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Photography by Daniel Dent

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A Classic Eichler Home Steps Into the 21st Century

An international family realizes its dream of living in a midcentury gem

Although she was born in her mother's native Malaysia, Coralie Langston-Jones only has vague recollections of her early childhood home in the tropics. "It was a big house in Kuala Lumpur that was surrounded by lush gardens. I remember seeing monkeys playing there," she says. She held onto those memories after her family relocated to Hong Kong, living on the 12th floor of a high-rise. "We had a harbor view, but there wasn't a tree in sight," she says. Perhaps that's why, years later, she was so taken by the homes of Joseph Eichler, a developer who created dwellings that famously live as one with their sites. She hoped to reside in one someday, and then life placed her in Northern California, ground zero for Eichler developments.

In his day, Joseph Eichler used a strict palette of mostly earth tones. The Lucas Valley Homeowners Association (Coralie Langston-Jones serves on the Architectural Review Committee) keeps up the practice, adhering to a palette based on the original colors.


As a married adult living in Los Angeles, Langston-Jones (who immigrated with her husband, Londoner Brett Wickens) read a magazine article about Eichler, who popularized a clean-lined, midcentury modern residential style with his distinctive and compact homes. "I was in love with the work of Richard NeutraRudolph Schindler, and Cliff May," she says. "When I saw the Eichler homes, I loved the connection between the indoors and outdoors, and the large expanses of glass. And, unlike some modern homes, they felt accessible." She saved the article.

Eichler, influenced by a Frank Lloyd Wright home he briefly rented in Hillsborough, California, hired architects to design modern homes inspired by that experience. Between 1949 and 1966, he developed several neighborhoods with homes built in his signature style, including Lucas Valley in California's Marin County. The community includes 350 low-slung Eichler homes surrounded by soaring mountains. This is where, after work brought them north, the couple decided to look for their dream house.

The living room houses one of Langston-Jones's prized possessions: an LC2 sofa designed by Le Corbusier. "I bought it for my Victorian flat in London," she says. "It was an expensive piece even then, and I had to save up for it. I didn't go out and ate baked beans for six months. But all these years later, I still have it and I still love it." She pairs it with vintage Moroccan rugs from Breuckelen Berber.

The one they found was an Eichler that had been somewhat "de-Eichlered": The previous owners had put down carpet (originally cork or vinyl tiles would have been used), painted the wood ceiling white (it would have been dark-colored), and walled off the kitchen (the homes were as open as possible, and kitchens were usually separated by a low partition). The couple, now the parents of twin girls—Jasmine and Sophia—set out to infuse the home with the spirit of the original and with nods to today.

They knew just the person to design the new home: Harvey Langston-Jones, Coralie's brother and an architect based in London. "He came and lived with us for a month. It allowed him to experience the light and how it changed as the sun moved across the sky," she says. "He was able to get familiar with the house, and really get a sense of how it worked—and we got to have many discussions about it."

The fruit of those discussions led to the removal of three of the four walls surrounding the kitchen. "We decided that we would restore the original footprint of the room," she says. "Immediately, the home felt a lot larger. Views of the yard and the hills beyond were suddenly visible throughout the house."

The wall that remains stands between the kitchen and the living room is paneled in walnut, in an homage to the original dark ceiling. "Modernism can sometimes be a bit chilly, and the wood tone warms it," says Langston-Jones.

Top and above: The kitchen, once walled off from the rest of the house, is now largely open. "I love being able to work in here and see out to the yard," says Langston-Jones, who is the principal and founder of SocialBlueprint Public Relations. The light gray color on the walls throughout is Sleigh Bells by Benjamin Moore. "We considered white, but my brother convinced us this color would be more sophisticated," she says.

The carpet was removed and replaced with Marmoleum, an environmentally friendly flooring that comes in sheets and tiles. It's ability to stand up to the horseplay and art projects of kids makes it the ideal material for this home.

The bathroom's original fixtures and finishes were pretty worn, and needed updating. "When this home was built, they used materials that were inexpensive, and they didn't stand up over the years," says Langston-Jones. "We made it over using more high-end items in keeping with the style."

To give the girls rooms of their own, they incorporated part of the garage into the living space. "When we bought the house, it was 1,500 square feet and today it's 1,900," says Langston-Jones. "Our American friends thought we were crazy to raise a family of four in a house this size. But, coming from other countries, we were used to tighter spaces and thought this was a healthy amount of room."

Brett Wickens, a creative director and partner at the design studio Ammunition, is also a collector of modern photography. The haunting photo of an empty Zurich Opera House by Rafael Neff gives Langston-Jones the feeling she's onstage whenever she's in the kitchen. "I love the tension of the image of the very ornate and old with the modern design," she says. Daughter Sophia uses one of the Tulip chairs by Eero Saarinen and a dining table by Marmol Radziner as an impromptu desk.

She says that living in Hong Kong and London taught them how to decorate a smaller home, and they avoid huge pieces of furniture and live without unnecessary items. "We realized that you don't really require a big space. If you have one, you tend to fill it up with stuff you don't need," says Langston-Jones. "It becomes a question of materiality, and what is really necessary for a happy life."

The family's remodel survival strategy was simple: relocate during the five-month renovation. "We were lucky enough to move in with a friend, who lived in Lucas Valley in his own Eichler home," says Langston-Jones. "It was fascinating to watch the construction process, as we removed every surface, except the original brick fireplace, the tongue-and-groove ceiling, and the redwood post and beams. Everything was stripped back to the studs. It was strange to be able to see your whole house in one single view, with no interior walls."

Behind the kitchen, the walnut morphs from cabinets to an accent wall and built-in console.

Wickens says the contractor, Steve Dahlgren, made the remodel process (and, by extension, the relocation) relatively painless. "Living in the spare room of a friend with our twins for months had its trying moments. In retrospect, it should have been brutal, but it seemed OK," he says. "I credit a lot of the smoothness to our contractor. Everything went to schedule, and we were particularly demanding. He grew up in an Eichler, and that helped a lot—he knew what he was working with!"

In the 1960s, Eichler ads marketed the promise of entering a "wonderful world," and showed black-and-white photos of smiling children playing in the yard, stylish couples gazing out the large windows, and aproned mothers (it was a different era) cooking in the kitchen. Eichler was known for creating complete communities, including schools, libraries, and stores within his development. In 2016, does the promise ring true?

The tree-lined wallpaper, Woods by Michael Clark for Cole & Son, reflects the outdoor surroundings. Langston-Jones chose rosy accents to enliven the space. "I love pink in a room, it makes me feel happy, warm and cosy," she says. The bedsheets and pillowcases are by Erica Tanov, patchwork throw pillows are from Dosa, and the pink silk quilt is from Habitat UK.

"Living in this house is like having a big-lens camera on nature, and sitting at the dining table is like sitting in the garden." says Langston-Jones. "There's just glass between you and the outdoors, and it seems to bring it closer. It's a rich and simple way to live." Wickens likens it to living in an "invisible" house. "The windows merely frame the outdoors," he says.

The Lucas Valley community houses schools, a community center, a small store, and horse stables. The girls are growing up much as the children of the original residents did, riding their bikes everywhere and meeting their friends at the community center pool. "It feels like we are living in a hamlet," says Langston-Jones. "Schools, friends, and hiking are within easy reach."

That said, the twins have, in the past, have mused that it would be nice to live in a house with stairs. "They have occasionally wondered what it would be like to live in a home with two stories," says Langston-Jones. "But when I've suggested living in an apartment in the city, they are horrified. They would miss seeing the birds at the feeder...and watching the clouds go by."

From left: Sophia, Jasmine, and Langston-Jones relax on the patio, which is a natural extension of the living room.

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