The Catherine Munson Story - Page 2

'First lady' of Eichler sales continues to woo new buyers with her charm and an irresistible lifestyle

As a sales team, Catherine Munson and Bud Sthymmel were matched like hand and glove, and Sthymmel's enthusiasm for life, people, and Eichlers made the relationship that much more enjoyable for Catherine. "Bud was the reason why Eichler was so successful in Marin," she claimed. "He was surely an exciting person. And anyone who ever knew him would tell you that. Together in that environment, we couldn't have been more compatible and more co-stimulating."

Into the early '60s, Eichler Homes' competition in Marin came more from the mushrooming new home construction than from the existing real estate market. Merchant builders like Kenney Homes and American Housing Guild, both of which erected traditional family houses, also in subdivisions, were seen as threats. "But nobody built as many homes there as Eichler," added Catherine, "even when you add all their numbers together."

It wasn't difficult for the competition to sway the uneducated house shoppers, many of whom were already befuddled by Eichler modernism, with a neat package of barbs directed at the integrity of Joe Eichler's product -from "the flammability of the structure" to "the dark and dreary walls."

"Some made negative remarks," remembers Catherine, "and many times you could see the puzzlement when they walked in. We had an explanation for every possible objection. We would simply address their concerns, and never get confrontational.

"It seemed that 95 percent of the people who came to the subdivisions disliked our homes because they simply didn't understand the houses. But the other five percent were such exciting people, and it was so wonderful to find them. They were the ones who were open to new ideas, to change, to a different way of doing things."

And of course they were the ones who stayed around at least long enough to appreciate Catherine's house tour, which was punctuated by a four-pronged checklist that gave prospects a starting point for intellectualizing some very real benefits in owning an Eichler.

"People bought Eichler homes," she explained, "when they became educated to what the house was about, what you could put in it, and how you could impact your lifestyle.

"We would tell them we wanted them to imagine the house cut in two diagonal parts. On one side we had the master bedroom, the study, the living room, the dining room - the adult side of the house. On the other side, the kitchen, the family room, the three children's bedrooms. 'Isn't that interesting,' they would say.

"When the Eichler atriums were introduced in 1958, we began to show people how much more pleasant a room was if it had light coming in from both sides.

"We showed how this was regional architecture designed for a benign climate, perfect for the Bay Area. And we put a huge emphasis on the "no stairs', and how the levelness of the house induced you to keep going outdoors.

"Finally, we showed people lifestyles, and showed the versatility and the flexibility of placing artwork and different kinds of furnishing in the houses. We referred to the houses as blank galleries, and that had tremendous appeal."

Catherine continues to resurrect her memories of Eichler Homes with fondness, her voice bubbling with verve at each mention of her serendipitous journey, the boldness of the Eichler enterprise, and the homeowners' spirit of adventure. For her, it's all still intact, frozen in time.

"Those years seemed like eating ice cream," she said with affection. "It was that exciting."

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For the past 21 years, Catherine Munson has lived in the same Jones (&) Emmons A-frame Eichler. She has purchased and remodeled 19 of them in San Rafael's Upper Lucas Valley, a community she embraces with great dedication.

Bill Munson died in 1967. In 1975, Bud Sthymmel and Catherine Munson were married. Bud passed away in 1990.

Following Joseph Eichler's death in 1974, Catherine launched Lucas Valley Properties, a real estate and property management company that she continues to operate today. "I'm an Eichler lover most of all, even in my own business," she says.

Catherine is a welcome addition to the Eichler Network team.