This small-family house is situated at the top of a steep hill in southwest Lawrence. The location, which is very private, affords sweeping views of the Wakarusa Valley and rolling hills to the south. The architecture and site plan is predominantly California midcentury contemporary, strongly sensed in the casual feel of the garage, breezeway entry, and landscaping. The owner, Alton “Al” Thomas, was KU’s first landscape architect and planner, a position he held for 35 years. His hands, along with those of his wife, Anne, are evident. From the driveway, the house dissolves into the landscape, offering few cues of what lies beyond its façade.
The first hint that something special lies ahead comes upon entry to the extended breezeway, which runs north to south and is screened on its western side with vertical wooden louvers that permit the site’s expansive views to be sensed but not clearly seen. This reinforces the theme of privacy and creates a feeling of great anticipation as you walk toward the entrance. The effect is repeated in the entry hall, where a louvered metal wall eases the move from exterior to interior space. The payoff is a spacious living and dining area dominated by an arresting, rough-hewn fireplace built with rocks excavated from the site. The chimney’s base surround mirrors the house’s exterior profile formed by the extended roof overhang, which fans out to maximize the surrounding views and shelters the easily accessible raised deck.