curtain that can slide open is all that separates a room (originally built as the master bedroom) that can serve as a bedroom or a study from the living areas of the marvelous X-100.

Marty Arbunich, its owner and the publisher of CA-Modern magazine, has just finished a complete restoration/rehabilitation, and proudly displayed to the public its debut as a reborn home.

The renovations included removing panels that had been added to the façade, also an added garage door to the carport. The landscaping and pool were redone as well. Interior designer Lucile Glessner worked closely with the homeowner on the restoration.

Also marking the X-100’s 21st century debut was artist Michael Murphy, who was showing his wares – lively posters with mid-century modern themes – in another house. Among Murphy’s latest work is a poster offering an homage to the X-100.

Another stunning house that grabbed attention was a new home, not an Eichler at all, designed by respected architect John Klopf. It replaced a real Eichler that had burned.

Klopf calls his creation the ‘Glass Wall House,’ an apt description for this home of multiple rectangles and heights built around a pool. In plan it is a bit of a deconstructed Eichler, with one separate wing serving as a kind of Eichler atrium room.

The architect respected the neighborhood’s visual integrity by keeping the façade low key and Eichler-like, while really going to town on the interior, with a living area that goes and goes, walls mostly white but warmth coming from a wooden ceiling.

The Klopf design is a notable case of kitchen fetish, reflecting everyone’s love these days for cooking and kibitzing with the cook. The main living areas seems to be an extension of the kitchen, rather than merely opening onto it.

One of Eichler's relatively few original two-story homes was on the tour, and was filled with artworks.

Many of the homes on tour were filled with art. A gorgeous, original two-story Eichler on Yorktown was particularly appealing both for its original design and for the care with which it has been turned into an art-filled home with real personality.

Two homes on the tour, Jim Palmer said, were heavily staged to show off work by the tour’s various sponsors. Some, for example, were filled with furnishings from Scandinavian Designs. Three other homes had “light staging,” he said.

The results were often visually appealing – like a wonderful Japanese-styled mural in one atrium by artist John Felix Arnold. But staging can take away one of the charms of attending a home tour, which is to see how homes are actually lived in by real people – and to suss out a little of their personality.

This home was staged with furnishings from Scandinavian Designs.

“One goal of the tour is to bring in our sponsors, to balance some homes that are heavily remodeled with some that are not,” Palmer said. The tour is the major fundraiser for nearby Highlands Elementary School.

Palmer’s own home at 1755 Lexington was one of the highlights. From the classic scooters out front, the Nelson clock on the masonry fireplace, the Tiki head alongside the beverage tray, and the spare but effective plantings, the home shows you don’t have to go over the top with remodeling to live in a lovely Eichler home.

The 2017 tour was the fourth such event, the last being in 2014. As for the next tour, Jim says, "Mark your calendars for 2020." Good advice.

Artist Michael Murphy of San Francisco, who was showing his art inside one of the Eichlers on tour, produced this poster to commemorate the restoration of the all-steel X-100. Courtesy of Michael Murphy

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