Cyrus DeCoster, a KU Spanish professor, commissioned Dana Dowd, a 25-year-old architecture grad, to design this remarkable hillside house on Sunset Drive for his wife and family. Hugging a steep slope, the house clarifies the separation between public and private domains by exploiting a sharp drop in elevation from the street entry to the lower backyard. The attendant problems posed by such difficult siting are overcome with clever design, solid engineering, and superb integration of the inside-outside.
An unusual entry bridges the elevation difference. You come in and face three sets of stairs: two that lead down to the lower-level living room or kitchen/dining area respectively, and one that rises to the top-level bedroom suite. This well-integrated and airy central portal provides convenient access to every area of the house. (See drawings, Section E.) The backyard terrace is accessible from the dining area and from the built-in greenhouse, which is adjacent to the kitchen. The gardens, both front and back, are superior, and the house fits right into them. The house is a really living thing.
The architecture beautifully complements the site. A high feeling for design is manifest throughout, suggesting a German sensibility that balances the transition from an organic to machine made modernism. This is particularly evident in the exterior siding and fenestration, which is so dynamic that there is no place that is boring. The look is sharp and clean. The interior design is equally stylish and sophisticated. A frosted, patterned glass screen that partitions the entry hall from the upstairs corridor garnered particular praise for the way it borrows light from the entry hall — both natural and electric — to softly illuminate the corridor. Bedrooms and bathrooms were singled out for their views, exceptional materials, built-ins, workmanship and high integrity. A few missteps were noted, notably the tight dining area, but they don’t detract from the overall. This is a deceptive house—you can drive by and not recognize its beauty.