A new crop of Eichlers rises in Palm Springs, the mecca of modernism
It is said that there are two types of homeowners: those who own an Eichler, and those who do not.
Such is the ethos of the famously cultish brand created by Joseph Eichler, who built 11,000 of his smartly spare homes between 1949 and 1974, mostly in Bay Area tracts.
Forty years later, in 2015, Eichlers rose again — on the baked sands of Palm Springs, the mecca of modernism. Using original blueprints, Troy Kudlac has built five “Desert Eichlers,” the latest two of which will debut during Modernism Week’s Eichler Day, on Feb. 18.
“I always ask, ‘Why didn’t Eichler build in Palm Springs?’” said Kudlac, founder of Palm Desert-based KUD Properties. “The architecture suits the area so well. Hopefully, these homes will spur others.”
Kudlac’s Eichlers have proved popular — the first sold for $1.29 million within seven hours of being listed two years ago, just before a “Mad Men”-themed bash thrown at the house in celebration of Modernism Week’s first Eichler Day.
This year’s event will include home tours and an Eichler documentary produced by Monique Lombardelli, who in 2013 secured permission to license 60 Eichler blueprints from the international firm Stantec, which owns the designs.
“They said that people had no interest in the plans,” said Lombardelli, a veteran Eichler agent based in Palo Alto. “I was shocked.”
Lombardelli licenses the full working drawings, modified to code (“that was a nightmare”) for $10,000 each. KUD and a firm in Austin, Texas, are the sole builders of a reconstituted Eichler.
Kudlac purchased three plans from Lombardelli: A-frame and gallery models created by architect Claude Oakland, and a flat-roof model designed by Anshen and Allen. Eichler employed those architects and others, including Los Angeles-based A. Quincy Jones, Raphael Soriano, and Jones and Emmons.
Three Eichler tracts exist in Southern California: in Thousand Oaks, Granada Hills and Orange; three homes are in New York.
Kudlac’s two new homes, each priced at $1.199 million, are next to two other KUD Eichlers, which sold for $1.1 and $1.125 million, about half a mile from downtown. The median price of an original Eichler is $2.5 million, Lombardelli said.
Bowing to the desert’s hellish summers, Kudlac further modified Eichler’s designs, adding concrete floors. He also ditched the wood siding.
“The sun would rot the wood,” said Kudlac, who works with contractor Shields Residential to build the homes. “We use a stucco application but keep a linear aspect by adding horizontal metal strips.”
KUD homes are “90% accurate” to original Eichler designs, he said.
Mary K. Humfeld and her partner Sonia Manganaro bought Kudlac’s initial South Palm Springs four-bedroom, four-bathroom home in 2015.
“When I first walked into this house, it felt like I was entering a church,” said Humfeld, who spends summers with Manganaro in their Greenwich Village apartment. “I can stand in the middle of the house, look up, and see mountains and stars. And the atrium is totally funky. I love it.”
Most Eichlers include glass atriums, affording ethereal, sky-high views as well as breezy cross ventilation. The exposed post-and-beam homes edged with thin roofs have open floor plans — as well as a built-in value system. Eichler’s philosophy of inclusion was underscored by tract-built community centers, parks and pools.
Eichler homes became, and continue to be, a lesson in civic ideals, given Eichler’s staunch fair-housing practices in an era when minorities seeking housing were shunned. Current Bay Area homeowners share tight bonds, holding block parties and parades in their Eichler tracts.
Iconoclast Eichler — a former butter and egg salesman turned improbable low-cost-home builder — was the marketing dynamo that powered the modernist movement. His functional, mass-produced minimalist designs were said to be transformational — postwar-paradigm busters that inspired owners to become good citizens.
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