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When Home Design Becomes a Legacy
by Dr. Oneida Cramer

Louise and Edmund Kahn lived by the motto that every person?s duty is to leave the world a better place than the way they found it. Their own philanthropy and community service reshaped the Dallas social and architectural profile, for example, the creation of the Dallas County Community College District in 1965 and the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center in 1989, just two of the many civic projects the Kahns spearheaded during their lifetime. Less well known is the fact that Louise, who was an officer of the Historic Preservation League (now Preservation Dallas), and a member of the Historic Landmark Committee, and Eddie (as his friends liked to call him) created their own personal legacy in Greenway Parks?a house designed in 1946 by Howard Meyer.

That house will be open to the public on Saturday, October 5, 2002, as a part of the Mid Century Modern Design in Dallas tour hosted by Preservation Dallas.

Timeless is a good word to describe this home although initially, it wasn?t built for all times. Meyer tailored the house exclusively to the Kahns but with potential for architectural expansion. The original structure was basically a one-bedroom, single story residence with a small kitchen and street side carport for the Kahns never had children. Yet, the home offered multiple sleeping accommodations?first, the maid?s quarters along the outside of the kitchen, as was custom of homes in those days, and, second, a study/sitting area with a sliding wood door that could be closed off into a guest room.

The aesthetics on the exterior changed almost naturally over the years because dark stained redwood siding, brick walls, and the brilliant Madera front door blend with the tree trunks in the landscape while the casement windows around the roof line, which were added on later, balance the airiness of the surrounding tree branches.

Just inside the front door is the foyer providing the central axis to the kitchen overlooking the front, to the study overlooking the back, to the long corridor across the front of the house into the master bedroom suite, and to the home interior, where it opens up into a large space, which once was dining/living room. Today, that area is one big living room characterized by a tall recessed ceiling with perimeter lighting, a white brick fireplace, and two walls of ceiling to floor casement windows that look on the backyard and swimming pool. Despite several remodeling projects on the home, this area remains original.

After the Kahns moved out of the home in 1959, the Greenway Parks residence hosted several owners before the current homeowners moved in with three small children in 1976. By that time, the maid?s quarters had been remodeled and bedrooms added between the kitchen and living room. But the home felt cramped after a few years. So, in 1980, the owners contacted Howard Meyer.

Meyer always thought the house should be two stories, according to the homeowner. He was in his 80?s at the time and regularly came over to the project, always in his white shirt and bow tie. Up he would go to check the progress of the three bedrooms, two baths, and hallway. Of course, since the stairs were put in very late, Meyer would climb a makeshift ladder?which made the homeowners anxious in case he lost his footing. Meyer, too, thought of falls for he built the permanent stairs in precise even numbered steps?8 steps from the first floor to the landing and 8 steps up to the second floor?inside a tower addition on the front of the house?all to prevent people from losing their rhythm as they ascended and descended.

Also in the project, Meyer reconfigured the earlier first-floor addition?converted it a family room with a bar between the kitchen and living room and added a sliding wood door to separate the living room. With the door open, which is most of the time, the wood beams in the ceiling define segmented impressions, rather than rooms, hence a sense of coziness as well as spaciousness enhanced by viewing the backyard. Incidentally, Meyer designed the swimming pool.

By 2000, when the homeowners updated their kitchen and baths, Meyer was deceased. So, they turned to Alisa Hake, AIA, who reconfigured what were originally maid?s quarters and later a nursery into a breakfast area that has a skylight (1980 addition) and a window seat surrounded by built-in cabinets. The necessity of having to replace all ductwork allowed new ductwork to be rerouted under the kitchen floor, thus opening up the kitchen to a 10 ft ceiling. And the carport needed to be torn down; in its place, there is a wing off the kitchen and a new two-car garage.

?Howard is happy,? said the homeowner. Perhaps the Kahns are happy, too. What once was the study/guest room is now a dining room/library/game room. A large round table surrounded by original knoll rattan chairs, restored and protected with cushions occupies much of the room, and built-in bookshelves filled with books give the room a library appearance. When the table leaves are folded down and underneath, the room becomes a game room.

The homeowners kept the original look of the white oak kitchen cabinetry; but they went with hardy Oak ?Memphis blocks? throughout the house instead of the original cork flooring, and they took down the white linen curtains in the living room. Today, windows are bare or have Magnolia wooden blinds giving a traditional look. Walls and furniture are in neutrals so the homeowner can add pillows, area rugs, and paintings (some painted by the homeowner, herself) in as much color as they want. As such, the family feels like they are living in a work of art as well as preserving the architectural history of Dallas.

-by Dr. Oneida Cramer
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