Hard work, creative visions and clever strategies turn a remodeling nightmare into a Mid Century Modern dream.
As they embark on their adventures in house hunting, many people aren’t sure where to look for their Mid Century Modern dream home.
But that wasn’t the case with Susan Schroeter and her husband, Philip. They knew exactly where to find their forever home … in fact, its name led them to it.
“We knew the neighborhood was trying to bring more MCM enthusiasts to help restore and renovate the beautiful ‘Fullerton Forever’ [in Fullerton, California] tract homes,” Susan says. “After diving into the history of their homes, we loved and wanted to preserve details such as the floor-to-ceiling windows, flowy interior, sunny atrium and brick fireplace.”
Not only did Susan and Philip know where to find their MCM dream home, they also knew which architect’s style they wanted: Joseph Eichler’s.
“We both love the clean, simple lines, post-and-beam construction, open floor plan, atrium and large glass windows that provide lots of natural light to bring the outdoors in,” Susan explains.
According to FullertonHeritage.org’s website, “[Eichler’s] homes were noted for their simple, plain façades; few windows; flat roofs and carports situated front and center. A unique touch was orange trees in the front and backyards, a tribute to Fullerton’s agricultural past. Eichlers have covered carports, sunny atriums, floor-to-ceiling windows, flowing interiors, and a sense of openness not found in conventional cookie-cutter homes.”
While these Fullerton tracts, known as the Forever Homes, were built by local developers Pardee Homes, the floorplans are authentic A. Quincy Jones designs.
Susan and Philip decided on a 1955 three-bedroom Forever Home in this Southern California Fullerton community. However, their dream home wasn’t exactly move-in ready.
“The remodel was a complete gut job—torn down to the studs,” Susan says. “For so many years, this house’s MCM look was erased by questionable additions. We wanted to bring this house back to how it was originally designed and built to show off its unique MCM look, staying true to the Eichler architecture and interior styling.”
The careful work to restore—and, in most cases, untangle the complicated fixes—was entrusted to Alex Cerda, the CEO of local Huntington Beach-based design-build-contractor firm Keynote Builders.
Alex’s plan was to take the house back to its former glory and upgrade it to conform to today’s standard of living.
“My goal was to respectfully redesign a true Eichler home and meet my clients’ expectations by incorporating original architectural features with the homeowners’ inspirational designs. To bring back its original features, we added glass in the back and an open-air atrium. We combined the design details with modernized color schemes and finishes. By creating a 3-D model of the house based on the homeowners’ inspiration photos, it helped them visualize how their rebuilt home would look. For budget purposes, the design had only a few changes, but the homeowners fell in love with them.”
The building’s aging infrastructure presented a built-in set of challenges during the remodel.
“Once construction started, we uncovered so many hidden ‘demons’ within the walls, roof and floors,” Susan points out. “The biggest challenge was dealing with the unexpected—mold and water damage, pipes and sewer lines needing to be replaced—which meant increasing our renovation budget. More than a quarter million dollars went into restoring this home. We practically built a new home, but fortunately, we were able to preserve some of the natural aesthetics on one side of the house, such as the wood paneling made from the center of a redwood tree.”
Alex explained the importance of reconstructing the historic home from the ground up:“The fact that we were able to get the house all the way down to the studs and update all the utilities are crucial to the home’s performance in the long term. Being able to upgrade all the bones of the house and then waterproofing everything—using a zip-system sheathing product to help seal the building envelope—helps maintain the energy efficiency. Upgrading all the windows to dual-pane glass was also crucial, because the old Eichlers only have single-pane glass. We upgraded everything so that now, it’s more insulated with much better performance than a lot of the original Eichlers. With these kinds of upgrades, the Forever Homes will last forever because of the way that they’re built from the foundation.”
Once the remodel and renovation work was done, Susan was able to focus on the interior design.
“We were aiming toward a simple, minimalist design with a hint of fun colors here and there,” she says.
Color was strategically placed throughout the home.
“We wanted a timeless palette, so we went with simple, neutral colors (white, black and gray) as the base of the house and wanted to add few splashes of color (colorful paintings, brightly colored vases and a deep-midnight-blue accent wall near the kitchen). Our interior and exterior base colors are similar so that the continuity of color makes it feel more like an indoor/outdoor living space. The iconic splash of color seen outdoors is our aqua-blue front door.”
Susan gave each interior space careful consideration when it came to styling.
“I had a certain décor style in mind for each room, incorporating our existing furniture but also adding a few MCM pieces and a lot of walnut and wood accent pieces to cohesively bring everything together,” she says. “In terms of building the actual home and room layouts, our contractor, Keynote Custom Builders, knocked it out of the park with the design aspects of the home. We told Alex exactly what we wanted, and he took all our recommendations and incorporated them seamlessly.”
Smartly layered textures, finishes and patterns are evident throughout the home.
“We added the walnut woodgrain textures within the kitchen cabinets and carried them over to the bathrooms for a cohesive look,” Susan points out. “We kept the kitchen very clean and simple, with white quartz for the countertops and custom kitchen door paneling to match the kitchen pantry. In the primary bathroom, we continued the simplistic look with rectangular subway tiles going vertically, along with white penny-round flooring. In the second bathroom, we added floor-to-ceiling grayish-blue Moroccan mosaic hexagonal tiles on one wall to give it a little flair. We added the same black/gold glass globe to each bathroom to bring it all together.”
Large, white subway tiles, a matte-black waterfall showerhead and white penny-round flooring add texture and contrast to the room. The guest bathroom features floating cabinets made from walnut, as well as an accent wall made from grayish-blue Moroccan hexagonal tiles. The subway tile continues around the deep soaking bathtub. The primary bed has a tall, king-sized, chevron-paneled headboard made from reclaimed pine with a honey finish. “We painted the wall of our daughter’s room with blush-pink and silver-gray geometric shapes,” Susan says. “A loft bed was included to provide more floor space, an area to read her books and provide extra storage for her toys. The window facing into the atrium brings in natural light next to the lounge chair and the bookshelf that’s shaped like a wooden tree.”
Some of Susan’s favorite styling aspects include the skylight in the atrium, dual-pane, floor-to-ceiling windows for maximizing natural light, the custom refrigerator panel and the bathrooms.
Even with all the time, effort and expense spent remodeling her “forever home,” Susan wouldn’t change a thing about it now.
“It was a whirlwind of a process restoring our Fullerton Forever Home, but it was definitely worth it,” she says. “It’s a complete gem, and we hope more MCM enthusiasts will move into the surrounding area.”
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