Designer houses

Dsc00249_1Dsc00256_1I’ve always been fascinated by designer’s houses, their personal space, even unlike their offices. They’ve always been a fascinating source of information about the particular designer’s inherent visual sensibilities and innate aesthetic sense, a veritable treasure trove, call it a cornucopia if you will, of tsotchkes, souvenirs, knick knacks and conversation pieces. More than that, whether they are minimalistic with clean lines or cozy and comfortable with fuzzy rugs, this is probably the only place you will that designer’s particular taste, unadulterated by any professional or business considerations.

Unlike artists such as painters and sculptors, who get to manifest tangibly their creative visual imagery, practicing professional designers must create to a set of determined criteria, taking the client’s business and marketing strategies into consideration, budget and time constraints for production, and suit the client’s brand image appropriately. So while you may see design work of the highest quality in portfolios, you will never get a glimpse into the designer’s secret soul, unlike an artist’s, because unless the work is a concept car or an exercise in free style imagery, everything is tailored to a client’s specifications.

Dsc00257Their personal spaces however, with their collections of pieces – be it furniture, rugs, paintings, curios or even regular old books and music and posters – are all examples of their personal preferences in design. Last week, I was introduced to an "Eichler house" by Bill Hill, when I went to share their fried turkey feast. Cliches about sights for sore eyes apart, the house was beautiful. Simple lines, open spaces, and an attention to details that gave the house a vaguely Japanese Zen garden feel. Bill’s emphasized that a little with his teeny gravel garden outfront and the use of lengths of metal chains instead of gutters for the rain. When I walked in, I *knew* it was a designer’s home. Nothing was out of the ordinary, particularly, but a certain sense of "something" – grins – my old typography teacher would say it was either balance, harmony or tension in the composition. Come to think of it, he also used to say I was lazy and had never worked a day in my life. Oh well. Sorry Manubhai.

Just out of curiosity, I looked up Joseph Eichler, the man behind these houses, and here’s a quote, from many such,

    These low-slung, jazzy spreads, built by Joseph Eichler from the late
    1940s to the early 1970s, were the avant-garde architectural expression of
    California dreamin’ – an optimistic, middle-class, mid-century vision of
    the good life.
[…]
    "They illustrate the advantages of socially-responsible development –
    something that’s integrated with the local culture, respectful of the
    physical environment," Adamson said. Also, Eichler’s homes reflect "the

    enduring value that good design can bring
to any housing project."
[…]
    It’s unclear how Eichler came to be a modernist and a lover of good
    design. One inspiration, according to Adamson, may have come when Eichler
    sublet Frank Lloyd Wright’s Bazett House in Palo Alto, from 1940 to 1942.
    That initial inspiration was probably reinforced, Eichler said, by the
    belief that "the masses could have good design."

Italics mine in surprise and delight, to see the same language we use today to talk about design’s strategic advantage in raising shareholder value for products like the iPod, and the fact that these homes have not only endured over 50 years, they are considered "still modern" in their design. Timeless, indeed.

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2 Responses to Designer houses

  1. I lived in an Eichler when I first moved to Palo Alto in the summer if 1992. It was pretty cool; I didn’t know about the cult of Eichler at that point, but live here long enough and yeah. The two I’ve been in since then were both owned by designers, in fact, and they were each doing extensive work on ’em.
    I’ve become a fan of the slightly more egalitarian-in-tone (and someone can refute this; I may be speaking out of turn) Doelger homes that can be found in Daly City. http://www.dalycityhistory.org/westlake/resdev.htm has a bit of the history
    http://www.kevingardiner.com/westlake.html has some better images – but you should go drive around there and check it out – very cool
    Here in Montara, there’s one design firm and you can tell the house owned by the designer, because it’s this incredible modernist structure. Only image I can find is inside
    Thomas + Mary-Kate

  2. I too find designer’s spaces fascinating – because as you said, it can bring great insight into their design-problem solving for themselves. I particularly enjoy looking at live-work spaces, or how design/architecture firms design spaces for themselves too.
    And we’ve also been on the hunt for an eichler house here in Marin for some time. Not that we’re modernists, but greatly enjoy some of the designs of the homes. I think it is interesting that California, but for a few bridges and museums, doesn’t sport much in the way of an architecture portfolio – apart from residential homes, where there is a wide variety of outstanding examples of homes.
    Perhaps that is the same in every state.

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