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Eichler homes rediscovery: when suburban was modern-livable

Real estate developer Joseph Eichler brought high-end modern design to affordable tract homes. In the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s his company built 11,000 homes in California in a push to bring modern architecture to the masses.

Steve Jobs credited the builder as a design inspiration for Apple. “Eichler did a great thing,” he told his biographer Walter Isaacson, “I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost much.”

It all began in 1942 when Eichler, after living in a rented Frank Lloyd Wright home in the San Francisco Bay Area, commissioned Lloyd Wright disciple Robert Anshen to design something similar for himself. His custom home never got built after Anshen became more interested in the $12,000 tract homes Eichler was planning for a development in Sunnyvale, California. ‘Anshen was a character,’ Eichler’s son Edward told the Los Angeles Times, “He suddenly asked him why he was building this junk when he was so interested in modern architecture.”

Eichler’s $100,000 custom home was never built, instead he built 50 tract homes with huge glass walls and radiant-heated floors that sold for $10,000. Over the following decades Eichler’s homes became a large part of the “California modern” movement with designs to “Bring the Outside In” with floor-to-ceiling glass and prominent skylights.