History with a Twist: Joseph Eichler’s little known project

History with a Twist: Joseph Eichler’s little known project

Published in Atomic Ranch Magazine, Summer 2020

Taking on the renovation of a mid-century home is always a challenge. In Fullerton, California, there’s added pressure when the homes are a beloved local symbol of a bygone era. Fullerton’s ‘Forever Homes’ are a series of quintessentially modern mid-century tract houses constructed thanks to the influence of iconic developer and real estate mogul Joseph Eichler.

But when new owners Keven and Alana Stirdivant lost their original investment partner, and then found termites, they started to wonder what they’d gotten into.

“There was definitely some fear. We were really thinking, ‘Should we still do this?’” admits owner Keven Stirdivant, who along with his wife Alana purchased the home for the express purpose of taking on a full vintage home renovation.

The Stirdivants are both mildly obsessed with mid-century modern homes, design and architecture. So much so, they started a real estate company that specializes in buying and selling mid-mod homes. Having got their feet wet with purchases for clients, they wanted to do something a bit more hands-on and set about finding an iconic 1950’s home that needed thoughtful work. They brought in an investment partner who would help them finance the purchase and reno. But when that person had to bow out, the Stirdivants needed a backup plan—fast.

“We decided to reach out to our contractor, who understood what we were trying to achieve with this house, and could really help us get there. We ended up partnering financially with our contractor, Keynote renovations.”

A MAJOR SETBACK

The Stirdivants bought the three bedroom, two bathroom home almost on the spot. One of the most pressing projects was dealing with the termites they found in wood paneling in a former carport that had been enclosed by the previous owners.

“They’d created more square footage but left the exterior finishes. With the stucco on the walls, it didn’t feel like part of the house,” explains Alana.

 

Keynote re-did the walls on the old carport, removing dusty stucco and a support post to make the space feel like part of the home. Removing a wall between the dining room and kitchen opened the space up, and the washer and dryer were relocated from the master bath to a hallway closet (a former pantry in the home’s original plans). The couple’s biggest splurge was on polished concrete floors across nearly all 1730 square feet of the home.

KITCHEN FIASCO

Another major facelift was reserved for the kitchen where the space was again opened up and modernized. While the kitchen’s cream and beige palette fits the overall aesthetic of the home now, Alana says when the cabinets were initially installed, the wood stain was all wrong, resulting in them needing to be removed, spray painted and re-installed.

“They were this 1990’s red color. Oh my gosh, I was so mad when I walked in!” Alana recalls. “It was a mistake that cost us a bit more money, but it worked out in the end.”

FULLERTON’S FOREVER HOMES

The Stirdivant’s house is one of Fullerton’s so-called “Forever Homes.” These homes have ties to Eichler, though they were built by local builders Pardee-Philips. That partnership came about thanks to Eichler’s promotion of a modern living on 1950’s TV where he offered plans drawn up by architects A. Quincy Jones and Frederick E. Emmons to developers in small towns across America. There are nearly 300 of these modern Forever Home designs in the southern part of Fullerton, which at the time sold for just under $20,000.

That sum seems almost impossible now, particularly compared to how much money was needed for the renovation.“Our budget was about $50,000 but we pretty much doubled that,” shares Alana.

Since this project was an investment for the couple and their new contractor-partner, the house went on the market as soon as it was complete, and sold almost immediately—for about $75,000 more than the highest previous price for a renovated Forever Home. “Even though we had an offer that was about $20,000 higher, we opted to sell it to this really nice couple who sent us this heartfelt letter. We just really wanted them to have it because they were such sweet people.”