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Renovating a Wave of Midcentury Moderns

04/02/2015 01:09 pm ET | Updated Jun 02, 2015

Architect John Klopf is hanging ten on a surging wave of midcentury modern home renovations in California.

After graduating with a masters from U.C. Berkeley, he set up his practice in 2001, and remodeled his first Eichler home in 2002. Since then, his firm has taken on almost 100 Eichlers and other midcentury homes.

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Eichler Home Restoration, Silicon Valley, by John Klopf, AIA

"About 2007, we really started to pick up some speed, with a good number each year," he says. "There was a snowball effect."

Part of that's because the firm handles its projects with respect for the original architects and designs. It also understands the spirit of modernism, with its open spaces, natural light and rational, clean lines.

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Eichler Home Renovation, Silicon Valley, by John Klopf, AIA

Then there's the Asian influence. "The original architects who designed the Eichler homes were inspired by the Japanese concept of 'borrowed landscape,' and so are we," he says. "It's in evidence in traditional Japanese temples and homes, where the wall panels slide open to a raised deck which overlooks a landscaped, enclosed garden."

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Eichler Home Renovation, Silicon Valley, by John Klopf, AIA

That garden space becomes "part of the room" so a smaller interior space feels much larger. With Eichler homes starting out fairly small by 21st-century standards, the 'borrowed landscape' helps make living spaces feel expansive though average in size.

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Eichler Home Renovation, Silicon Valley, by John Klopf, AIA

Klopf applied the concept successfully in Silicon Valley for clients with a 1,712 square-foot Eichler home that was down at the heels. "It was outdated, with the front painted a dark green," he says. "The client wanted a more sophisticated, high-end, modern look. They left the layout up to us."

Working with Arterra Landscape and Flegels Construction, the architects first took on the effects of expansive native soils and rolling floors by placing the structure up on piers. Next, posts inside were removed inside to accommodate two 20-foot Nana Walls that open out to the exterior. Support frames were hidden above, under roofing tiles.

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Eichler Home Renovation, Silicon Valley, by John Klopf, AIA

The original kitchen at the rear was moved to the front of the house and opened up to living and dining spaces. At odds over what to do with a fireplace and chimney, both client and architect were satisfied with their landscape architect's solution of a fire pit opposite a water feature on side yard. So the chimney is history.

Now, the entire home is opened up to natural light and landscape. "The Eichler houses are known for bringing the outside in, and we wanted to push that as far as we could," he says. "We achieved it by completely opening up the space so the living area goes from fence to fence instead of wall to wall."

Those fences are particularly important for this home. "There's a wall of glass in the master shower that faces the backyard," he says,. "It's an example of the openness they wanted."

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Eichler Home Renovation, Silicon Valley, by John Klopf, AIA

And a 21st-century upgrade to a classic 20th century California home.

J. Michael Welton writes about architecture, art and design for national and international publications, and edits and publishes a digital design magazine at www.architectsandartisans.com, where portions of this post first appeared. He's also the author of "Drawing from Practice: Architects and the Meaning of Freehand," due out from Routledge Press in May.