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The House of Freedom

A housing concept envisioned by AARP founder Ethel Percy Andrus

A Model Home

The Freedom House at The White House

AARP Photo

On January 11, 1961, during the first-ever White House Conference on Aging, AARP founder Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus (pictured) presented President Dwight D. Eisenhower with a small-scale replica of the House of Freedom, described by AARP as a “model retirement home.” The design was suitable for single family units, row housing and garden court apartments.

In December 1960, AARP founder Dr.­ Ethel Percy Andrus wrote to John F.­ Kennedy, then the President-elect, inviting him to visit the House of Freedom, a model home co-designed by AARP and built in downtown Washington, D­.C­.

The house, Andrus explained, was created “to provide a starting point for action by private industry and government agencies to solve the problem of adequate housing for our older citizens­”

The single story step-free home featured elements incorporating “the latest research in design,” including no-step entries, 3-foot-wide doorways, lower cupboards, higher wall outlets, an open floor plan for easier mobility and a less confining feel than most homes at the time­.

The housing administrators for both the outgoing Eisenhower White House and the incoming Kennedy team told the Washington Post they hoped the house would become widely available to “couples planning for retirement and younger families as well­.”

While that wish didn’t come to pass, Andrus and AARP did succeed in both introducing the concept of universal design to the national stage and shining a light on the need for housing that can serve people of all ages and life stages­.

Scroll down to see photos and a video tour of the House of Freedom.

The 'House of Freedom' Open House

The Freedom House - Exterior View

Photo from AARP

Located at the corner of M Street and 17th Street NW in Washington, D.C., this model of the House of Freedom was open for tours in 1961. AARP and the Douglas Fir Plywood Association (now APA-The Engineered Wood Association) sponsored the design and construction of the compact “Retirement Demonstration Home.”

A Look Inside

The Freedom House - Interior

Photos by APA-The Engineered Wood Association and AARP

The home featured an open kitchen and dining area.

The Floor Plan and Features

The Freedom House - Floor Plan

Floor Plan by AARP

Follow the numbers to move through the house.

(1) Zero-step entrances for safer access (2) Master light switches at entries (3) Nonskid floors throughout the home (4) Doors and hallway widths of at least 3-feet to allow passage by a person using a walker or wheelchair (5) Electrical outlets placed 18 inches above floor level for easy access (6) Master light switch in the master bedroom (7) Dressing seat next to the bathtub (8) Grab bars in the bathroom (9) Kitchen cabinetry within easy reach (10) Lower kitchen sink for washing dishes while seated (11) Pull-down light fixtures that make it easier to replace bulbs (12) Perimeter heat to keep the floors warm (13) Storage space in the garage (14) Hobby/crafts area in the garage (15) Outdoor water faucets placed at least 24 inches above ground to minimize the need for bending (16) Wide roof overhang to provide protection from rain

Video: Visit the 'House of Freedom'


Making Room: Housing for a Changing America was published in 2019

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