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How Monique Lombardelli keeps Joseph Eichler’s spirit alive

As the Midcentury Modern craze rages on, the design style’s top architects remain celebrities long after their deaths. Names like Richard Neutra, John Lautner and Pierre Koenig have achieved a mythical status in the 21st century, and their homes, if properly restored, can fetch a fortune.

Monique Lombardelli is obsessed with another star of the era, developer Joseph Eichler, and she’s found a way to transform that obsession into a career.

Working with Midcentury architects such as A. Quincy Jones and Frederick Emmons, Eichler developed thousands of tract-style homes in the Bay Area as well as Orange County, Los Angeles and other pockets of the country from 1950 up until his passing in 1974.

A Bay Area real estate agent of 10 years, Lombardelli became an Eichler expert by selling about 50 of his homes over the last decade. After a while, she realized the demand for Eichlers was much greater than the supply, so she began buying the licensing rights to his original floor plans, fitting them to code and selling them to developers looking to build modern Eichlers.

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Bay Area real estate agent Monique Lombardelli is selling original Joseph Eichler floor plans to meet the demand for his Midcentury homes.
(Anita Barcsa)

One of the homes — a re-creation of a famed Desert Eichler — will be available to tour during Modernism Week in Palm Springs.

How did you become a go-to agent for Eichler homes?

The first time I saw an Eichler neighborhood, it captured me. You’re totally surrounded by his design, and I realized I’ve always wanted to feel like that inside a home. I have a film background and couldn’t find much about him, so I made a documentary called “People in Glass Houses: The Legacy of Joseph Eichler.” It got a ton of press and resulted in a lot of business.

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Where did you get the idea to re-create Eichler floor plans?

The supply is so low compared to the demand, and some developers end up tearing them down because they’re on big pieces of land, so they’ve become like an endangered species. [After getting the Eichler family’s blessing], I went to Stantec, which had the rights to the floor plans, and bought 60. The president wasn’t sure anyone would care, but people were immediately enthusiastic about it.

How do you fit the designs to current code?

I use Palo Alto building codes because they have a strict planning department and go from there. We have to do things like extend the garage 3 feet or make windows bigger. We’ll move doorways to meet hazard codes or use less glass because of the energy code or make the roof thicker for insulation.

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What are the specs?

Of the 60 plans, the smallest is 1,300 square feet and the largest is 2,500 square feet. Some have pitched roofs versus flat roofs, and most of them have an atrium. The plans cost $10,000 and come with structural drawings and everything you need to build them. In the Palo Alto area, Eichlers usually sell for an average of $2.8 million.

When you’re selling original Eichlers, do people ever try to make it their own?

Sometimes, and I have to protect them. Buyers want to put their own touch on it and add pillars, or replace the redwood with granite or cherry wood. They’ll say, “I love Eichlers but hate the mahogany,” and I’ll tell them that doesn’t make any sense. I had a developer pitch adding a second story and an elevator. What? To each their own, but not on my watch. I have no problem telling people that things look hideous.

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Why is Midcentury style having such an extended resurgence?

People are coming back to basics. The two biggest demographics are baby boomers who want single-story open floor plans and millennials who want smaller spaces that are easier to maintain. There’s a movement of people who love this style, and it’s sort of like a family. A lot of us are introverts, but we bond together over this. I came alive from finding this little niche.


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