DeCoster House

Western facade
Western facade

Location: Hillcrest, 1030 Sunset St.
Architect: Dana N. Dowd (architectural plans)
Builder: Robert M. Still
Year built: 1958
Original Owners: Mr. & Mrs. Cyrus C. DeCoster
Current Owner: Laura Borchert
Ranking: 5 (See details)

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 interesting and unusual entry bridges the elevation difference. Guests enter and face three sets of stairs: two that descend in opposite directions to the living room and kitchen/dining area, respectively, and one that rises to the top-level bedroom suite. This compact 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 dynamic yet controlled. 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.


  1. Jim DeCoster
    Posted February 7, 2014 at 11:20 am | Permalink

    As the son of Cyrus DeCoster, I spent my first 10 years living in this house – from 1959 to 1969. The entire family has fond memories of the house.

    The builder had problems with the site. A layer of bedrock prevented the house from being deeper into the ground than was intended. He looked into using dynamite to break up the bedrock, but that required permission from neighbors, who not surprising were not thrilled about such things. As a consequence, the house sits higher than was intended, which caused subsequent grading problems. In front of the house it was necessary to build tree wells, in order to maintain the existing locust trees. The original plan would have undoubtedly resulted in a closer integration of the house with the site.

    The greenhouse was a later addition, although my mother claims that the architect suggested building a greenhouse.

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