Create a map of all the Eichler homes on the market and it'll be obsolete within a month or two. In the early 1950s, the first owners of these post-and-beam tract homes paid as little as $800 down (about $7,899, in today's dollars), and these days they routinely sell within a few weeks of listing, often for over $1M, thanks to an overheated Bay Area housing market fond of midcentury modernism. While the cul-de-sac full of McMansions has become a routine symbol of despair, developer Joseph Eichler's vision, it would seem, is the kind of suburban idyll we can get down with. So it's no surprise some people are building new Eichlers. What's claimed to be the first one built since 1974 will be finished in about two weeks, in Palm Springs, California, where no Eichler has gone before.
It's got a Zillow page and everything. This first "Desert Eichler," a variation adapted from one of Eichler's original blueprints, is being built by Troy Kudlac, a Palm Springs broker and developer who buys, remodels, and resells midcentury homes. Before the Eichler, KUD Properties specialized in flipping Palm Springs tract homes similar to Eichlers, but not quite as plentiful or popular; those developed by George and Robert Alexander. KUD's list of other renovation projects includes homes designed by William Krisel, Donald Wexler, William F. Cody, and E. Stewart Williams. Kudlac's first foray into creating modernism from scratch traces back to Palm Springs Modernism Week 2012, when he met Bay Area real estate agent Monique Lombardelli at a screening of her Eichler documentary, People in Glass Houses.
Lombardelli built her reputation as one of the "most recognizable Eichler Realtors in America" upon the short documentary, which she produced, and briefly appears in. That quote is from a 2013 Architect Magazine profile, which, like her film, recounts the origin story of her Eichler obsession: agent on a prospecting run drives her Volkswagen sedan into an Eichler neighborhood in Sunnyvale, flags down a resident who fills her in about "Mr. Eichler," and soon enough, she's spending three months in Frank Lloyd Wright's Bazett House, to experience the space that is said have inspired Eichler to bring modernism to the masses.
On the heels of Glass Houses, Lombardelli founded Modern Homes Realty, a small brokerage focused on midcentury homes that only represents clients intent on preserving them. That, and selling a handful of Eichler plans she's had designer Thomas Sylvia and architect Stuart Grunow update to meet California building codes. (She's also consulted with architect Leo Marmol.)
When Eichler died in 1974, after developing about 11,000 homes, including tracts in Orange County and Los Angeles, and a few homes in Rockland County, New York, of all places, the rights to the Eichler plans went to their architects: Anshen & Allen, Jones & Emmons, Claude Oakland, A. Quincy Jones, and Raphael Soriano. The 70-or-so plans Lombardelli has been given leave to update and sell come from two architects. She licensed the Anshen & Allens from design services company Stantec, which acquired the firm in 2010, and the Claude Oaklands are from the UC Berkeley Environmental Design Archives, which owns Oakland's collected plans. Archive curator Waverly B. Lowell says that the decision to license the Eichler plans to Lombardelli, as well as to the website Houseplans.com, came because "these homes are meant to be lived in," and "it was not in conflict with the intent of these designs to license a limited number of Eichler designs to build new."
Troy Kudlac's rendering of the first new Eichler home since 1974. Images courtesy KUD Properties
Lombardelli has fielded inquiries about her blueprints from Florida, Colorado, London, France, Brazil, and Australia, as well as from a man in Virginia, her only other taker besides Kudlac. When asked if they've had any success selling their Oakland Eichler plans, House Plans CEO James T. Roche said that "we have had many people interested in the Eichler plans, especially in CA. Unfortunately once they hear the cost to redraw the plans to meet modern code requirements and living preferences they opt to go another way."
House Plans charges $4,500 per Eichler blueprint, while Lombardelli charges $5,000. "I wouldn't feel comfortable charging more," she says, comparing that figure to the tens of thousands of dollars people pay to hire architects. A portion each sale, which allows the buyer to build one home, goes back to either Berkeley or Stantec, depending on the architect.
Before marketing any Eichler plans—which she started doing in part because she "was pissed that people were tearing them down left and right"—Lombardelli paid a visit to Ned Eichler, who worked as head of purchasing, and later, marketing manager for his father's company. At the time, he told Architect Magazine, "she thought she needed legal clearance to sell the plans or alter the plans. Totally absurd. Who is there alive who cares?"
Still, she also met with Ned's son David, a photographer, and Steven San Jule, the son of Eichler Homes' original marketing director, who each gave her their blessing to market the updated plans under the Eichler name.
Kudlac is nearly finished with the first new Eichler in four decades, in the Andreas Hills neighborhood of South Canyon, a development at the southernmost portion of Palm Springs. The world's first "Twenty-First Century Desert Eichler" is based on a Claude Oakland A-frame, model MS234. To allay potential concerns about authenticity, it comes with a certificate of Eichlerhood from Berkeley. After this one sells, he says, "I'll have a case study, so I can prove that there's a desire for this in Palm Springs." So far, Kudlac has licensed four plans from Lombardelli, and has sites ready for two of them.
Kudlac has made his own changes to the MS234 plan, beyond Lombardelli's own, to fit with the strict building codes and hot desert climate of Palm Springs. Small changes include a foam-insulated roof, and Low-E glass windows, to meet the requirements of Title 24, the recently updated California Energy Code; one larger, more noticeable change is the nixing of three clerestory windows above the garage, which was done for structural reasons. To stick with the original plywood siding inside and out would have been "hard to maintain and bad for the desert, basically like living in a matchbox," says Kudlac, so he tried to recreate the look with an exterior of smooth-coat stucco poured over aluminum expansion joints. "If I rebuilt an Eichler the way that Mr. Eichler built it today," he continues, "I'd probably have someone trying to hunt me down and shoot me a year later."
Progress shots from South Canyon. Photos courtesy KUD Properties
Troy also made a few changes renovation-minded buyers often make to Eichlers, "while trying to be as minimally invasive as possible." He left out a small wall between the living room and kitchen, and moved the kitchen back a few feet, so that it faces the great room, with the interior courtyard off to one side, because a "seamless open living concept is what people want." There was also a small "powder room" put in "where many homeowners have done the same." Where the original Eichlers had radiant heating, this one has a fully integrated mini-split HVAC system.
Walnut paneling was used on the doors, cabinetry, and on some walls, beside stretches of smooth-coat drywall. In place of what would have been Formica floors, he went with "nice, high-end porcelain tiles." There's also going to be a circular pool and a separate spa on the back terrace, with an Eichler-esque guest casita further back designed by Lombardelli collaborator Thomas Sylvia.
The first Desert Eichler will have its debut on February 18, as part of Palm Springs Modernism Week's Eichler day. If Palm Springs buyers prove interested, Kudlac's got a "decent chunk of land" he could potentially build a small neighborhood of Desert Eichlers on. Either way, he thinks this one is part of a "new wave of getting people into houses, getting them the product they need," without the need for an architect in the equation. Or at least not a contemporary one.
· All Eichler coverage [Curbed National]