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 Neutra, Rudolph 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 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.
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."
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."
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?
"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."
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