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Spurred on by passion, charity and even profit, ambitious organizers and proud homeowners welcome in throngs on tours of their modern homes
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Two homes on recent tours: a 1961 home by Rickey and Brooks in Sacramento, Eichler home at San Rafael's 'Open Hearts' tour.

Most modern tours focus on single-family homes. Some include condos or apartments. Sausalito is famous for opening its houseboats annually. And three nonprofits in San Francisco, including the American Institute of Architects, recently took folks on a tour of subsidized housing as part of 'Affordable Housing Day.'

Power of 'one'

There are also single home tours. The 'Sacramento Modern' committee, which grew out of efforts to run the 'Sacramento Modern Tour,' opened the city's steel-framed Roush residence, designed by an acolyte of Frank Lloyd Wright and John Lautner.

"The number one reason" people go on house tours, Siguenza says, "is people want to get creative ideas" by seeing how others have remodeled their homes or use their space.

"It's fun to find out how different people handle common problems," says Kaaren Sipes, whose home was on the Highlands tour. "We all have ways of decorating."

"Oh, it was great!" she says, remembering how people admired their new kitchen and bathrooms, where the family had installed brightly colored mosaics. Sipes learned from the tourists as well.

"I really enjoyed hearing people react to some of the things we'd done in the house," she says, "because you get so used to it yourself, it's easy to forget there are other ways to go with design decisions."

Cynthia Ishimoto, whose Palo Alto home was on a 2008 Eichler tour sponsored by Habitat for Humanity, says 700 people passed through her house over two days, admiring her recent remodel.

"When they come," she says, "they can pillage ideas."

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A big crowd of tour goers packs this Sacramento Eichler kitchen.

There are even homeowners who build their houses with tourists in mind. Jack Williams and his wife Jane Williams-York had Kansas City architect Dominique Davison, a Bay Area transplant who'd worked for Daniel Solomon, replace their 1957 ranch-style house with a LEED-platinum home that's all odd angles and starkly white, using passive solar and heat from the earth.

Showing their home as part of Modern Home Tours' Kansas City event was "an opportunity to share with people," Jane says. It's one they have taken often, having opened the house to architectural students while it was still being built and on several other tours since.

"We like having people come through to see what makes it energy efficient, and what makes it different from what the builders are doing," Jack says. "[Some of them] build houses that look good but are not well built."

The Williams want people to understand the benefits both of energy-efficient homes and of modern ones as well, and in Kansas, the latter challenge may be the bigger one.

"There is no other modern architecture around us," Jack says. "The Midwest is a land of conservatism and tradition. My wife and I are probably considered heretics because we embrace the modern style."

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Above: At the 'Open Hearts' Eichler tour in San Rafael, where proceeds benefited Hospice by the Bay, this $75-a-head luncheon was held in the patio of Eichler Homes vet Catherine Munson.

Architects as impetus

The Williams put their home on the tour at the request of their architect, and that is how many homes get on these tours.

"People are happy to show off the work of their architects," says Ingrid Spencer, an architectural writer who 'curates' homes for Modern Home Tours. "'We are happy with our house, and with our architect, and we want to help promote them,' they say."

Helping local architects connect with potential clients is the stated goal of American Institute of Architects tours, which are run by chapters around the country, including those in San Francisco and the East Bay.