This Eichler Fit the Family

Fridays on the Homefront
Oakland Hills Eichler owner Caroline Lichtenstein shot this photo of her family—son Steven, husband Robert, other children Nancy and David—on the roof of their Eichler as it was nearing completion in the mid‐'60s. Photo: courtesy Nancy and David Lichtenstein

If an Eichler were a person, what sort of personality might it have?

As adventurous as the architecture? For sure. As cheery and curious as the open spaces and surprising views? No doubt.

Well, how about a personality that's willing to go his or her own way, as Joe Eichler's architects did in creating homes that looked so unlike the standard American box?

Recently, our curiosity about personality took us high into the Oakland Hills. There, hidden at the end of a long driveway, we encountered a unique Eichler that truly suggests the convergence of personality between a home and its inhabitants.


Fridays on the Homefront
The rear of the Lichtenstein Eichler today. When built, wooden doors that swing out, rather than Eichler's typical aluminum sliders, were installed in this very unique, custom Eichler home. Photo: Dave Weinstein

For nearly five decades, Robert Lichtenstein, a Kaiser physician, and Caroline Lichtenstein, a "professional volunteer" (in the words of daughter Nancy), lived out their lives in this Eichler of their dreams, changing scarcely a thing in the home since it was built in 1966.

The Lichtensteins carried on a veritable love affair with that Eichler, an L‐shaped structure of 2,600 square feet sided with redwood inside and out. The home looks out from one side at a courtyard where the couple had Eichler Homes preserve a large pine tree, and from the other side at a view of San Francisco Bay and beyond.

The property is two‐thirds of an acre, much of it steep, and much of it lovingly landscaped by Robert and Caroline with native plants, and others from similar Mediterranean climes.


  Fridays on the Homefront
The open kitchen is seen from the dining area. Only the tile floor is new; the rest is original. The ceramic bowls on display are by Caroline Lichtenstein. Photo: Dave Weinstein

Robert, an affable man, was no pushover. But it was Caroline—an accomplished potter, seamstress, and enthusiastic photographer—who was the 'instigator' when she convinced her husband to take up folk dancing—and on many other occasions too, Nancy believes, including when the decision was made to build this house.

Husband and wife were both likeminded and independent spirits. "Dad swam in the morning. Mom swam in the evening," Nancy says, adding, "They did so many of the same things at different places and at different times. They had so much in common, but they rarely did those things together."

Both Robert and Caroline were deeply interested in natural history and the out of doors, taking "botany‐oriented trips to places like Puerto Rico, South Africa, and Venezuela," Nancy’s brother, David Lichtenstein, says.


  Fridays on the Homefront
Robert and Caroline Lichtenstein, seen here in the 1980s, shared many of the same activities and interests, though not always simultaneously. Photo: courtesy Nancy and David Lichtenstein

Nancy, who owns the house today with David and their sister, Joanne, says their mother "had been looking at houses, and she just fell in love with the whole Eichler concept."

Nancy and David believe that an uncle, who worked as an engineer for Frank Lloyd Wright on the Guggenheim Museum and the Marin Civic Center, may have introduced the couple to Eichler design.

The family had been living in Oakland, not far from the existing Sequoyah Hills Eichler development. But the Lichtensteins wanted a view and more isolation. They hired Eichler to build a custom home on a lot that cannot be seen from the street. "She wanted her house here. She wanted the view," Nancy says.


Fridays on the Homefront
The living area in the Lichtenstein Eichler is expansive, open, and airy, with light from a window wall and from high clerestory windows. Photo: Dave Weinstein

Besides the home's plan and materials, which vary from typical Eichler tract homes, this home is unusual because it was designed by John Brooks Boyd, not by one of Joe Eichler's usual architect designers.

Boyd, who designed several models for Eichler Homes during his tenure, primarily worked for the company as the in‐house architect, not designing homes but handling such matters as adjusting homes to fit sites, as Joe's 'troubleshooter,' in the words of one architect who'd worked with him.


Fridays on the Homefront
Robert and Caroline's offspring, Nancy and David Lichtenstein today in the living room of their Eichler home, which still retains its original looks. Photo: Dave Weinstein

The house very much captures the personalities and interests of her parents, Nancy says. "She wanted everything to feel very natural. It's all redwood and glass. Brick. Tiles."

"She liked having a secluded environment," Nancy says of her mom. "And she and our father both did a lot of the plantings. They were both very interested in a natural habitat and native plants. And they were involved in nature in his and her own way—my mom as a docent trainer for 40 years at the Oakland Museum, and Dad as a volunteer at the UC Berkeley Botanical Garden."


  Fridays on the Homefront
Architect John Brooks Boyd, who designed the Lichtenstein home while working for Eichler. Photo: Eichler Network Archive

"The Eichler lifestyle appealed to her immensely, and she wanted to be very much involved in the construction of the house and the layout," David says.

"She was here on the site, probably just about every day during construction," Nancy says, photographing workers pouring the slab, framing the walls, installing the roof. She also kept her eye on things to make sure all was built according to plan; and stepping in, for example, when the workers were installing counters at the wrong height.


Fridays on the Homefront
The Lichtenstein home's architectural plans are proof positive about who designed and built their home. Photo: Dave Weinstein

The home proved to be ideal for the family, David and Nancy say, with one bedroom for each of the four children (one of whom has passed away) and plenty of space for a pair of pianos, periodic entertainment, and other activities.

Robert died in 2010 at age 91 while enjoying one of his favorite activities, a long trek. For years, even when using a walker, he would traverse many miles, sometimes from the Oakland Hills to the city of Alameda.

Caroline died two years later. Until the end, the family's Eichler remained her favorite place. "My mom," David says, "other than when she was working in the museum, she didn't particularly want to be anywhere else."

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