There are some tremendous hills over in the Deerfield neighborhood, rolling mounds that blanket the area like a patchwork quilt.
I know, when I attended Deerfield School, in northwest Lawrence, I used to hate those wretched hills on my treks home after a long day of learning. Yes, to some, Kansas might be considered flat, but not to residents of the Deerfield neighborhood. They have no need to traipse up to Campanile to sled on a snowy day. All they have to do is step out their front door.
Jim and Thelma Taylor don’t even have to step outside to understand the rigors and rewards of plodding up and down all day. The Taylors’ home boasts a whooping eight living levels — 13 levels if you count every little platform and entry area. The home is cradled right into one of those infamous hills, but you’d never know it from glancing at the home from the road. The Taylors’ house looks almost level with the asphalt, and in fact one must go down before they can go up.
Entering the home is like a subterranean experience, where you gingerly watch your footing on the steep driveway, then walk to a modest single, plain door that is situated discreetly on the side of the house. There is not a window in sight, just a wood-paneled structure.
Much to a visitor’s surprise, when you walk into the contemporary home, it is awash in natural light from the bevy of windows in various shapes. There are long, narrow windows; squat, square windows and wide, panoramic windows. The house is full of sunshine with open airy living spaces.
“The idea was to do the interior first and then figure out the design of the outside,” Jim says. “Harvey Liebman was the architect/builder. He was young, and he was a student at KU. He built about six houses in Lawrence, all in the vernacular of the West Coast 1970s style that entails many windows, varying views and wood siding, and all are sited so you don’t see the bank of windows.”
In 1976, when the house was constructed, the Taylors recently had come from Seattle and were drawn to the modern styles they saw in abundance on the coast. Liebman’s aesthetics were similar to those homes. The house is such a study in form following function that it actually sits diagonally on the hillside plot in order to take advantage of the best views. To the west there is a beautiful rock garden. To the north and east sits the naturalized hill with daffodils peppered among the hardwood trees.
“I love everything about this house,” Thelma says. “It is like a tree house. We have wonderful privacy.”
The white walls, cream-colored carpet and hardwood floors lend to the open feeling of this living area. But the aspects that really make you feel like this is such a spacious interior are the oddly angled walls, many of which sport built-in cubbyholes, shelves and even benches. Few of the walls actually go all the way to the ceiling, fully enclosing a room. This attribute aids in the carefree style of the interior. While reading alone in the sixth-floor library, one can still converse and even make eye contact with someone on the third and fourth levels. The Taylors can peek around walls to peer down or up at the great cavernous space that is multiple levels above or below them.
“My favorite part of this house is quietly contemplating the view from all the areas to sit and look,” Jim says. “One thing I’ve enjoyed and hated is the relationship and living with the squirrels.”
Every square foot of this home has some sort of purpose. It may be the shelves erected right into the staircase that perfectly display glass sculptures, or the storage area under a comfy bench lined with pillows. Or maybe it’s the placement of the windows, which are passively solar to the extent that they collect winter sun to warm the home, or possibly even the party deck on the roof. The home’s construction seems to utilize every inch of possibility.
The flat roof is accessible by climbing a narrow spiral staircase to the grand deck, a perfect spot for stargazing, camping out, sunbathing and parties. The second deck is where the Taylors grill food and dine among the woods.
Off of that deck is Thelma’s music room/library. Thelma has played the viola in the Topeka Symphony for 45 years.
“I love this house because it has marvelous acoustics with the wooden ceilings and vaulted openness,” Thelma says.
Yes, the cedar ceiling is a gorgeous textural touch to this modern masterpiece that bends and forms along the roof line, leaving the interior feeling lighter and brighter from the ceiling down.
The furnishings effortlessly blend with the home as well. Jim’s father ran a Swedish import furniture store, so he has some items from them.
With simplistic, clean lines of the furniture coupled with many unique works of art, the home is in perfect harmony with the woods outside. The sunshine beams in to illuminate paintings and wall hangings, and the retro furnishings work together to create a fabulous haven for Jim and Thelma Taylor.
— Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.