Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Over the weekend I received a very interesting comment on Friday's post Tone Deaf from a correspondent who, though I had not posted pictures of the exterior, recognized the house. I deleted her name from the comment for her privacy's sake.

I had no idea when I wrote Friday's post that the house I featured was a replacement for a David Adler house - not one that had been torn down, I hasten to add, though that nearly happened - one he'd designed in the late 1930s for Mr and Mrs Louis B Kuppenheimer, Jr. As you will see from the comment, the Kuppenheimer house (see black and white photos) was saved from demolition and erected on their grounds by a family who lived across the street.

What I had passed over, dismissed perhaps, in the original magazine article - I had read it only with an eye to aesthetics - was what the author described as the homeowner's "passionate commitment to universal accessibility" and that "She is on national and local committees setting policy for the disabled, and she made it an absolute criterion that the house be accessible to everyone, regardless of their degree of physical mobility."

Here, I think, is not the place to discuss historic preservation despite what I said about the Kuppenheimer house nearly being demolished, for what really struck me on rereading the article was that phrase universal accessibility - a subject not frequently touched on in shelter magazines. Surprising, really, given what is politely called a "rapidly aging population" - and I wish it were possible to express, without inducing panic in anyone nearing forty, the speed with which aging happens - as well as the statistics on the numbers of Americans who are disabled.

What makes the room so thrilling is that – besides its beauty and refinement – it is accessible. Let's face it, this is not the picture one's mind conjures up when one hears "wheelchair accessible."

The principles of universal design are to be found here if you would like to know more about them.

Black and white photos from The Country Houses of David Adler, Stephen M. Salney, W.W. Norton and Company, 2001.

Color photo by Tony Soluri for Architectural Digest, August 1998.


  1. I love the approachability of accessibility. You just feel more welcome if you don't have to do a hill or stair climb.

    I now apply the grandma test: Can grandma make it to the front door. One step is a barrier.

    As a "rapidly aging population" myself even level ground gets getting riskier every day.

  2. A timely post, considering that two days ago was the 20th anniversary of ADA- the Amercians With Disabilities Act. The House in Congress observed the day by passing legislation adding access to the internet and television.

  3. Terry, thank you. Given that level ground in Atlanta isn't then I know exactly what you mean. Show me the sidewalk that isn't buckled by a tree root - but, I wouldn't have it any other way.

    VoiceTalk, thank you also. I should have known that but thank you for reminding me. I need to check the additions to this very important civil rights law.

  4. I am always humbled when someone turns a disability into a graceful opportunity to show us that inclusion is designing for a richer life.

  5. I'm not quite sure that the drawing room in that house is typical
    of the fine work of Stanley Falconer, but I was delighted to see that
    it existed in Winetka. Mr Falconer was a protégé of John Fowler's~there were several of John's possessions bequeathed to Stanley in fact.
    I recall being pleasantly surprised by the text of that article when it
    appeared in HG years ago, with its references to accessibility. Great care was taken with pavement surfaces, levels etc and much of the credit goes to the landscape designer, Deborah Nevins, who is a genius, as far as I'm concerned.

  6. home before dark, thank you. Inclusion is what universal design is all about and it is so often ignored when new houses are built. When we lived last in a house it was 20 feet above the road surface and then there were 13 steps to climb to the front door - it became difficult for someone with arthritis and one friend couldn't even visit because taking stairs was impossible. This is why we now live in a high-rise with three elevators serving four units per floor, and with all the requisite accessibility that we now find so comfortable and logical. Life is much improved since we sold that house.

    Mr Worthington, thank you. I have photos of other Falconer rooms and the Winnetka one passes muster. What initially attracted me were the blue curtains and I also registered it as a Colefax and Fowler room before knowing it was by Falconer.

    As I said, it is not often that accessibility is discussed in residential design and I wonder if it is not glamorous enough. The reason the owners of the Winnetka house were so concerned with it was that, according to the comment on the previous post I mentioned, a family member was handicapped.

    To my shame, I admit I had not heard of Deborah Nevins before I read that article and saw her name again in that comment. I have since gone to her website but there are too few photographs - what I see is very good but it is not easy to comprehend a full garden from a vignette. I shall seek further.