Friday, March 4, 2011

California Modern in Ottawa

During the mid-century era, California became the epicentre of modern design. From the architect-designed case-study houses, to the mundane tract house, all eyes were on California. In Canada, books and periodicals on architecture filled with Californian design would have sparked the imagination of Architects and designers.

When one thinks of Mid-Century Modern (MCM) California tract housing, the name ‘Eichler’ often comes to mind. Perhaps one of the most famous MCM tract builders, Joseph Eichler, defined MCM design in the United States. His widely-published designs even captured the imagination of Canadians. Any designer/architect in the know would have seen an Eichler plan.
In Ottawa, there are a few examples of houses built in the 1960s with floor plans that could have been influenced by those being built by Eichler. The most famous Eichler-built designs are those with an open-air atrium at the centre.

One of the floor plans built by Teron in Beaverbrook during the 1960s features what I consider to be the Canadian version of an Eichler atrium. In the Teron version, the atrium in the centre of the plan is enclosed as a family room, and making the space usable all year round (as opposed to an outdoor atrium like in the California Eichlers).

One of the most unique Eichler-built homes is the X-100 prototype steel house.


While the design was not reproduced in steel in Ottawa, Campeau built a series of houses that share a similarly-arranged plan. Although much simplified, and without the interior gardens, the Campeau versions have the same placement of the bedrooms at the front, a service core in the middle, and the living spaces spanning the rear of the plan. I quite like this Campeau plan as it is a departure from the usual ranch house design of the time.

This flat-roofed version of the same Campeau plan has the living and bedroom spaces reversed. The exterior design is strikingly modern, and almost Eichler-esque.

Eichler designs were also characterized by their blank facades and exposed rafter tails.

In 1960, this Teron design built in Glabar Park won a Canadian Housing Design Council award. The plan with its Dining/Family Room echoes the All-Purpose/Multi-Purpose rooms found in Eichler designs.

The exterior details are also reminiscent of Eichlers.
Below is another Teron house in the same area that has a very Eichler-esque exterior.

This elevation of the 1966 Campeau design is aptly named “California Contemporary”, clearly showing the source of the design inspiration.

These next examples are a little outside of the MCM period, but present a curious example of Californian design in Ottawa.
Around 1978, the California builder, Lusk, constructed a community of homes in Orange Country called Nohl Ranch. Below is the Bennington plan by Lusk.

Around the same time, Campeau started building the community of Hunt Club Woods. Below is the Bennington plan by Campeau.

Both builders also built a Clarendon model which is almost exactly the same. I am not sure if the plans were blatantly copied, or if they were bought from the designer. Either way, they represent a piece of Californian design found right here in Ottawa.


  1. The comparison between floor plans is so interesting! Keep up the good work.

  2. Funny thing is, prior to your post about the relationship between Teron's plan and the Californian plan, I always thought to myself how much the homes in Hunt Club Woods would fit well into a Californian suburb. I'm amazed by how inspired homes once were, we can only dream of having a truly moving house design in the contemporary age of suburbia that richcraft and the latter offer.

  3. Bonneville Homes 2012 collection are definitely inspired by the above models

  4. I've been wondering about some houses on Regina in Britannia. They look so much like Eichlers in Northern California. Although this Ottawa area is not mentioned here, I bet they are in fact Canadian versions.

    1. Wow! Thanks for bringing my attention to these houses. I will see what I can find out about them!


  5. I've been scouring your blog trying to find a plan that matches the house we just bought on Bearbrook Road. #1. Any ideas?

    1. Hmmm...that one has me stumped! There area few houses in that row that appear to be custom designs, so the builder may not have made floor plans to distribute....