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Variation on a Home Architecture Theme : Design: Houses on an Orange street prove that mass production can yield layouts with character.

November 25, 1995|MARESA ARCHER

Driving down Woodland Street in Orange, one quickly realizes the houses are not typical suburban architecture. The tract, built in the early 1960s, was designed by architect Joseph Eichler.

Eichler designed the houses to prove that custom features and modern design could be incorporated into mass production without increasing costs.

"The houses are in the modern style," said Susan Secoy, an architect and owner of an Eichler. . "The modern movement was based on real clarity of plan and is very minimalistic."

The Eichler houses are designed to be free-flowing. The public areas of each 1,750-square-foot house--kitchen and living, dining and family rooms--are open, with no walls dividing them. A counter and cabinets are the only definition between the kitchen and the family room.

The house is built surrounding a central courtyard, with a street-side door that shields the glass-door entrance to the house itself. "The beauty of these houses is there is very little exposure to the street," Secoy said. "It's very unexpected when you enter through the front door to a courtyard."

One of Eichler's goals was to merge interior and exterior via glass. The courtyard is flanked by three glass walls. The living room wall to the back yard is glass, divided only by a brick fireplace.

"From the door in the courtyard you can read all the way through the house to the pool outside, and it makes it feel much larger. It almost brings the landscape inside," Secoy said.

Adding to the feeling of openness are 12-foot ceilings with exposed beams that extend through the glass walls to the outdoors. "The openness and vast amount of space create almost a confusion as to whether you're inside or out," Secoy said.

But many people who bought the Eichler houses did not understand the open design and proceeded to build walls and enclose the atrium.

"We knocked down the wall between the living room and dining room [that] the previous owners must have built to get more of a traditional house," Secoy said. "These houses do not have much storage, and a lot of owners built storage units and sacrificed the openness."

Secoy admits the Eichler houses may not be the most ideal for a family with children. "A friend has two children and used to live in one of the houses but found it too impractical. With kids come toys, and again, there is not a lot of closet space," she said.

When Secoy and her husband, David Kosco, also an architect, bought their Eichler, it took major renovations to restore the house to its original integrity. The Ohio transplants chose the house not just because of its famous designer but also because of its geographic appropriateness.

"We wanted something that was very 'here.' We even looked at renting somewhere like Newport Beach but decided on the house because to us it is California living," Secoy said.

Not only had walls been added to the house, but also the paint was dark, the floors were carpeted and the windows had heavy treatments. The couple removed the window treatments, leaving the windows at the back of the house uncovered and using mini-blinds on street-side windows. The carpeting was replaced with hardwood floors and terrazzo tiles.

"We went with hardwood floors and a warm color palette because, if you bring in warmer materials, it psychologically feels better," she said.

The openness of the design, with its glass windows, gives the house limited feasibility. "This house has to be in a warm climate. It could not exist in Ohio," Secoy said.

Leaks from the flat roof are also a part of living in an Eichler house. But Secoy and Kosco are undaunted. They said that any hardships are outweighed by living in a modern house that proves innovation is possible in mass production.

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