Ronald McDonald House

The house brings the serenity that families are looking for.
~ Mary Agnes Laguatan, Director of Programs, Ronald McDonald House Charities

Building a multifamily “home away from home” for families of seriously ill children demonstrates the importance of building a sense of community through support, socialization, and shared experience.

The House In The Woods:  A Healing Home Away From Home
The House in the Woods, a Ronald McDonald House® in Oak Lawn, Illinois provides anxious families a warm and nurturing place of refuge and respite.  The three-story house nestled in a grove of trees greets families upon arrival and expresses the very essence of home.

To accommodate drop-offs, a circular drive with a slender port cochére and tree canopy, leads visitors directly to the front door. Just to the right of the entrance, a playful, yet carefully considered tree house peeks out, capturing the imagination of children of all ages. Great care went into the imagery, playfulness, public spaces and thoughtful plan of the 21,000 square foot, 16-bedroom House in the Woods. Iconographic and symbolic elements, including the way the front elevation resembles a child’s drawing of a house, are easily appreciated and understood by children and their caregivers.

The design team collaborated with house and hospital staff, former house users and community members to envision a welcoming and supportive home away from home; one where the quantifiable parameters of program, accessibility, schedule and budget were thoughtfully balanced with the qualitative sense of community, place, well-being, security and reassurance. Mapping programmatic concerns and connections helped determine the sensitive sequence of dropping-off, welcoming, directing, daily living, and settling in. Yet, it was the mapping of experience to function that created a 4D program, one that interweaves values and qualities with the architectural program.

The house is welcoming, warm and inviting – embracing users. Families find their way around the house immediately and intuitively, with its straightforward layout of public spaces: expanded kitchen, dining room, living rooms, and central staircase winding around the three-story fireplace. Larger collective spaces for socializing are balanced by smaller intimate places for private reflection. “Our families are under a great deal of stress”, notes Laguatan, “they need comfortable beds and pleasant rooms to relax in, and a variety of spaces. Some folks want to share; others want to be by themselves. The architects have created beautiful spots for families to relax in, little nooks and crannies. It gives you that intimate feel.”  Within the house, public spaces were considered assets not amenities. Unique social spaces with easy access to services draw people into communal areas. Parents having coffee or checking email have clear visibility into the vibrant playroom, monitoring children engaged in play. Lounges on each floor feature varied seating from comfy chairs to sofas and natural light. The chef style kitchen with oversized buffet counter, natural wood flooring, and chef’s table allows volunteers to work together, cooking and serving hot meals, while book-ended cooking zones permit individualized family use. The kitchen functions easily for other shared experiences: baking, celebrations, art therapy, and crafts.

Nature and sustainability are inextricably linked, with careful placement of the house on its site to limit removal of existing trees and a green roof atop the porte-cochère. The careful site placement and partial green roof help reduce heating, cooling, and lesson storm water run-off, important in an area known for flooding. Other sustainable elements include recycled content carpeting, recycled antique flooring, ENERGY STAR appliances, recycled and natural content furnishings and fabrics, and low-flow bathroom fixtures. The House in the Woods is truly the House for Hope, of particular relevance to the children and families who must call it HOME.

This Ronald McDonald House will keep families together when they need each other most. By building this House, we are changing lives.
~ Bill Keyser, RMHC-CNI Board of Directors.

Read more in our feature article for Multi-Housing News.

Remodeling and Home Design
Chicago Architects & Designers

Outstanding Project Award, Association of Subcontractors and Affiliates, 2008 – 2009.
Award given to recognize an outstanding project.

Owner:  Ronald McDonald House Charities
Architecture, Interior Architecture & Art Procurement
: Architecture Is Fun, Inc. in association with Constantine Vasilios & Associates
:  Oak Lawn/Illinois
:  Completed 2008
:  © Doug Snower Photography