Meet the X-100

All photography by Ernie Braun (except #2 by JR Eyerman)

Inside the X-100 kitchen: most celebrated 1956-'57 X-100 photo by photographer Ernie Braun.

The Eichler X-100 is a mid-century modern experimental steel house designed by the Southern California architectural firm of Jones & Emmons—A. Quincy Jones and partner Frederick Emmons—and built by Eichler Homes in 1956 at the San Mateo Highlands Eichler Homes development in San Mateo, California.

Eichler Homes was founded as a developer of tracts of single-family houses in the Bay Area suburbs during the California building boom that followed World War II. Joe Eichler, the founder, insisted on modernist style and used only designs by architects, initially Anshen and Allen in 1950, and later also Jones & Emmons and Claude Oakland Associates. The company specialized in constructing their wood-framed houses as an affordable alternative to more conventional tract houses. The vast majority were of timber, using post-and-beam construction.

Front exterior of the X-100 in the late 1950s. Note the metal star sculpture accent.

Eichler had however commissioned a steel-frame house in Palo Alto from architect Raphael Soriano in 1955 to demonstrate the practicality and cost-worthiness of building tract houses in steel rather than wood. Jones had also designed a steel-frame house for the 1954 ‘Research Village’ project sponsored by U.S. Gypsum in Barrington, Illinois, and another the same year as his personal residence in Crestwood Hills, Los Angeles (destroyed in the 1961 Bel Air Fire).

In this 1956 photo, looking towards the master bedroom with its curtain pulled open.

Eichler saw the X-100 as the vehicle that could raise the awareness of steel-framed housing and perhaps revolutionize residential construction. He also commissioned the X-100 for two other reasons: to showcase advanced household appliances, some of them prototypes; and to promote his in-progress San Mateo Highlands development, whose location was, at the time, remote from highways.

 

Its name may have been derived from the X-15, a manned space project of the era. Ground was broken in May 1956, and the grand opening took place on October 6. The house structure was pre-fabricated, with advice from Pierre Koenig, like Soriano a Los Angeles architect with considerable experience building in steel.

From the kitchen, the sliding door is open and the pool is beckoning.

The X-100 has three bedrooms, two living rooms, and a kitchen grouped around the perimeter, with a central utility core containing two bathrooms and utility and laundry areas. Instead of the open atrium of many Eichler houses that would follow, it has two interior gardens, dubbed the ‘entry garden’ and the ‘game garden’ by the company. There is also a children's play yard, which the two smaller bedrooms open onto, while the master bedroom has glass doors to the backyard. The thin steel supports and use of glass sliding doors, both inside and along the entire rear facade, create a sense of openness. The inside entrance to the master bedroom has curtains (today made of metal chain) rather than a wall and door. The house is on a ridge with views of the Santa Cruz Mountains range across open space preserved as watershed and a nature reserve.

Inside the master bedroom in 1956. Today, the curtain is made of metal.

Inside, in addition to track lighting on both sides of the home, the X-100 has plastic skylights (‘skydomes’), totaling 32 feet in length, that span the width of the house. It made extensive use of Formica in white, grey, charcoal, and primrose yellow, including reversible white and yellow panels on the kitchen cabinets. Modern and prototype equipment in addition to the underfloor radiant heating (standard in Eichler houses) included a black dishwasher (said to incorporate five years of research), a ‘pulverator’ (garbage disposal), a double oven with ‘vari-speed control’ and attached to a liquor storage cabinet, a refrigerator-freezer, a washer-dryer, a water heater, a radio and intercom over the kitchen counter, a built-in five-function blender, and a two-burner cooktop for warming food between the two sliding sections of the built-in dining table. There are dual bathtub controls, for use when showering and when bathing.

Originally the house had a rotating conical-shaped fireplace (today it is stationary) in the entry garden. Interior decor was by Knorr and Associates, furniture by Herman Miller, and accessories by Gump's. Total cost to build was approximately $125,000. A metal star sculpture that remains on the front exterior facade is by Matt Kahn, an artist who worked with Eichler as his company’s interior design consultant.

The X-100 is dreamy at night, its interior and exterior lighting setting the mood.

Another unique aspect of the X-100 is Bay Area landscape architect Douglas Baylis' full integration of home and nature by bringing gardens inside. The X-100 interior features two rooms containing interior gardens, with multiple distinct planting areas in each. Both entry and game gardens are floored with concrete aggregate circular pads that Eichler called ‘steppingstones,' from as large as nine and a half feet in diameter to 18 inches. In addition, in the entry garden there are freeform, cloudlike pads, made up of sections of circles. In the backyard, Baylis repeated the circular motif, with the main seating area demarcated by an inscribed circle 24 feet in diameter. The swimming pool is formed by the meeting of two circles, the shallower one for children.

 

On display as the ‘house of tomorrow’ and ‘experimental research house,’ the X-100 was visited by 150,000 people during its first three months, written about in publications including Popular Science, Life, Sunset, Arts & Architecture, and Living for Young Homemakers, and covered in a national video newsreel. Eichler sold the X-100 for $47,000 in 1957 to Jesper Petersen, a furniture importer; his secretary Anna-Lise Pedersen bought it in 1964 and lived there until her death in 2003. It was then purchased by a group named X-100 Partners; one of them, Marty Arbunich, director of the Eichler Network, restored it and has been the sole owner since 2013.

The X-100 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in June 2016.