An Eichler fan? Join the club

STEVE EDEN got more than a place to lay his head when he moved into a midcentury modern house in Thousand Oaks. He got instant friends, a hobby and a new way of life.

"There is a social network that comes with these homes," says Eden. "I don't know if that exists in ranch homes or Mediterraneans."

When Eden punches the name of the tract's developer, Joe Eichler, into his computer, he's connected to other owners across the state who offer advice, maintenance tips and stories about the tradition-busting homebuilder who erected 11,000 houses that people, then and now, either love or hate.

One of the old advertising slogans for the revolutionary houses was "Discover Life in an Eichler."

Eden, a corporate attorney, says he's loosened up since moving from a ranch house in the San Fernando Valley into his glass-walled one-story six years ago.

He now collects ceramics, art and even Tiki tchotchkes from the 1950s and '60s.

He chats with neighbors who have become good friends about plans to lightly tinker with his home's modified design. Stacked on his sleek black coffee table are books he's read on the Modernism movement.

"It has been a life change for me," he says. "The interest and appreciation in modern design was always there, I guess, but living here gives me an excuse to indulge myself."

The starting point for most Eichler searches begins with the 12-year-old Eichler Network (www.eichlernetwork.com). The "Chatterbox Lounge" forum page helps owners find original Eichler parts, from a piece of siding to an escutcheon plate. The site also lists companies that can service copper radiant-heat pipes, replace laminated surfaces or install double-paned glass for better insulation.

Eden's neighbor Betsy Speicher calls the closely knit network "a small cult."

"There are fanatics," says the Eichler enthusiast, whose day job is writing a newsletter for the Ayn Rand Institute. "And I'm one of them."

In her spare time, she keeps a list of would-be buyers waiting for an Eichler to go on the market. When she hears a whisper of one for sale, she e-mails them.

From across the central glass atrium, her husband, Stephen, a researcher who retired from Caltech last year, observes that "the architecture reflects a way of seeing outside of myself. It reflects my inner being. The ranch house before this didn't do that."

-- Janet Eastman

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