Many things come to mind when Eichler owners think about their kitchens. Phrases like "the center of the house," "our family's meeting place," and "the place that most closely defines what Eichler living is all about" are common sentiments. Combine these feelings with the fact that even the youngest Eichlers today are nearly 30 years old, and you can see why the kitchen is the most frequently upgraded room in Eichler homes.
But exactly what does upgrading mean and how does it differ from remodeling? And how do you know which approach is right for you? To answers these questions, it is helpful to first step back and consider what the "Eichler concept" is all about. Part of that concept, originally introduced by Eichler's architects, "was to close the home off from the street to give privacy and protection from noise," says Sue Olson, peninsula interior designer and owner of Sue R. Olson Designs in Sunnyvale. "People want to come home and feel calm. It is a refuge away from the outside world." Olson also points out that remodeling Eichler kitchens should not be thought of in isolation from the rest of the home because "everything spins off of the kitchen and that open floor plan." What's more, she warns, "You have to be careful what you do line-wise and color-wise."
Eichler owners often go into the remodeling process with mixed feelings. Besides wanting to renew the look and use of the space, there is the fear of destroying something so architecturally sound and well thought out, and not being able to go back once the work has been done. After all, Joe Eichler was one of the few builders in his era to use architects to design homes for the everyday American family of modest means. As Olson adds, Eichlers are "architecturally proportioned correctly because Eichler did use architects, and that's a big difference."
Every kitchen renewal project undertakes one of three escalating tiers of enhancement: restoration, updating, and full remodeling. Each of these possible choices requires different budgets and degrees of planning and, especially at the full-remodel level, can have a very dramatic impact on the original appearance and feeling of the house.
Restoration: Strictly maintaining the original concept and materials. This approach involves trying to restore the kitchen to it original condition. This might include refurbishing the wood paneling or replacing it with new paneling; sanding and repainting the cabinetry; replacing the speckled Formica countertops with ones that closely match the original; installing new linoleum tiles on the floor; and restoring the original appliances, or replacing them with restored ones from the same era.
Updating: Renewing the original concepts and materials. This approach may involve refacing or replacing the cabinets; and replacing countertops with compatible materials, such as granite, concrete, or even a contemporary version of Formica. Appliances may be replaced with contemporary ones that have clean, simple lines compatible with the Eichler concept. Old globe lights may be retained, or may be replaced with something more modern and energy efficient, such as low-voltage halogen track lighting.
Full remodel: Replacing the original concepts and materials with compatible contemporary ones, and rework the space. This might include completely gutting the kitchen and creating a new footprint. Many Eichler owners today are looking to open up their living spaces even more than they already are. If the kitchen is right next to the boiler room, they may expand into that space; if next to the living room, they may remove the wall into the living room. Some remodels may also involve making a new island in the middle of the kitchen, so that it "floats" in the space.
It is also wise to be aware of the implications of a remodeled kitchen on resale value. The appearance of the kitchen is of paramount importance when it comes time to re-sell, according to Loni Nagwani of Century 21 El Camino in Sunnyvale, an Eichler owner and specialist in Eichler real estate. "Eichler resale value can be really cosmetic," she pointed out. "A laminate counter, for instance, is really great for resale value in an Eichler."