The Minimalist Modernist Way - Mar / Apr 21




Located in the Fairhills tract, the home features a double gable with one frame above the carport and the other one above the living room.  Their home embodies the many attributes of the classic Eichler design, including a flat roof, exterior paneling that extends across the garage door and a solid-wood door with trim around the doorknob. 

Decades after they first began to appear in the 1950s and 1960s, Eichler homes in California continue to inspire a minimalist modernist way of living that has stood the test of time.  Such is the case for Old Towne business owner Wil Dee and his wife, Jessica, whose Eichler home in Orange embodies the midcentury-modern ideals of simplicity and efficiency for his family of four.

“When you live in an Eichler home, you learn to streamline your surroundings because there’s not a lot of storage in these homes,” says Wil.  “You come to embrace the modernism approach of not having as many things around you, which I very much appreciate.”

Wil and Jessica Dee stand at the atrium entrance of their Eichler home, located in the historic Fairhills Tract in Orange.  A beautiful Japanese maple tree graces the entry.

The defining features of an Eichler home include floor-to-ceiling windows, flat roofs, abundant natural light, open-air atriums, open sight lines and vertical plywood siding.  Named for the twentieth-century developer and visionary Joseph Eichler, the iconic homes were built from 1949 to 1974 in select areas of Southern and Northern California.     Of the approximately 11,000 homes total in California, Orange boasts 350 Eichlers split across three neighborhoods: Fairhaven, Fairmeadows and Fairhills.  Wil and Jessica live in the Fairhills tract located between Hughes and Cannon streets just south of Santiago Blvd.

Before purchasing their Eichler in 2016, the couple had considered expanding their previous home in Old Towne to make way for their new baby.  Instead they decided to look for a larger home and went to an open house recommended by their realtor friend who specializes in Eichlers.

In the kitchen, the couple bakes chocolate-chip cookies with their children, Owen and Olivia.  “We do a lot of cooking at home,” says Wil.  “We buy many of our food items from the Orange Home Grown Farmers Market on Saturdays.”

“This house was larger than our other home by 700 square feet, and with a kid on the way, it was perfect for us,” says Wil.  “We liked the openness of the home itself, and the feeling you get when you walk into the atrium.  It has four bedrooms, two baths and an office.  The neighborhood is cool, and we are at the beginning of a cul de sac, which is nice for the kids.”

Wil, says that the previous owner did a wonderful job of remodeling the interior and exterior—a much-needed improvement, as the home had undergone some misguided “renovations” through the decades.

Original to the home, classic globe lights hang above the dining table. Eames chairs surround the table, which features a butterfly leaf for expanded seating.

“Someone had gutted the house in a bad way, and it was utilized more as a business space,” says Wil.  “There wasn’t even a kitchen.  The owners before us brought back the kitchen, which is now twice the size of the original.  We also have a good amount of storage in the kitchen, which really helps out.”

Wil knows a thing or two about kitchens.  As owner of several food- and-beverage establishments in Old Towne, Wil has been running restaurants, bars, and nightclubs in Orange County for most of his adult life.  In 2009, he opened Haven Craft Kitchen + Bar (originally Haven Gastropub) on South Glassell, followed in 2013 by Provisions Deli & Bottle Shop (originally Provisions Market) on North Glassell.  In 2016, with his best friend, Randy Nelson, he unveiled his third operation in Orange: Chapman Crafted Beer on North Cypress.  The brewery produces world-class lagers, pale ales, IPAs and stouts.  In 2020, he and Randy then co-founded Chapman Crafted Coffee, also located in Old Towne.

The kid’s playroom brims with books and toys from their favorite store in Old Towne, Tiddlywinks Toys and Games, located on North Glassell. “We love shopping there with the kids,” Wil says.

Living and working in Orange is a “full-circle” moment for the Orange County native.

“I was born in Orange and grew up in Anaheim, and we would always come down for the street fair every year,” says Wil.  “When space opened up in Old Towne back in 2009 on the corner of Almond and Glassell, it was the right fit for opening up our restaurant.  Being here in Old Towne was like coming home for me.”

In keeping with the midcentury interiors, the living room showcases a rounded couch and geometrical ottomans. The hand-sanded exposed beams  reveal the natural wood of the gable above the fireplace and living room. 

With a big backyard and plenty of room inside, Wil and Jessica’s Eichler property is spacious and practical for their growing family of two young children.  The floorplan works great for his family, he says, “The master bedroom has the office next to it that can be converted into a nursery.  On the other side of the house are the two bedrooms for our kids, Owen and Olivia.  It’s perfect for us because the kids have their own wing of the house.”

Wil is active in the local community.  In 2018, he was asked to be on the Orange Eichler Design Standards Committee with several other Eichler homeowners.  That same year, the Orange City Council approved historic designation for the three Eichler tracts in Orange, as well as adopted design standards for Eichler preservation.

“The designations allow Eichler homeowners to apply for the Mills Act program, which grants property tax savings for preserving historic homes,” says Wil.

Behind Wil and Jessica, floor-to-ceiling glass windows impart an indoor-outdoor ambiance in the dining room.

In 2019, Wil and Jessica’s home was featured in the Eichler Home Tour sponsored by Preserve Orange County.  Recently, he was invited to participate in a panel discussion in Palm Springs, where he shared his experience of living in a historic home and also owning businesses in a historic area.

Wil and Jessica shop at the weekly Orange Home Grown Farmers & Artisans Market and enjoy supporting local businesses.  In addition to being president of the Orange County Brewers Guild, Wil sits on the board of the Orange Chamber of Commerce.

“When you actually have the opportunity to make a difference in your community, it’s a great honor,” he says.  “You take pride in your town, your home and your neighborhood.” 


Published in the Mar / Apr 21 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Article Written by Karen Anderson, Photos by Jeanine Hill

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