Occasionally, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson has the opportunity to design a second home for a previous residential client. Even rarer is when the new structure is built on the same property as the original house. For the client and the practice, this new home is a moment to pause and reflect, evaluate previous work, and reimagine the landscape. It’s a transformative process for both the architect and the residents. And fortunately for us, a couple recently provided just this opportunity.
Our clients first worked with Peter Bohlin in the 1970s when, as a young couple, they hired our practice to design a house on nineteenth-century farmland in Northeastern Pennsylvania. The couple had long explored and appreciated the surrounding woods and wished to build a home there in which to raise their children. Integrated into the gently sloping landscape, the 5,800 square-foot house was built on the foundation walls of the original barn. The three-level house maximized daylight and captured extensive views.
After four decades — and the children having grown up and moved away to raise their own families — the clients encountered challenges with their multi-story house, which required them to rethink their needs as they age in place and incorporate design solutions for one of the client’s recent diagnosis with early stages of Alzheimer’s. With this in mind, they again approached our practice to design a new home on a different part of the property that would accommodate intermittent lifestyle adjustments. The result is a single-story residence, Light Path, that combines current desires with thoughtful design solutions for future accessibility while also connecting with the surrounding landscape that they love.
Flexibility Over Time
The most important aspect of the new home and the decision spurring the project was the need to design a safer home to age in place that is as flexible as it is elegant. The residence needs to be adaptable over time for a range of healthcare scenarios while remaining warm, comfortable, and inviting. What is remarkable about the house is that it meets the needs of aging seniors — being one story and accessible throughout — while emulating the craftsmanship of the original home and highlighting the natural landscape of the farmland. Every inch of the household was scrutinized for ease of living, including even the smallest details like custom designed door handles and drawer pulls, all of which are functional without feeling sterile or medical.
Although smaller than their previous house, the new home maximizes space to accommodate guests or caretakers. In addition to the primary bedroom that the clients currently occupy, the house has a second spacious bedroom — designed for accessibility — should the client require additional care. Currently serving as a guest room, both bedrooms connect to the den and are located in the back of the house to provide extra privacy and views to the woods. A third bedroom is designed to function primarily as an office or guest bedroom but can be converted into a live-in room for a caregiver. This third bedroom is located directly across the hallway from the accessible guest bedroom; an additional door provides easy access for a caregiver in case the occupant needs immediate assistance.
This home makes a concerted effort to impact the health of its occupants positively. Movement was especially crucial for the residents of this house as studies have shown that, for aging individuals, incorporating a healthy walking routine decreases the chances of mobility issues and increases the probability of independence as they age. Previously, the clients found themselves limiting their movement to 15% (or 872 square feet) of their former home, spending the majority of their time in the kitchen and adjacent family room since their living room, reading room, and bedroom were either on the other side of the house or upstairs.
The new home’s layout has transformed the residents’ daily routines. With the new single-story residence, square footage reduced, and spaces designed to be multi-purpose, the clients have positively remarked how they now move throughout 50% (or 1,485 square feet) of the floorplan regularly, a benefit to their health and well-being. They have also found that their daily routine incorporates visiting a variety of rooms to enjoy their function, views, and daylight. Each room offers different sightlines of the surrounding landscape, stimulating the brain and providing a change of scenery, which many doctors recommend for Alzheimer patients. A simple shift in view can dramatically influence one’s mood and improve their happiness.
Connection to Nature
In this home, windows allow natural light and views throughout different seasons to change how the residents experience the space.
“We rejoiced every day in the beauty of winter as we enjoyed the new views from every window of the house,” said our client. “The cozy ambiance of the kitchen, dining, and living area was a welcome surprise given the soaring windows and ceiling beams that define these spaces.”
When viewed in plan, the pathways in which one navigates the house form a simple cross. Running along the home’s central axis is a 92-foot-long linear skylight that floods the main living spaces with natural light and creates an illuminated pathway. This guiding path of light is especially beneficial as seniors require increased lighting to perform tasks, aid wayfinding, and reduce falls. The skylight is also operable in specific areas allowing for natural air circulation and nature sounds to enter into the living areas.
In addition to the skylight, large windows at each end of the house provide extensive natural light and views, inviting one to explore the house and connect with the surrounding landscape. The north end of the house — which functions as the living and dining rooms — is surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. The glass and views to the forest frame the hearth creating a warm, inviting place for reflection. The added ambient light throughout the house saves energy, reducing the need for artificial lighting while also improving the quality of the light. The changing daylight encourages the use of different rooms at different times of day, promoting mental wellness and physical movement within the house, with the added benefit of improved sleep patterns and eyesight.
However, light is not the only natural influence on space. On-axis between the front entry and a screened porch in the back of the house lies the central den area. Divided only from the back porch by two twelve-foot-tall sliding glass doors, the den can expand its usable space for gatherings and circulate fresh air throughout the house while remaining protected from bugs and the natural elements. To unify the area, the bluestone flooring used in the den continues through the porch and beyond to the patio, visually extending the space inside.
A Transformative Experience
When reevaluating what was important in their new home, our clients sought a space that is as flexible as possible but does not sacrifice elegance or sophistication in exchange for accessibility. They realized it was time to plan for their future. Still, they did not want to give up what they loved most about their former house: happy memories of raising their children on the property, views of the landscape, craftsmanship, and familiarity (an essential element for a loved one with Alzheimer’s). The result is a home that has a more significant positive impact on its residents, improving their health, preserving their mental acuity, and creating a safer environment to age comfortably. As fluidly as light changes throughout the day, the house can rapidly adapt and transform, providing the perfect oasis to live out a new chapter of life in safety and serenity.