Photos courtesy of photographer Chris Wehling
We were excited to have the opportunity to ask Bay Area Eichler fan, documentary filmmaker, and realtor Monique Lombardelli about her passion for Eichler homes, and her upcoming film, “People in Glass Houses – The Legacy of Joseph Eichler”. The film is expected to be released in April.
Where did your passion for Eichlers get its start?
I was going around prospecting for work in Sunnyvale and saw them. I was so blown away by the style of the homes, that this incredible joy came over me. I couldn’t explain it, but I literally wanted to go door to door and see every single one of them from the inside. I felt like I had just landed on the moon – they are so different and I had never seen anything like them before. I fell in love with the style, but as soon as I started to learn about Joseph Eichler and everything he did and accomplished, I was truly inspired. Then I got to know the people and started to see these communities for what they were: Time warps of good, old traditional values that make up the spirit of our country. I became a true believer and a follower of this truth and this community. I want to share it with everyone.
For people who aren’t familiar with Eichler homes, what makes them special? Can you place the importance of Eichler in perspective in terms of mid-century modern architecture?
Eichlers are the epitome of true form and fashion. They were built for function and in such a smart way. The fronts of the homes are simple, minimalist style. The home opens up with many windows and glass usually all along the back side of the home. Some of them have atriums appealing to our homosapien need to have nature around us. It allows the inside/outside feel of living. This allows us to live in a relaxed and natural setting which is so uplifting and light. Some owners have said “Why do I need to go on vacation? I’ll just stay in my house.”
Some people argue that they are not sturdy or not tough enough to withstand forces of nature. But when you look at how many of them were built, and for the masses – Joe Eichler needed to have them cost effective to provide all of these homes. He had a vision and created these homes for people who would not have been able to afford them before. He also instilled in them a community feel- a sort of code to live by that if you live in an Eichler neighborhood, you have a sense of responsibility here. You have a pride and a reason to protect these places and make sure that your neighbors are safe and secure. Don’t you find it a coincidence that EVERY Eichler neighborhood has their own block party/4th of July party, and weekly get togethers or “pot lucks” ? It is a standard of living that only exists in these developments. When was the last time you saw anyone doing such things? When was the last time you all gathered at your neighbor’s house for badminton or a surfer themed block party? I could go on and on, but this is why I view them as so special.
Tell us about the process of getting your documentary made….how did you take it from an idea to a reality?
It was a long and tiring process but very inspiring to say the least. I started door knocking in ever neighborhood of Eichlers in the San Francisco Bay Area asking if people would be interested in filming their home. I tracked down Marty Arbunich of the Eichler Network, and CA Modern Magazine and scheduled a meeting with him. He then started letting me know who everyone was in the community. I then had other homeowners contact me asking if they could be in the film. All of the conversations that I have had with these owners really confirmed to me that this love of Eichlers and mid-century modern style is real and is POWERFUL. People have gone out of their way to help me and just seeing how self contained these communities are, every single need I have had has been met by referrals of each member in the film. It sort of took on a mind of its own.
I then had a conversation with my scriptwriter and treatment writers about approaching Ned and David Eichler. Through some cold calls, I got their information and set up times to meet with them as well. They, ( thank God) were ok with being on camera. After reading “Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream,” I knew that I wanted to approach Paul Adamson the writer and architect. He was great on camera and also gave me some other referrals for a voice-over person and music connection for the film. Everyone believed in the spirit of the ‘Eichler phenomenon,’ and helped me so much to accomplish a full and detailed story.
What did you learn about Eichler homes that you didn’t know before you started your venture?
I was incredibly impressed with meeting an original owner, who is an African American woman in Castro Valley. She told me that she felt forever grateful to Joe Eichler for establishing a non-discrimination policy for his homes. While other developers and banks actively discriminated based on ethnicity, Eichler offered his homes to everyone. I didn’t know that, and almost cried when she told us on camera how Eichler facilitated a different life for her and her family. AMAZING!
Do you live in an Eichler house? If so, what do you love about it?
I live in an Eichler inspired building with my adopted cat named Buzby. The building is my dream with a retro style lobby, and simple clean lined architecture. The penthouse floor units all have atriums and the back sides of all of the units are entirely made up of windows/glass so it’s open to the views on the peninsula. There are balconies beyond the floor to ceiling windows, and it is great for entertaining. I am very much at home here. I have my eye on almost every Eichler I see: They are like people, always unique and something to rave about with each individual style. I think in a sense, people treat their Eichlers like a blank canvas. This is our art form and allows us to express ourselves.
For those interested in restoring significant mid-century houses such as Eichlers, any tips on what they should consider?
I am a huge fan of the complete original style. I believe in keeping the integrity of the architecture and restoring the spirit of them. Many of us, including Elizabeth Torbit and Mark Marcinik (two of my favorite remodeling and restoring geniuses) have lists and lists of “the rules” involving mid-century modern style. Everything from where to find the original doorknobs and just the right color of gravel stone for the front landscaping….even finding the right vendors for the exact perfect numbering for the front door. There are style gurus here in the Eichler community who all have opinions, and have become master collectors and speakers on this religion of style. To me, it is the equivalent of going into a vintage shop and discovering your own personal style- finding a ‘60s-style jacket and a pencil skirt… you make it your own. Go bold! – but keep the original sensibility and sleekness.
When is your documentary being released and where can people view it?
I have a team of editors working on it right now. It will be released at the latest in April. I want to honor the Bay Area with it and show it in theatres here first. I have been approached by some architectural committees here that want to have viewings, too. After this, I will be having it available online through Amazon for anyone who wants to download it. You can search “People in Glass Houses: The Legacy of Joseph Eichler.” I have two Facebook groups started where I will be posting clips of the film, as well. The groups are called “Eichler Homes” and “Eichlers.”
Are there any architects currently working designing homes (on a mass scale) that resonate with current buyers in the same way that Eichler’s homes did with buyers in the 1950s/60s?
Not on a mass scale, no. I don’t know of anyone. I would be anxious to know if they are out there. It would be hard to resonate that kind of spirit of history, strength, perseverance and bold changes that Eichler mastered. He really created something special and had the mindset and the power to put it into action. He was an innovator and a leader. And a pretty balsy guy. I hope you really enjoy the film!
Thank you, Monique!
We will be posting a film preview Link on our Facebook page.
For Monique’s website: http://www.MoniqueLombardelli.com