Joseph Eichler (1900–1974) was a 20th century post-war U.S. American real estate developer known for developing distinctive residential subdivisions of Mid-Century modern style Tract housing in California, United States. He was one of the influential advocates of bringing modern architecture from custom residences and large corporate buildings to general public availability. His company and developments named “Eichler Homes” remain in the Greater San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles regions of western California.
Between 1950 and 1974, Joseph Eichler’s company, Eichler Homes, built over 11,000 homes in nine communities in Northern California and homes in three communities in Southern California. They all came to be known as Eichlers or an Eichler. During this period, Eichler became one of the nation’s most influential builders of modern homes. The largest contiguous Eichler Homes development is ‘The Highlands’ in San Mateo, built between 1956 and 1964. Unlike many developers of the post war housing boom, Joseph Eichler was a social visionary and commissioned designs primarily for middle-class Americans. One of his stated aims was to construct inclusive and diverse planned communities, ideally featuring integrated parks and community centers. Eichler, unlike most builders at the time, established a non-discrimination policy and offered homes for sale to anyone of any religion or race. In 1958, he resigned from the National Association of Home Builders when they refused to support a non-discrimination policy.
Joseph Eichler used well-known architects to design both the site plans and the homes themselves. He hired the respected architect and Wright disciple Robert Anshen of Anshen & Allen to design the initial Eichlers, and the first prototypes were built in 1949. In later years, other Eichler Homes by other architects were built including those designed by: the San Francisco firm Claude Oakland & Associates; and the Los Angeles firms of Jones & Emmons, A. Quincy Jones, and Raphael Soriano.
Eichler homes are from a branch of Modernist architecture that has come to be known as “California Modern,” and typically feature glass walls, post-and-beam construction, and open floorplans in a style indebted to Frank Lloyd Wright and Mies van der Rohe. Eichler Homes exteriors featured flat and/or low-sloping A-Framed roofs, vertical 2-inch pattern wood siding, and spartan facades with clean geometric lines. One of Eichler’s signature concepts was to “Bring the Outside In,” achieved via skylights and floor-to-ceiling glass windows with glass transoms looking out on protected and private outdoor rooms, patios, atriums, gardens, and swimming pools.
The interiors had numerous unorthodox and innovative features including: exposed post-and-beam construction; tongue and groove decking for the ceilings following the roofline; concrete slab floors with integral radiant heating; luan paneling; sliding doors for rooms, closets, and cabinets; and a standard second bathroom located in the master bedroom. Later models introduced the famous Eichler entry atriums, an open-air enclosed entrance foyer designed to further advance the Eichler concept of integrating outdoor and indoor spaces.
Eichler homes were airy and modern in comparison to most of the mass-produced, middle-class, postwar homes being built in the 1950s. At first potential home buyers, many of whom were war-weary ex-servicemen and women seeking convention rather than innovation, were resistant to the innovative homes. Eichler also faced competition from other developers who used stylistic elements of Eichler homes in diluted and more conventional designs, later called “Eichleresque.” Eichler Homes never achieved large profits for Joseph Eichler.
In his biography by Walter Isaacson, Steve Jobs credited living in an “Eichler Home” when growing up as the main inspiration for developing an aesthetic sensibility for the modernist and for the simple.