Taking a Palo Alto Eichler Home Down to the Studs and Back

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In many ways, overhauling an Eichler seems like the perfect small-scale renovation project. These midcentury tract homes built en masse  by developer Joseph Eichler in the Bay Area and Greater L.A., are on the one hand prized for their form, but the affordable materials used in their construction haven’t exactly aged well. This, and the fact that there are thousands of them out there, gives contemporary architects and designers freedom to update something architecturally significant in the spirit of the original, rather than undertaking by-the-numbers restorations. For Jones Haydu‘s first Eichler remodel and addition, in Palo Alto, San Francisco-based architects Hulett Jones and Paul Haydu “ripped things down to the studs,” as Jones put it, replacing dated materials like plastic laminate with successors that “aren’t luxury, but are more at the level that these homes are worth these days.”

The home, first pictured  in its remodeled state on Archinect, was designed by L.A. architect A. Quincy Jones, who created the city’s beloved Friedman andBrody Houses, and worked with Eichler starting in 1950, when they met after being featured in the same issue of Architectural Forum, which named them the architect and builder of the year, respectively. Built in 1951 in the southern Palo Alto neighborhood of Fairmeadow—the only Eichler development, according to Jones, that collaborators Anshen & Allen planned with concentric, circular streets that make for pie-shaped lots—the low-slung, single-story three-bedroom was recently acquired by a young couple with a growing family, that hired the firm (working with San Francisco’s Buck O’Neill Builders) to bring the home up to speed before they moved in. The scope of the project included a complete interior overhaul, as well as the conversion of a separate “bonus room” (not pictured here, as the landscaping is still in progress) into a master bedroom with a connection to the main house, something it lacked before.

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After presenting their clients with multiple redesign schemes, Jones Haydu was charged with coming up with something with more colorful than they initially had in mind. “The orange came from them,” says Jones, referring to the warm kitchen backsplashes. “They wanted to be a little playful and we went ahead and pushed that a little bit.” Aiming to replace the original home’s plastic laminate backsplashes without departing from the fields of color they provided, the firm went with “monolithic” tiles of backpainted glass.

The kitchen cabinetry was replaced with Echo Wood, a veneer made from reconstituted wood fibers, while the new countertops are of a quartz material. Originally, the kitchen wall was set in front of the monitor—a raised roof section with windows that acts as a skylight—so that the natural light it provided was wasted on a utilitarian hallway with a laundry area, which the firm remedied by shifting the kitchen area back. The wood ceilings were sandblasted to remove multiple layers of stains and paints that had been applied over the years, but were left unsanded afterward, giving them a rough texture not usually seen in an Eichler.

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Jones recounts that the floors were in similarly “bad shape.” As he tells it, “over time linoleum A was lifted and linoleum B was put down,” to the point where it became hard to verify what was original. All of that was pulled up, with the base radiators taken out and replaced with a layer of radiant heating panels, over which a new slab of concrete was poured. To make the glass-paned back of the house—a U-shaped space cradled by the dining area—more accessible to the outdoors, the firm installed glass sliders, while the addition connecting to the former bonus room was equipped with a larger folding multi-paned glass wall.

The bathrooms are probably the greatest departures from the home’s original scheme. They’re also some of the coolest pieces of its second act. The two original baths were completely gutted and replaced, while a third was added to the master suite. In it, a wall of blue tiles, also of backpainted glass, bleeds over into small cubbies interrupting the wood panels on both sides. The two kids’ bedrooms are connected by another standout bathroom, where a mosaic tile backdrop sports a cheery lemon and lime color scheme. The tour continues below:

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The befores, in all their pre-renovation dreariness:

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