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Best Laid Plans
Handicap accessible, family friendly and timelessly beautiful
Carbine and the Rabins designed a furniture plan to include the Rabin’s antiques and furnishings collected over the years; the neutral palette ranges from yellow, to cream to taupe; curtains by Katie Koch.
A full year of planning and another of building went into the realization of Ann and Larry Rabin’s home a block and a half off of St. Charles Avenue. The goal was to build a house that is as beautiful as it is completely functional for Larry’s wheelchair and for the couple’s family, which includes seven grandchildren. “We built it for accessibility and family gathering, but we were also building the house of our dreams,” Ann said. “People walk in and have no idea it’s totally [wheelchair] accessible. It just feels open and airy and bright.”
The Rabins – Larry, a commercial real estate investor and developer, and Ann, who is retired as director of education for the Audubon Zoo – wanted to go from two-story living to one-story living, but didn’t want to downsize to a place that wasn’t conducive to family. Originally, they thought they would renovate a house. Then, in 2013, they found an Uptown tear-down with a prime address and decided to build instead. Working with designer and contractor Michael Carbine of M. Carbine Restorations, and with input from their daughter Maggie Weber, who owns her own design business, Sterling + Villa, they took their time mapping out a classically inspired house that would suit both their needs and their tastes.
The idea was for the couple to live on the first floor, while the second floor would accommodate guests and visiting family. To that end, they packed the size of their former home, 3,000 square feet, into the first floor of the new house. The second story has an additional 1,600 square feet with three guest rooms, a sitting room, and an office/crafts room for Ann.
The Rabins loved their former home and were set on duplicating some of its features. The pool and covered patio, for example, were designed to replicate the feel of those at the last house. They also noted what they didn’t like and designed accordingly. This time, they wanted a larger dining room, a kitchen that flows into the central living space, a living room with easy accessibility, a wheelchair-accessible elevator, wide threshold-free casement openings and halls, off street parking conducive to going from car to wheelchair to house, a zero-entry shower and two offices instead of a shared office. Ann wanted every room to have outdoor views and access (the intentional exception is the master bedroom, which has views only) and few interior halls. Lastly, the couple wanted ample storage and took into account everything that needed a place of its own.
Nothing was left to chance. Maggie inventoried the furniture and the Rabins worked with Carbine to devise a floor plan with a spot for each piece. That in turn enabled them to precisely place electrical outlets and lighting. The couple even consulted an occupational therapist about the positioning of items such as grab bars.
Ann and Carbine also anticipated how Larry would enter and move through the house. A subtley graded ramp in the driveway allows him to roll into the garden room with ease and pass freely from room to room. “Investing in the design phase is critical,” Ann said. “Designing with Michael, who understands people and what they need was great,” she added. “We moved things around as we needed.” The open design has proved beneficial in another way as well. “It has a great flow for entertaining,” Larry said.
To achieve the old world European aesthetic the Rabins envisioned, Carbine combined their request for a low-maintenance stucco exterior with wrought iron architectural details. Inside he combined timeless materials, such as marble and wood floors, with their antiques and art and with decorative touches drawn from his complementary antiques business (such as a pair of old French doors used as closets in the front of the house and an architectural remnant highlighted over the bar). “Michael adapted the European pieces to fit so that there is a seamless transfer,” Ann said, who found the process of building new easier than renovating because there were no surprises. “That’s why the planning is so critical. We ended up without mistakes.” Larry is equally pleased with the house. “I love the accessibility for myself,” he said. “But I also love that we have room for our kids and grandchildren to visit.”