Family frolic

Creekside Lanman home full of sons, holiday cheer

Santa needs a double-wide sleigh when he stops at Alanna and Richard Lanman's Los Altos home.

Their household runs through 10 gallons of milk every week for five sons: Fritz, 17; James, 15; Max, 10; Conner, 7; and Christopher (Lambie), almost three. Yet the busy parents create a calm holiday atmosphere, rich in family traditions.

The season starts on the eve of Dec. 6, the Feast of St. Nicholas, when each Lanman puts a shoe by the front door. In the morning, St. Nicholas' gifts include a special ornament for each boy and chocolate gold-wrapped coins.

"My mother started this tradition for my own family's 11 children, and we continue it. Each boy builds up his own collection of ornaments, and it's a way to help the little ones wait more patiently for Christmas morning," Alanna Lanman said.

Cherished needlepoint ornaments made by Grandmother Lanman, antique German ornaments from both Alanna and Rick's families, inherited Christmas carol songbooks, and family scrapbooks dating from 1869 - all create a sense of family history and relationships. "We combine miniature figures and holiday scenes from both of our families under the tree," Alanna said of the richly detailed village and countryside vignettes which spread beneath the revolving Christmas tree. A circular track for a miniature train from Germany encloses the magical setting.

Her younger sons start up the train and kneel to watch its progress through the winter scenes, which include skaters on a pond, skiers, sledders, carolers, lighted German "paper" houses and churches, snowmen, and forests of snow-flecked trees.

Throughout the two-story home, Alanna pins holly garlands above each window and sets up holiday decorations.

"Boys love Christmas decorations just as much as girls do," Alanna said.

Then she decorates the outside of the New England-style house, built in 1925 by the Van Buren family of San Francisco as a summer home, with evergreen garlands and red bows beneath every window. Even the new white picket fence and the American flag gate on the street are draped with matching garlands and bows.

"I loved this house before we ever dreamed it would be for sale," Alanna recalled. When visitors came from Indiana (where she and Rick met as teenagers), I'd take them by here and say, 'See, we do have some real houses in California.'"

The Lanmans lived a few blocks away in 1987, when the owner of their present home called them out of the blue, asking if Alanna was the lady who had admired the house during a curbside chat, and whether they might be interested in buying it.

"I told him we would buy it immediately, and that we didn't even need to look inside," Alanna said.

"But he insisted on showing the house to Rick that night, in the rain, by flashlight," Alanna laughed. "He pointed out everything wrong with the house and Rick countered with how wonderful it was."

A handshake and a check for $500 sealed the Lanmans' contract with Herb Bickell, founder of the company which is now Bruce Bauer Lumber and Supply in Mountain View.

"He had lived on this street since he was 9 and knew the history of the whole area; he was the best part of our getting this house," Alanna said.

"Our friends thought we were insane because it resembled the Addams family house in many respects," she said. Other than some 1950s remodeling by Bickell, which the Lanmans have eliminated, the house remained close to its original 1925 design, complete with a greenhouse, a latticed arbor and outdoor living area in the back yard near Adobe Creek, a caretaker's house, and a cobwebbed single garage.

Both bathrooms retain their original tile and plumbing fixtures and the kitchen has 1920s-era green and yellow tile walls and built-in wood buffet cabinets - thrillingly authentic details to the Lanmans.

"Our goal is to change everything back to what it was, if possible," said Alanna, describing how she and Rick find double-sashed windows at wrecking yards in Berkeley and on demolition sites around the neighborhood.

"People say, 'There goes that poor doctor and his wife, dragging home another old door,'" Alanna laughed. Rick is now a medical businessman.

"We consider that it was fate that we found this house. The first night I slept here I felt I'd come home."

A classic Peninsula country home of its era, the house has the gracious features of a miniature Filoli, with a pillared front porch, central entrance hall with a grand stairway to the upstairs landing, a back stairway leading up from the kitchen hallway, a separate breakfast room (now a TV room), a glassed-in sunroom, formal dining room, front parlor and music room.

"Rick plays the piano, two of the boys take piano lessons and I sing," Alanna said.

In every room, family antiques look completely at home. The dining room table and antique china and crystal were inherited from both Alanna and Rick's relatives, a grandfather's clock in the entrance hall was Rick's grandparents', and Rick's childhood desk is on display in the living room.

"Everything we have is us," Alanna said. When she has to buy something new, she searches for just the right look, like the Pierre Deaux toile fabric in red and white for the living room couches, which blends gently with the inherited Kerman carpet. If she has to buy something, her sources are antique and thrift stores, where her artful eye can spot the perfect pair of distressed metal bunnies to guard the doorway to the greenhouse or the graceful crystal chandelier for the dining room.

Rick's mother's hand-embroidered baby quilt is on display in the upstairs landing near the door to the master bedroom, which the Lanmans have restored to its original generous dimensions and fitted with cushioned window seats.

"Mr. Bickell's son showed our boys the secret passage way from this bedroom to the bedroom on the opposite side of the house," Alanna said. "No one had been in the passage for 30 years and they came out the other end covered in cobwebs."

Indoors and out, the almost-one-acre property is a boys' paradise.

Secret steps behind the back yard arbor lead to Adobe Creek with its year-round attractions.

"There are so many neat things to do in the creek," 7-year-old Conner said.

The older boys helped spread 18 tons of sand in a backyard playground area for their younger brothers, complete with swings and teeter-totter. In the front yard, the boys and their friends can choose between a basketball hoop, tether ball area, harnesses for belaying, and even a monorail glider between tall trees. Best of all, the original garage is now a teen recreation room with a loft bedroom hideaway above - just for the older two brothers, who take turns sleeping in the cozy hideaway.

In just 10 years, the Lanmans themselves, with the help of their older sons and a few hired workers, have "restored back" their 1925 gem into a truly beautiful and comfortable family home.

"It was a lot of hard work and there were always babies running around, too, but it has been completely worth the effort," Alanna laughed.

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