Category Archives: House and home

Joseph Eichler: Living an Idealist’s Dream [Financial Times]

Financial Times, February 17 2007
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The homes of Joseph Eichler, who built more than 10,000 homes in northern California, still epitomise the modern ideal. This is California living as we imagine it. And for those in the San Francisco Bay area it has become attainable. By Tracey Taylor
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The house is a low-slung mid-century modern beauty, set at the foot of rolling golden hills. Sunlight streams through swathes of plate glass. A few choice pieces of classic Eames and Herman Miller furniture adorn the open-plan living spaces. Outside, a large wooden deck and landscaped garden give on to a glittering, kidney-shaped pool that invites thoughts of cocktails at sundown.This is California living as we imagine it. It’s suburbs with style. And for those in the San Francisco Bay area who have rediscovered the homes of Joseph Eichler, it has become attainable.

Eichler was an idealistic and somewhat idiosyncratic developer who, in the 1950s and 1960s, built more than 10,000 houses in northern California. One might compare these with the homes designed by well-known architects, such as Richard Neutra or Pierre Koenig, also in the same area and now much coveted. But, unlike these, an Eichler home is still relatively affordable.

Tim Brown, chief executive of design company Ideo, moved to the US from the UK in 2000 and knew immediately that he wanted to buy an Eichler house. “It was hard to get excited about anything else,” he explains. “I’m always looking for authenticity. In England we had a Georgian house and here we have a house that is a natural fit with its environment.”

His family rented “the perfect Eichler in the perfect neighbourhood” in Palo Alto, before finding one to buy and restore a block away.

Noriko Takiguchi, a writer, rents an Eichler in the Greenmeadows neighbourhood of Palo Alto. She says the clean lines and lack of decoration remind her of Japanese homes. “I like the fact that the house favours simplicity,” she says. She also appreciates the skylights, which “keep the light very stable”, and the open spaces that can be partitioned to suit her needs. Takiguchi is looking for a house to buy with her partner, journalist Dan Gillmor, but says the task is proving difficult. “It’s very hard to look for a house after living in an Eichler. Everything else looks so ordinary.”

If these houses seem progressive today, they were even more so when Eichler built them. Influenced by the European modernist movement and the architecture of Frank Lloyd Wright, his vision was to provide affordable, elegant modern design, if not for the masses then certainly for the burgeoning middle class, after the second world war. Over a period of more than 20 years, he created dozens of residential sub-divisions. He used a basic tract housing template and an assembly-line approach to construction to keep costs low. But he also employed gifted architects, such as A. Quincy Jones and Anshen & Allen, and respected landscapers, including Thomas Church and Kathryn Stedman, to ensure high aesthetic standards.

The result was a significant departure from the traditional suburban houses of the time and ran counter to the way most developers made a profit. “Eichler’s insight was that the tradition established in the 1920s with the school of California modernism could be opened up to people other than the [wealthy] patrons who hired architects to design one-off homes,” says Paul Adamson, co-author with Marty Arbunich of Eichler: Modernism Rebuilds the American Dream.

The single-storey, flat-roofed houses came in a variety of off-the-shelf models but shared certain fundamental characteristics. They were centred on the idea of indoor-outdoor living to take advantage of the benign Californian climate and blur the line between home and garden. There are flexible open-plan living areas, floor-to-ceiling walls of glass, skylights, sliding glass doors and built-in furnishings. Some of the more spacious models are built around a central, glass-walled atrium echoing the inner courtyards of Mediterranean homes.

The extreme aesthetic didn’t immediately appeal to the day’s homebuyers. But Eichler anticipated this and created a pioneering marketing scheme that went beyond advertising homes and promoted, instead, the entire lifestyle. Stylish photography by Ernie Braun formed the backbone of press campaigns and brochures that showed children happily playing with toy trains and roller-skating in the airy, open-plan spaces, and glamorous couples hosting dinner parties on their back decks, the women clad in chic, figure-hugging 1950s frocks.

There was also a socially conscious element to Eichler’s community building. Inspired, it is said, by a photograph of two schoolboys, one African-American, one Asian, walking home from school arm in arm, he practised a policy of non-discrimination at a time when many builders in the US were still drawing racial lines. Eichler’s views were in tune with the emerging post-war culture of the Bay area. Soldiers who had served alongside recruits from a variety of ethnic backgrounds were returning with a different world view, many of them with federal loans to spend on starter homes.

Not everyone shared Eichler’s utopian vision and there are tales of families baulking at the idea of living in racially integrated neighbourhoods. But “Eichler had a strong personality,” says Carolyn Lenert, a real estate agent with years of experience buying and selling Eichler homes, who also lives in one herself. “Supposedly he told people he would buy back their house if they didn’t like their neighbours.”

Lenert says today’s Eichler home­buyers come in many guises. Families are attracted to the neighbourhoods because they often boast good schools and have been designed as functional communities. Brown lives in an area actually called Community Center and includes at its heart a leisure complex with swimming pool, children’s theatre and zoo. “It’s like a village. My two daughters walk to school. And the quality of life is great,” he says. Conversely the single-storey houses also appeal to an older generation who want to scale down and live on one level.

In 1953 an Eichler home would have gone on the market for between $14,000 and $20,000 – “a little pricier than the average home at the time but still affordable, and [with] the architectural attributes of much more expensive homes,” Adamson says.

Today’s prices depend on location, size and the condition of the house. Lenert recently sold a three-bedroom model in San Rafael’s Terra Linda neighbourhood for $280,000. Brown bought his four-bedroom home for $1m and spent a good deal refurbishing it. The Bay area has a notoriously inflated property market and the closer the commuting distance to San Francisco or Silicon Valley, the higher the cost will be.

Margaret Chester and her partner bought a 1964 atrium-model Eichler in Concord, about 30 miles east of San Francisco, a year ago for $680,000. She says they were immediately smitten. “When we walked through the front door, we were both taken aback. The atrium floor was covered with Travertine tile. We could see through the atrium and living room to the back garden. It was love at first sight.”

The couple, who both work full time, relish getting home at the end of the day. “We gravitate to the back yard if for nothing more than to stick our feet in the pool and enjoy a cold beer,” says Chester. “We didn’t know that mid-century modern was a big deal until we had moved in. The style of the house makes us feel balanced. It’s just a good fit for us.”

Creative types such as designers and architects were drawn to Eichler homes when they were first built and continue to be a core group of buyers. Brown estimates at least 10 of his staff at Ideo live in Eichler homes. Larry Cheng is one of them. He says he chose his Palo Alto house “because it is beautiful and extraordinary”. He particularly loves seeing the reflection of the home’s roof beams in the window at night and “the illusion that my house is outside”. “It’s such a different answer to the question: ‘what should a house be?’,” he says.

The homes are not without their problems, however. Age and the fact that they were built on a budget mean that restoration and maintenance can be expensive. Lenert also points to the fact that they are not fire resistant. “Once the glass breaks, the camp fire is fed,” she says. “I don’t suggest Eichlers to people who enjoy a candle lifestyle.”

Built in an era of cheap energy, the homes have minimal insulation and their flat roofs and trademark radiant heating systems often need overhauls. “You should see the expression on people’s faces when I tell them what work is required to get their house in shape,” says architect Joe DeCredico, who has refurbished many Eichlers. He says costs can run as high as $800,000, as much as would be needed to build from scratch.

Yet such drawbacks have not deterred for the many aficionados who meet online at the Eichler Network’s Chatterbox Lounge (www.eichlernetwork.com) to exchange tips on knowledgeable tradesmen and where to find parts for the homes’ original Thermador ovens.

Marty Arbunich, who co-founded the network in 1993, says the level of interest for Eichler homes is climbing every year. “In part this has been brought on by the dotcom and real-estate boom in California,” he says. But he also thinks the homes fulfil a nostalgic craving for “better and simpler times”.

Burn Out: A Berkeley Home Goes up in Flames [Financial Times]

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Financial Times, June 24, 2006

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On Sunday October 20 1991, Frances Dinkelspiel and her husband Gary Wayne, who live in the Bay Area of California, decided to take his parents, who were visiting from New Jersey, to brunch in San Francisco. Their roommate, Brad Rosen, was having a lazy morning. He had been partying the night before and planned to go surfing later in the day. It was hot and windy as they drove over the Bay Bridge to the city and made for Zuni Café on Market Street. A couple of hours later they stepped out onto the pavement and glanced over towards the Oakland Hills where they lived. “There was a huge vertical column of smoke rising from the hills,” says Frances. “At that moment we knew we were in trouble.”

They drove back towards home but could only go so far as all the streets leading up into the hills had been closed off. Gary begged a bicycle from a friend who lived nearby and set off to find out what he could. He didn’t get far. A group of firefighters stopped him at the end of his street and asked him where he thought he was going. They told him it was so hot they themselves had to leave. Gary abandoned the bike and hiked to the summit of nearby Claremont Canyon from where he could see the fire cutting a devastating path across the hills. “Gary called me late in the afternoon,” says Frances. “He said he had watched our house burn down. He was crying and Gary hardly ever cries.”

The Oakland Fire, one of the largest and most costly in US history, engulfed 2.5 square miles of the East Bay Hills. Twenty five people died, many of them trapped in their cars trying to flee, caught up in the traffic jams that formed on the hill’s narrow, winding streets. More than 150 people were injured and at least 3,000 homes were destroyed, leaving some 5,000 people homeless.

Although the exact cause has not been established, a suspicious fire had broken out the previous day in the scrub brush of nearby Wildcat Canyon. Firefighters said they had successfully extinguished the 5-acre blaze. Whether embers from that fire were reignited by dry winds is unclear. Certainly the velocity of the Diablo winds, coupled with temperatures well into the 90s — coming in the wake of five successive years of drought — ensured the rapid spread of the firestorm the next day. At one point a home was igniting every 11 seconds and 790 structures were consumed within a single hour. Efforts to contain the blaze were severely hampered by the steep terrain and twisting, switchback roads. There was a lack of water as the fire took out the electricity needed for the pumps. The emergency services also had difficulty communicating: channels were overloaded and the hills interfered with radio signals.

Frances and Gary lost everything in the fire, including their cat whom they searched for tirelessly in the days after the fire. Brad, their roommate, had left the house that morning with his surfboard, unaware of the impending catastrophe. As he left, the neighbours were packing their car to leave. Unlike Brad, they had heard the advice to evacuate.

Recovering from such a trauma is a slow process. Frances and Gary had only lived in the modern, four-bedroomed house for eight months after moving to the West Coast from New York. Originally from San Francisco, Frances had favoured living in the city but they had both been drawn to the eucalyptus-scented air and stunning views offered by the East Bay hills. While the house itself didn’t hold many memories, some of its contents inevitably did. Frances says one of the most difficult things to lose was a box of letters and photographs relating to her father who died when she was 16.

The couple were allowed to go to the site of their home three days after the fire. “Everything was grey as there was ash everywhere as well as huge clumps of metal, and lone chimney stacks. There was an acrid, chemical smell,” she says. The fact that so many people were affected helped. “Recovery is very different if you suffer and grieve as a community,” says Frances. She remembers how generous people were and the support groups that sprang up to deal with practical as well as emotional issues. Many of the local merchants offered discounts to fire victims.

But Frances found it hard to begin replacing things. And she didn’t feel like nesting for the baby on the way. “I didn’t prepare anything until a week or so before Charlotte was born,” she says. “I think in that way the shock was subconscious.”

Like most of those who lost their homes, the couple decided to rebuild. There was a financial incentive, but also a refusal to be defeated. “Gary was angry and, although we had discussed living elsewhere, this made him dig his heels in.” The couple had kept their insurance up to date and were able to claim substantial compensation for both the house and its contents. The quality of the new house they designed and built reflects this. Others were less fortunate, and spent years wading through red tape and even taking insurance companies to court to make claims.

The total value of the properties lost that day is estimated to exceed $2 billion. One year to the day after the fire, Frances and Gary broke ground to build their new home. Following revised building codes they have built the house from stucco, there are sprinklers in every room and fire-resistant planting in the garden. They keep negatives of treasured photographs in a bank vault and a back-up of the manuscript of the book Frances is writing is filed online. But the anxiety never really goes away. “Every time the weather turns hot and windy, I load up the car and get ready to leave,” she says.

Puritan Pleasure: Open houses [FT Magazine]

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Financial Times, April 1st, 2006

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If, like me, you relish taking post-prandial strolls around your neighbourhood purely so you can peer into people’s front rooms before they have shut the curtains for the night, the appeal of one of the US’s most popular Sunday pastimes will be obvious.

Open-housing is about more than keeping an eye on the property market. It provides a sheen of respectability to what is little more than glorified snooping. It’s also free and can be enjoyed by all ages.

It works this way: over coffee on Sunday morning you peruse the Open Houses pages of your local paper and map out your day. All the houses for sale are open from 2pm to 4.30pm, so other plans need to be scheduled accordingly. Many of the listings include a line- drawing of the home in question – vulgar photography is reserved for houses of the lower order.

There are different types of pleasures to be had from prying into other people’s homes. There is the bittersweet gratification of finding that the multimillion-dollar, architect-designed show stopper with its wrap-around deck and outdoor hot tub is the stuff of your dreams; and there is smug superiority, as in “I can’t believe someone with such obvious wealth has such appalling taste.”

In the part of California where I indulge this hobby the architectural styles range from modernist hill houses with great views of San Francisco, to delightful, shingled craftsman homes with their dark panelling and built-in cabinetry.

There is also fun to be had in discovering what the professional “home stagers” have been up to. Their presence is obvious in any house in the $2m-plus bracket in the Bay Area – spot the potted succulents on the porch, the tray of wine and (plastic) nibbles and the covetable linen on the plumped-up beds – I have even seen a guitarist strumming in a rose garden as the hordes poke their collective nose into the guest cottage.

What can I say? Legitimate voyeurism: it beats snoozing with the Sunday supplements.

Artist Deborah Oropallo's Home [Financial Times]

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Financial Times, May 27, 2006

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There’s nothing understated
about the home this California
artist shares with her children
and architect husband,
says Tracey Taylor

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When artist Deborah Oropallo used to drive past the austere building she now calls home, she saw in her mind’s eye a huge, inviting studio with maybe a bed at the back, but nothing more.

Sixteen years later, the 4,000 sq ft former machine shop in a light- industrial area of West Berkeley, California, is not only a workspace but also a family residence accommodating Oropallo, her architect husband Michael Goldin and their two children, Leo and Gina.

With its vast spaces, eclectic art works and outsize fixtures, it is hardly a typical living space. But closer scrutiny reveals that much thought has been given to the routines and rituals of daily life. And it is not a home masquerading as an exhibition space. Every painting, every photograph has been created by friends or relatives and each one tells a story. Memory and family play a significant role in Oropallo’s work and it’s no surprise that the same themes echo through her house.

I visit on an overcast day in April. Built in the 1960s, the grey building is distinctive for wraparound glass-brick windows that follow its curved contours. It is one of many former factories and warehouses in this part of Berkeley, across the bay from San Francisco. Walk one block west and you reach the choppy waters. Hugging it are the tracks on which giant Pacific Union freight trains make their ponderous way upstate emitting their characteristic mournful whistle.

Step into the house and the first thing you see is the tail wing of a “Shooting Star” T33 aeroplane hung on the hallway’s back wall. Attached to it are dog tags that belonged to Oropallo’s father who was a pilot in the second world war. Through a doorway to the right is a long study, which leads into the artist’s beautiful, light-filled studio. The rest of the house is living space: a huge, open-plan kitchen and eating area, a bathroom, and bedrooms, two of which, on an upper mezzanine, make use of the building’s 15ft ceilings.

Oropallo points to the advantage of starting with a great big box. “One of the beauties of having a space like this is that it is easy to create new rooms or add elements on a whim,” she says. Thus, after several years of her using the shop only for work, when she and Goldin realised the house where they had been living was too small for their growing family, they simply went to the studio, got out sledgehammer and broke through a dividing wall.

Form followed function. They carved out a slender gap in the wall between their bedroom and the children’s sleeping area on the upstairs level so they could reach them easily at night when they were younger. Similarly, a tall window was inserted between the kitchen and Oropallo’s studio so that the children could see her at work while staying protected from the toxic fumes of her paints.

Many of the images in Oropallo’s work, which is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum in New York, use doll furniture and miniature toys as their starting point; she says they prompt her to contemplate her own childhood. Thus, she paid careful attention to her own children’s bedrooms. “I thought, this is going to be their memory,” she says.

For each, she chose a work of art. Leo’s, a large image of a cowboy by Jason Byers, wasn’t an immediate hit; the children found the stark, imposing figure towering over them frightening so it was put away. But a trip to the rodeo piqued their interest in the wild west and it was reinstalled.

Much of the furniture in the house – including storage units, gym lockers and shelves – have been sourced from commercial catalogues and many are fitted with wheels and casters. “I like the versatility of being able to use something to store paints and then put it in a bedroom when it’s needed there,” Oropallo says. Some pieces, such as the sleek desk in the study and the large tables in the studio are designed by Goldin and manufactured by his furniture design company Swerve.

Other areas of the house have his stamp on them, too. “Michael . . . had worked as a cook and [his] family has always been passionate about cooking . . .  [so] when he moved in . . .  [he] asked me where the pastry counter was,” Oropallo says. “I told him I never made pastries. I just don’t cook. He said we had to have one – and a freezer for all the home-made stocks and Bolognese sauces he would make.”

So the kitchen became Goldin’s domain. You only have to look at the scale of the space and its components to understand why Oropallo teases him for having a “size disorder”. The double catering range, bought at a culinary institute, is so vast they had to move Leo’s bedroom into another part of the house to make room for it. A pair of vintage laundry sinks equipped with medical-style, foot-pedal-operated taps (a nod to Goldin’s father, a retired doctor) abuts a hulking, poured-concrete countertop. A massive baking table reminds Oropallo of her father’s second career as a baker, while a robust butcher’s block was found at a French kitchen antiques dealer in San Francisco.

The dining table, which easily and often sits 12, was also Goldin’s idea. “For him life is an enormous table with people coming and staying, and sharing food,” Oropallo says. The light fixture over the table is by Amsterdam’s Droog Design. On the wall behind it is “Yellow Liner”, a Richard Misrach photograph of the Bonneville salt flats in Utah. Across the room are pair of photographs by Goldin’s mother Joann, one featuring a decapitated chicken’s head.

It is not just Oropallo’s home that has undergone change with the arrival of children. Her art has evolved. After 20 years of painting she began, six years ago, to focus on photography-based pieces. A current exhibition of her work at the Boise Art Museum in Idaho (which runs until June 18) includes enlarged computer montages of manipulated images – including figurines, glossy leaves and pillows – mounted on to canvas and coated with layers of matte acrylic. “Painting involves long stretches of time, whereas with my current art I can work in increments – such as when the children are at school or asleep,” she explains. She also admits to hitting something of a wall with painting and thinks the new medium has opened up new possibilities and a fresh perspective.

The next progression may be into a new home. Oropallo and Goldin are planning to build it on a plot of land across the road, adjacent to his architectural practice and design studio. And this one will be designed for the next stage in the family’s life, with space for parents and teenagers to keep their distance, for instance, and an autonomous apartment to welcome relatives. Goldin, a keen hunter, also wants a walk-in refrigerator so he can hang the meat he brings home from their ranch in Mendocino. And he is even designing a customised living space for the the family’s pet birds, two cockatoos and a parakeet – a long interior room with an integrated drain and hose, a tree and enough space for them to take flight.

San Francisco: Braced for the Big One [Financial Times]

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Financial Times, June 24 2006

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Tracey Taylor talks to San Franciscans
about day to day living on two
earthquake fault lines

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Scanning the newspaper on Friday to find out how your weekend plans will be affected by the weather is a common ritual wherever you live. If your home is in certain parts of California, you will also learn how many earthquakes occurred around you in the previous seven days. In the San Francisco Bay Area, in the week ending June 9, there were 69, the largest being one with a magnitude of 3.3 located near Talmage in Mendocino county. Any relatively strong one (above 3) would have caused residents to feel a sudden sharp jolt to their houses or an intense shudder in the ground beneath their feet.

Unfortunately, unlike forecasting the weather, predicting earthquakes is an inexact science, so your Friday paper will have no useful information about how many quakes to expect in the coming week. There will be many, but where, how large or how they may affect you is anyone’s guess. Welcome to life on the fault line.

San Francisco and its suburbs are situated on the San Andreas fault and its tributary the Hayward fault, which geological maps helpfully show running within half a mile of my home. My neighbours and I are literally living life on the edge and lately it’s been hard to forget it.

April 18 marked the 100th anniversary of the “Big One”, the 1906 earthquake that, combined with the fire that raged in its wake, all but destroyed San Francisco and left at least 3,000 dead. In the run-up to the centennial, the media ran stories for weeks. There were numerous commemorative exhibitions and events and, on the day itself, a reported 10,000 people, many dressed up in bonnets and breeches, converged in the city centre at 5.12am to remember the moment the earthquake struck.

Considered one of the US’s worst natural disasters, the 1906 quake had a magnitude of 7.9. Its epicentre was two miles offshore but its impact was much more far-ranging as it ripped the earth’s surface for 300 miles along the San Andreas fault at speeds of up to 13,000mph. In that year’s May 5 edition of Collier’s, Jack London wrote: “Not in history has a modern imperial city been so completely destroyed. San Francisco is gone. Nothing remains of it but memories and a fringe of dwelling-houses on its outskirts. Its industrial section is wiped out. Its business section is wiped out. Its social and residential section is wiped out. The factories and warehouses, the great stores and newspaper buildings, the hotels and the palaces of the nabobs, are all gone.”

Response to the ”big one” was swift, however. Reconstruction was largely completed by 1915, in time for the Panama-Pacific Exposition, which celebrated the city’s “rise from the ashes”.

The next big quake in the Bay Area was in 1989. The 7.1-magnitude Loma Prieta killed 66 people, injured more than 3,700 and caused extensive destruction. Forty-two of the deaths occurred when a double-decker portion of a freeway “pancaked” and crushed several cars on the lower deck. A section of the Bay Bridge, the main artery between the East Bay and San Francisco, also collapsed.

As for the next one, the US Geological Survey says there is a 62 per cent chance of a damaging earthquake of magnitude 6.7 or higher striking the Bay Area within the next 30 years. The Hayward fault is most likely to snap. Severe quakes have happened on this fault every 151 years, give or take 23 years, meaning it is now into the danger zone. As USGS seismologist Tom Brocher has said: “It is locked and loaded and ready to fire at any time.”

So how prepared is the Bay Area and the people who live in it? Officially the region is as ready as it ever has been. Billions of dollars have been spent over the past decade to upgrade water, transportation, communications and emergency response systems. But there are still deficiencies. Since Loma Prieta, all the Bay Area’s freeway overpasses have been seismically hardened and all but two of its eight major bridges have been sufficiently upgraded, including the Golden Gate. Yet the Bay Bridge, the most crucial span of all, has not been protected, nor have parts of the area’s main public transit system, the BART Transbay system.

Guidance on “earthquake preparedness” for the local population is readily available, if not always adhered to. Most homes, unless they were built in the past 20 years or so, need to be seismically retrofitted, a three-step process which has the effect of “tying the house together”: you bolt the house to the foundation, add plywood to brace the walls, then use special hardware to attach those walls to the floor framing above them. Retrofitting costs range from $3,000 to $30,000 according to the vulnerability of the home.

People are urged to have a disaster plan that includes agreeing where to meet family members after an earthquake. And everyone is advised to be ready to survive on their own without power, water and food for three days. This means keeping full emergency supplies in your home: water, food, first-aid kit, tools, blankets and important family documents. Yet a poll in March this year showed that, although seven out of 10 Californians believed a big earthquake would strike the state and affect them, only 22 per cent felt they were well prepared for an such an event.

People’s attitudes to living in earthquake country vary widely. Some, such as Oakland Hills resident Preston Parsons, live in a permanent state of mild anxiety. “I think about the possibility several times a day,” she says. But, like many of the area’s residents, she doesn’t have earthquake insurance because it’s too expensive. She was given a quote of $5,000 a year. Others, such as Berkeley resident Steve Lomprey, say they don’t give earthquakes a second thought; he cheerfully admits to being “in total denial”.

Mark Burget, whose job as the director a large charity brought him from Colorado to San Francisco a year ago, is less sanguine: “You are more aware than the average person of the possibility of dying unexpectedly at any given moment,” he says. Burget thinks about an earthquake striking when he’s sitting in traffic under a big bridge span or when his family is split up in different parts of the area. He also has a theory that the underlying threat explains the reputation San Franciscans have for being so fun-loving. “It’s why San Francisco is such a vibrant city,” he says. “People are more inclined to live life with abandon.”

Ralph Keyes, author of Chancing It: Why We Take Risks , goes as far as to say that some people positively enjoy living with risk: “There is definitely a thrill to living in earthquake country – as well as hurricane country, flood country, brushfire country and tornado country,” he says

As for me, I’m following in the footsteps of a friend, Mike Wilson, who, after more than 20 years of feeling anxious about how much better prepared he and his family should be for an earthquake, finally took a four-hour window of opportunity from work last month to go to a discount store and buy every disaster supply he could get his hands on. “It’s a huge weight of my mind. Like buying life insurance. I feel better every day,” he says. This month my sons’ school held a silent auction and I had my eye on just one prize: the fully stocked emergency supplies kit. I was prepared to bid high, as high as it took, to buy this potential peace of mind. And, I’m pleased to say, I won it.