Cerf House

Northern facade
North elevation

Location: Hillcrest, 1000 Sunset Dr.
Architects: David Mackie & Lloyd Roarke, Overland Park, Kans. (architectural drawings)
Builder: Robert M. Still
Year built: 1958
Original Owners: Raymond & Anna Cerf
Current Owners: Mark & Marsha Buhler
Current ranking
: 3 (See details)

This bold and luxurious modernist house is the largest surveyed and one of the most distinctive in Lawrence. Soaring over the edge of a steep ridge, the 3,686 sq. ft. structure (not including deck) is held aloft with long steel posts and framed by a striking zig-zag roof. In profile the house is a gravity-defying counterpoint to the surrounding landscape.

Entry into the living room is dramatic. The elevated main floor and high exposed rafters create a tremendous sense of spaciousness and living-in-the-treetops feel. The living and dining areas extend outside onto a wide, sheltered balcony that runs the entire length of the back of the house—echoing traditional Japanese architecture—partitioned only by sliding glass/screened doors and clerestory windows. This provides the possibility of opening up the interior completely to the outdoors—a rarity in Kansas. In late fall after the leaves have fallen, a commanding view opens to the east and overlooks the city and Kaw River Valley. Such a direct bond with nature could hardly be guessed from the street. The severity of the site and complex engineering to make it work is mostly concealed from view. The front facade appears to be a picture of well-manicured, suburban calm.

Commissioned by Anna “Petey” Cerf, a well-known community activist and philanthropist, and her husband, Raymond, a noted violin teacher at KU, the house took three years from initial concept to built reality, and cost $80,000. This sum, an enormous figure in 1950s Lawrence, bought the services of a premier Kansas City area architectural firm, Mackie & Rourke; a civil engineer, John Crawford; and a custom builder, Robert Still, who went on to work for the city as a building inspector. Completed in 1958, it was the Cadillac Eldorado of modern homes in Lawrence, feature-laden with built-in hi-fi speakers and electronics, hidden television and liquor cabinets, extensive built-ins including a massive safe room, luxury bathrooms and dressing rooms, and a state-of-the-art kitchen, which the current owners have tastefully renovated. Like the Caddy, the house is unlikely to go out of style anytime soon. The look is still clean and fresh.

West facade
West facade


  1. Pauline Cerf Alexander
    Posted September 29, 2019 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    I grew up in this house! It is wonderful to see the improvements that have been made to the original design, and I’m delighted to see that it has been well cared for.

    • Posted November 25, 2019 at 12:39 am | Permalink

      Indeed. It is a beautiful house and you must feel lucky to have grown up in it!

    • Jan Ostashay
      Posted January 25, 2023 at 6:26 pm | Permalink

      That is so interesting. I am researching the house your parents owned and occupied in Beverly Hills during the 1940s. Fascinating family and history.

  2. Joann Schwarberg
    Posted September 20, 2020 at 1:27 pm | Permalink

    I live in a Roark house in Mission Hills. Would love to find if his archives contain plans for this house. Any suggestions?

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