Eichler House/ Courtyard House

by Doug Murray on November 6, 2011

Thinking about Courtyard Type Houses it occurred to me that  Eichler Houses have courtyard like features.

Eichler homes can’t really be considered a courtyard homes, but they do have “sort-of” courtyards. I really like the Eichler designed subdivision houses; they are so different from the typical subdivision houses. The clean lines, mostly flat roof, and extensive exterior glass, and the way they eschew their presentation to the street in favor of the more inner focused orientation, for me, makes these homes very appealing.

I am familiar with one Eichler Home that is owned by a family member. As I examine my experience of this house in more depth and think about the courtyard nature of this house I’m surprised by what I discovered.

I enjoy the entry experience of this house;  it is a surprise compared with the average home.  One enters through the double doors facing the street, but you enter into a small outdoor space, a little courtyard. It’s surrounded on three sides by the house and on the fourth side by the street facing wall with the double doors. This space is open to the sky. The plan of the house is an ‘H’ shape. This entry court is the open lower half of the ‘H’. This is a small space and one does not really pause to appreciate it. You are drawn forward to the glass wall with glass sliding door which is the actual entry to the house proper. Looking at the ‘H’ plan from above the south would be to the right. The house walls that surround the little entry court shade the floor of the courtyard much of the day especially during the winter.  The Owners have never had outdoor furniture in this space so it’s not used for sitting outdoors. To the right is a bedroom wing of the house. There is an access door to the bedroom. To the left is the garage and master bedroom. There’s a blind door to access the garage. The master bedroom has no windows or doors to this courtyard.

So this “courtyard” is basically a transition space from the street to the house entry. This particular home is on a small cul-de-sac. There’s no traffic passing by the house, but I can see how this might be useful for a transition space on a busy street. However, it seems, a shame that this outdoor space could not have been designed for a more positive use. It is basically and outdoor hallway.

What is even more curious is that the other, sort of, courtyard space in the upper part of the ‘H’ is even less used. Even though this upper open portion of the ‘H’ plan faces out on a very pleasant swimming pool there is no outdoor furniture in this little courtyard either. It is not even used as a transition space; at least not during my many visits. It is surround on three sides with the glass walls of the house. On the left is the living room glass wall, on the right is the dining room glass wall, on the horizontal ‘link’ of the ‘H’ is the glass wall of the entry. Even though all these glass walls have sliding glass doors to this small outdoor space these doors are seldom used.  Strange to say- rather than this exterior space being a link between the home and the outdoors it seems to make a separation between them. One could not feel at ease lounging in this glass box of a space.

The pool is only linked to the house visually. It is not linked to the house in use. The rooms that are related to the pool and patio use are the kitchen and the family room. The dining room, kitchen, and family room are on the left vertical leg of the ‘H’. This is the sunny side of the house, but there are no windows from the dining room to this side, and the pantry cuts off the kitchen from direct access to this side. The only access is through the family room. This turns out to be the main access to this side of the house, and one walks around this side of the  house to reach the pool which is located at the top of the ‘H’.

So instead of the house opening out and relating to the pool and patio and embracing that outdoor use as part of the everyday living experience; that area is held at arms length, so to speak. The view of the pool is a visual element of the design. It’s like window shopping- to be looked at through glass walls, but not touched or lived with.

The overall design of this house has many good things going for it.  On initial observation this house seems so open between the inside and outside. However, on closer examination of how the spaces actually relate to one another, the house has only a visual openess, but not a physical relationship with the outdoor spaces. In a true courtyard house the courtyard is maybe more the heart of the house than the house itself. It is generally the most pleasant space to be in, and there is an easy transition moving between indoors and outdoors. So even though this house design is a break from the traditional subdivision house I would not be satisfied with a design that did not make better use of the precious outdoor spaces.

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