San Jose Home is Homey Again After Fire

Carol Heidenreich's rebuilt Eichler looks just like the home that burned, except for a change in color. Photo by Dave Weinstein

For a woman whose home burned to the ground and who has been ill, Carol Heidenreich comes across as bright-eyed and optimistic. There’s clearly something to this woman that too few of us possess.

“It’s just been a very good experience,” she says of the process of rebuilding her Eichler home in the tight-knit San Jose subdivision of Fairhaven. The home burned down April 7, 2014, in an electrical fire that spread to two neighboring homes, which were badly damaged.

Heidenreich is an original owner in the neighborhood, which is centered on Mossbrook Circle and was built in 1961 and 1962.

Carol and  her daughter Karen Tsubahara are pleased that their builder, John Crase, was able to reconstruct their beloved home much as it was before the fire.

The interior of the home has been lightened up. The dogs are Tyson and Henderson. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“Everything seemed to go really well. They did a great job,” Karen says of the builder. “They did it fast, and the quality of the work was excellent.” Karen grew up in the home.

Heidenreich has remained upbeat throughout, not even worrying about the loss of her possessions. “Family pictures? I never looked at them,” she said in an interview six weeks after the fire. “I’m not a very sentimental person.”

“I am sorry I lost my top-notch sewing machine.”

During that interview, Carol said, “We plan to replace it exactly as it was, with the Philippine mahogany and no paint.” She also said, “Yes, it will have radiant heat, of course.”

But, as it turns out, due to economic concerns and the need for hard choices – and aesthetic choices as well – the Eichler she is living in today has dropped radiant heat for air conditioning, and has white walls.

Carol Heidenreich has maintained a positive attitude throughout the experience and is glad to be back in her longtime neighborhood. Photo by Karen Tsubahara

“First of all, any day of the week I would trade air conditioning for the heating system we had,” Carol said on a day that saw San Jose hit the high 90s. “We are absolutely loving it. It’s really glorious. It makes all the difference in the world.”

“The ducts are on the roof,” Karen says of the air-conditioning. “It’s not noticeable.”

Carol had a solid panel placed above the entry to the atrium instead of the open space that had been there, and had the planting areas in the atrium replaced with flooring. But to maintain the feeling of the atrium as a garden, Karen brought in a diversity of potted plants.

“It does make it feel more like a room, though. It feels cozier,” Karen says of the revamped atrium.

“We’ve used the atrium more in the last little time we’ve been in the house than we did 50 years ago,” Carol says. “We’re eating out there and just being out there.”

Here's the house after the rebuild . Photo by Karen Tsubahara.

To play up the true Eichler feeling, the remodel included Eichler globe lights in every room of the house.

Carol also appreciates the lighter walls in the home, though she knows they might not please an Eichler purist. “Everything seems so much bigger because it’s painted a white color. It just opens it out,” she says. The kitchen has also been opened up in the rebuild.

Carol and Karen find themselves living in their beloved family home again. The rebuilding of the homes is just one more example, several of which have been followed by the Eichler Network, suggesting how Eichlers can be rebuilt today to meet all building and energy codes while still providing their characteristic open structure and glass.

“It’s the same [house], but it’s way better,” Karen says. “The brightness. It’s lighter and brighter, and it seems happier.”

The Heidenreich home during construction. Photo by Karen Tsubahara

“I miss the wood fire,” she adds. Building rules required that the fireplace be gas, she says.

Although they got to move back into the home around July 4, Carol herself was soon elsewhere. “I had a serious operation, and it’s taking a while to heal,” she says.

Her hospital stay gave Karen, who has returned to her childhood home, to furnish the place with the help of her best friend, Patricia Alexander.

Karen says they are planning to invite neighbors over for an open house as her mother’s health improves.

Ask Carol what she likes best about being back in her home, and she says it’s not the home so much as the entire neighborhood.

The home belonging to Heidenreich's next-door neighbor also burned and was rebuilt in kind. A home that was damaged in the fire was also repaired. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“That neighborhood is truly remarkable, in my opinion,” she says. “Being back in the confines of the neighborhood is the greatest thing about it.”

She hosted a book club get-together in her home during the fall, and she enjoyed a neighborhood ornament exchange in a neighbor's house before Christmas. “Almost everyone in the neighborhood, Christian or otherwise, attended,” she says.

Sure Carol has one complaint – trouble moving around. But she complains with a light touch. “I’m not walking as much as I should, because I’m lazy.”

That's Karen atop a pony in the atrium of the home where she grew up. Courtesy of Karen Tsubahara

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