Eichlers Prove Ideal for Holiday Parties

Eichler homes make great locations for holiday entertaining because of their openness and great circulation. Holiday lights announce the season, seen here in the Greenridge neighborhood of Castro Valley as Kristen Evans prepares for the holiday. Photo by Dave Weinstein

As in many neighborhoods, the holidays are an excellent excuse for Eichler owners and other owners of modern tract homes to get together with neighbors and old friends – and sometimes to continue holiday traditions.

People also take advantage of the benefits of their of open plan, glass-walled houses during the season. The homes offer unique opportunities both for entertaining and decorating.

In Upper Lucas Valley, one particularly enjoyable and messy holiday tradition is the annual crafting by young people of gingerbread houses.

In the Orange County neighborhood of Fairhaven, one tradition involved planting Christmas reindeer as surprise visitors on the lawns of neighbors. One day, resident John Webb told us some years back, one person didn’t get any reindeer and mentioned it.

“The next day, every reindeer in town was on their lawn.”

In 19th Avenue Park, an Eichler neighborhood in San Mateo, prizes have been given out for best holiday lights.

Marcia and Richard Campbell turn their Los Altos home into a holiday wonderland every year for a party that attracts friends and neighbors. Photo by Dave Weinstein

The holidays often help unite an entire community. In the Streng Brothers’ neighborhood of Wilhaggin Estates, in Sacramento, annual Christmas potlucks involving many neighbors have long been celebrated.

And in Laguna Heights, a beautifully sited and designed condo development by Eichler in San Francisco, for many years one woman baked cookies for her neighbors during the holidays and distributed them door to door.

Eichlers and other modern homes of their ilk, with their broad, largely unadorned front facades and generous front yards, also make great canvasses for holiday lights and other decorative devices.

Some years back, Wally Fields, then a columnist for Eichler Network (the ‘Eichlerholic’), visited the Eichlers of Burlingame. He spoke to one woman who described how her home was “particularly beautiful at Christmas.”

She cited, in Wally’s words, “the Christmas tree filling up the living room and casting an infinite tunnel of colored light reflections between the backyard and atrium glass.”

Another resident of the Burlingame Eichler neighborhood, Don Newman, says his home is ideal for holiday parties – and he ought to know.

The layout of the Newman home in Burlingame makes it easy to set up tables in a convenient, flowing pattern. Courtesy of Don Newman

Newman, an original owner, who has lived in his house for more than 50 years, and his wife Sora Lei put on parties during the Hanukkah season, Passover Seders, Purim parties, and more.

Don says it would have been hard to put on their parties in any home but an Eichler, thanks to the open arrangement of space, the indoor-outdoor connection, and the visual connections between different areas of the home.

“I was a psychiatrist who ran a big psychiatric program at the local hospital. I had maybe 100 employees,” Don says. “We threw an annual Christmas or holiday party every year for 100 people. You can’t do that in one room.”

“For the Millennium we had a New Year’s Eve sit-down dinner for 50 to 60 people,” he says. “We had to set up tables in every room. You can’t do that unless your house is set up like an Eichler. But with an an atrium to communicate with all the rooms, and because it’s all glass, you don’t feel isolated.”

During the cold, dark nights of December it proved a bit chilly in the atrium, Don recalls. But he devised a solution, and one that led to a permanent change in the house.

The Newmans recently hosted a Thanksgiving party in their home. Courtesy of Don Newman

“There was no roof on our atrium at that time. So one year we got a parachute and put it over the atrium,” he recalls. “It kept the atrium warm and the whole house warm.”

Because of their success with the parachute, Don says, the Newmans added a retractable atrium cover for use in cold or inclement weather.

He emphasizes the value of the atrium for a successful, crowded party. It’s where they usually set up the bar.

“There was a flow of people from every room around the atrium, so it was like it was all one room,” he says. “Almost the whole house becomes a party.”

Every Christmas the home of Marcia and Dick Campbell in Fallen Leaf Park, an Eichler subdivision in Los Altos, is the site for their annual holiday party. The tradition began “56 years ago. That’s as long as we have been married,” Marcia says.

Today their party, which attracts more than 100 people every year, features a tree in every room, home-cooked turkey and ham, and much camaraderie.

“We don’t open the party to the entire neighborhood, just to people who have touched our lives. People we’ve met dog walking, friends, and friends of friends.”

A decorated holiday table at the Campbell home. Photo by Dave Weinstein

“I make cookies for a solid week before the party, of different kinds. That’s kind of a drawing card,” Marcia says. “And everybody crowds into the kitchen. But it works out. Every room is decorated and my husband has a train room.”

Dick, an architect, created the settings for his train set and decorates it for the holidays.

“The little kids seem to keep their little paws off it, which is nice,” Marcia says.

Each of their trees has a different theme, a tradition that began when their three children were young.

“When the kids came along it got to be that everyone wanted a different decorated tree,” Marcia says. “So we began making specialized trees – one with bears, one with animals, a bird tree, reindeer, Santa Clauses. We just put them in different rooms.”

She too appreciates Eichler homes as party places.

“It’s a space and it’s beautiful-looking outside. And we can use the back patio and even the atrium. Dick built a little structure with a waterproof cover we can use in the backyard in case of rain.”

Her tips for holiday party making?

“You have to start early,” Marcia says, “so you can enjoy the day of the party. Do your baking as early as you can.”

And here’s a post-party suggestion: “If you want decoration in every room, put things back [where they below] and label the boxes.”

“I love doing it,” she says of the party. “I can’t imagine not doing it,”

Even the model trains get into the holiday spirit at the Campbell house. Photo by Dave Weinstein

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