Modern style home with large Marvin Windows and Doors
23 October 2017

An Accessible Home Promotes a Lifetime of Well-being

Tucked in a Chicago suburb, the Courtyard Residence celebrates the outdoors while responding to the needs of each family member.

When envisioning the perfect home for their family, Kiley and Jim agreed that accessibility was paramount—access to the outdoors, and access for their daughters, Langley and Boelyn, who have special needs and rely on their wheelchairs to get around. After purchasing a narrow lot in Downers Grove, Illinois, the couple reached out to Chicago-based firm Kuklinski + Rappe Architects to design a residence that would serve their daughters, their son Huck, and their own various needs. Crafted to adapt to the family’s lifestyle over the years, the home will provide lifelong health and happiness.

Walnut floors run throughout the home, creating a seamless transition between the living room and open kitchen. Clerestory windows not only allow light to permeate the space, but also cater to Langley’s and Boelyn’s perspectives as they lie on their backs.

It just so happened that the parameters that Kiley and Jim presented resonated with architect Scott Rappe. “They spoke about the future and the uncertainty around how their daughters would develop. So that, right away, keyed into an interest [at our practice] in looking at how homes are used over the long term,” he says. They approached the challenge of the site first—long and compressed, it suggested a floor plan that placed rooms on either side of a corridor in order to create accessible spaces. Rappe, however, discarded this idea. “This conventional approach, while pragmatic, would have produced a dull, lifeless house.”

“The kitchen is the nerve center of the house,” says Rappe. A professional-grade kitchen was a must for Kiley, a culinary professional. Working in the center of the main living space, she is able to watch the kids in the main courtyard, children’s courtyard and the back yard.

Instead, Rappe chose to lengthen the plan and carve out outdoor spaces from the home’s footprint, allowing interior spaces to look out onto serene, landscaped areas—hence the name Courtyard Residence. The solution provides privacy and natural light, and facilitates a better relationship with the dwelling. As Rappe explains, “The long, dark corridor of the conventional approach was instead transformed into a ‘cloister’ running along the main courtyard, which offers a contemplative experience, rather than just a distance to be traversed.”

A stunning wall of windows creates a cloister-like feel adjacent to the main courtyard. The outdoor spaces “offer an ever-changing play of shadow and reflection as the motion of the sun, changing seasons and weather interact with carefully designed landscapes,” describes Rappe.

In a home so permeable to the outdoors, the choice of windows and doors carried significant weight. For Rappe, selecting Marvin was a no-brainer. “They have very high-performing products,” he explains, “and they offered us thin sightlines, high insulation values, and a high degree of predictability and reliability.” Also crucial was the ability to accommodate Langley and Boelyn. “It was really important for us that all of our entrances were accessible,” says Jim. “The low-profile [sills] allowed us to have great, open windows with terrific views, and the ability to wheel the girls in and out very easily across them.”

Large sliding doors allow the dining area to flow into the courtyard.

The placement of the windows takes Langley and Boelyn into account as well. “The girls spend a lot of time on their backs because they can’t sit up naturally,” says Kiley, “so they’ll play on the floor and look up.” Thoughtfully positioned openings ensure that wherever they are, the girls have a view of the outdoors.

Continues Rappe, “The exterior spaces offer a variety of sensory experiences as well—a low concrete wall radiates warmth to the adjacent sitting area, a fountain with shallow basins allows soaking of hands and feet, a courtyard offers a small lawn and flowering tree, and a patio with an outdoor fireplace gives way to rolling, grass-covered berms.” TruGrain Resysta channel siding and Petersen Aluminum standing seam metal panels form the exterior of the building, while Marvin windows clad in Cascade Blue echo the sky.

While the Courtyard Residence offers communal spaces for the family to gather, it also caters specifically to each member in other moments. An office sequestered near the front entry allows Jim to work without interruption. A centrally placed, professional-grade kitchen avails itself to Kiley—a chef and culinary educator. Huck, who is 13 years old, enjoys a private bedroom that connects to the family room, children’s courtyard, and back yard—and he can invite friends over to shoot hoops in the lower-level game room. Finally, aside from the accessible design of the house overall, Langley and Boelyn have dedicated rooms that facilitate around-the-clock care.

The children’s bedrooms have access to their own shared courtyard.

“Having a home that was designed for our needs was a big relief,” says Jim. “It’s not until you’re in an environment that has been designed around all of those needs that you just appreciate every little bit.”

This story was originally published on, photography by Tom Harris Photography.