Clean, modern design acts as a backdrop for high-quality and locally sourced interiors, transforming this couple’s historic Midtown home into a design showpiece.
Story by Brooke McGrath | Photos by Alistair Tutton
Every home has a story. For this vertical modern marvel in Kansas City, Missouri, with a storied background dating back 110 years, its thoughtful design is influenced by the age-old concept known as Ikebana, disciplined Japanese art that brings nature and humanity together in graceful form and fashion. Throw in an energy-efficient envelope, low-maintenance features and a refined interior design palette, and you’ve got quite a story to tell.
“The home was influenced by several aspects of the Japanese art of Ikebana, which uses space between objects to emphasize the true nature of the piece,” explains architect Dale Staten, owner of THUNDERhead. “We exaggerated the building’s height with soaring verticals that are arranged around centralized, open spaces. We kept the original footprint of the house, thus maximizing the setbacks for the gardens and on-site parking. The back door was converted into the main entrance, where we used a bold color to cue guests. Once inside, the modern interior reveals minimalist details and an upside-down plan, cohesively blending the organizing principle of Ikebana and expressing height into every aspect of the home.”
Having purchased a couple of houses in the past from Staten, these homeowners are well aware of his attention to architectural detail, energy efficiency and lifestyle function. In this particular home, “there’s a highly engineered envelope and mechanical system, which includes fresh air exchangers,” Staten says, as individual air conditioning units inhabit each of the three floors of the newly reconstructed home. “The upstairs is never hotter than the downstairs, even when entertaining 60 people on July 4th.”
Yes, the architectural details, stylized interiors and custom art work—all of which are local or were sourced locally at art fairs—are worth the walk-through, which the homeowners give on a weekly basis, it seems, but the structure’s bones also are conversation-worthy: The lower level of this Sears-type plan, a “kit” home popular in the early 1900s, was once an old brick grocery store, Madison Grocery Mexican Products. It’s now zoned for residential use, with commercial storefront windows, and the current owners use it as office space.
With its recent design transformation, this once-condemned home joined in the area’s urban revitalization movement. Located across from the angelic Sacred Heart Guadalupe Church, which has its own detailed history, guests enter into a welcoming two-story foyer with mezzanine overlook—and defining features in impressive works of art.
The tall statue is by Steven Olszewski, a Michigan artist. “It’s ambiguous, left up to your interpretation,” explains one homeowner. “I think it’s a lady who is displaying something important.” This space continues to impress with original contemporary pieces by regional artists, works of art that are rooted in modern tradition but are tied to our geographical location, and Italian silk Pablo light fixtures that act as a subtle design element and functional piece of art.
Under the entry staircase is the so-called mudroom, mainly a customized safe place for the pooches, Lily and Dasie, French bulldogs who have their own space for beds with custom lighting and artwork (a portrait of the two by Wynete Tyree and a French bulldog piece made of salvaged wood by Dolan Geiman). Height-adjusted space under the cabinet leaves room for refreshments and food, and the dogs can sunbathe outdoors with direct access to their own private backyard.
Ikebana: a creative expression brought to life by the purposeful arrangement of colors, shapes, lines, etc., much like that of a Japanese flower arrangement
A few steps down from the foyer is the quaint master, a secondary space that isn’t overly done but features quality designer pieces and materials that match those on the upper level, the home’s entertainment space. The bedroom features a coffered ceiling with hardwood floors and a few select decor pieces, including an abstract barn painting by Prairie Village artist Elizabeth Berkshire, part of the contemporary collection by regional artists found throughout the home.
“It has a piece of a Kansas City map embedded into the painting, which makes it very interesting and one of a kind,” the homeowner says. “I found the map in an old book that was in the house and had Beth turn it into art.”
No tub is needed in the bathroom that features a walk-in shower tiled in a custom-fabricated white aluminum with an orange glass-tiled corner seat and inset and three showerheads with dual controls. Custom rift-cut oak vanities that mirror each other feature Caeserstone counters with custom integrated bowls and wall-mounted chrome faucets. A short jaunt across the hallway leads into the master closet, with its commercial glass display cases for 107 pairs of shoes—from classic Gucci and Prada to colorful Cole Haan statement pieces.
The upper level, where a majority of everyone’s time is spent, is a well-appointed entertainment space, a main request for these fashionable hosts, who wanted enough space to seat at least 16 people during private dinners by local chefs. “Standing at the kitchen sink, they wanted to be able to see the Liberty Memorial while surveying their guests,” Staten says of the open-concept floor plan, one that intentionally flows through the great room out to the observation deck, another item on the wish list. Chefs from YaYa’s Euro Bistro and Executive Chef Johnathan Pye of Rozzelle Court Restaurant at The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art have performed past privately catered dinners in this space.
While design was high-priority, so was stocking the party space with high-end appliances and furnishings. The kitchen is outlined in custom rift-cut oak cabinetry with extra-large custom pullouts and a stainless steel backsplash; a built-in cappuccino/espresso machine; commercial refrigerator; and a Castle range, a commercial cooking equipment company based in Quincy, Illinois, one of the owner’s hometowns. The island can seat up to seven, featuring a Caeserstone countertop with waterfall edge, microwave drawer and two Bosch dishwashers that flank the stainless steel sink. The pantry hidden behind the range wall houses an icemaker, liquor cabinet, freezer, stainless steel prep table, storage space, powder bath and access to the observation deck.
The dining room table, which was locally handcrafted, tells an entire story all its own. Mimicking the length of the island, the table features 100-year-old fir salvaged from the original home, bringing in a modern aesthetic through custom metal legs. Each board was hand-selected by the owners and shows brilliant wear and tear from years gone by. Included in this stylish vignette is a mid-century modern buffet, purchased from a local custom furniture store, ready with candles and dinnerware for any occasion. Appropriate decor includes a driftwood horse head from Black Bamboo and a vibrant original painting titled “Expressions” that complement the colors found throughout the home.
As dinner guests make their way to the great room, they’re greeted by an 18-foot-long Ortal remote-light gas fireplace. “We wanted it to frame the seating area,” Staten says. This transitional space is all about the impressive fireplace wall, a clear representation of the Ikebana design concept. The observation deck—or martini lounge—provides another table for overflow or dining alfresco.
Taking high design outside, this home is wrapped up in a pretty (and durable) exterior package, too. Pairing the existing stone retaining walls and brick facade with a new custom-fabricated, fully insulated steel exterior undoubtedly creates interest, as does its classic architectural palette of red, gray and white. A separate two-story, four-car garage, repurposed from a limestone carriage house that was carved in the hill 100 years ago, and low-maintenance plantings with vegetated rock gardens round out the rest of the key items on the owners’ must-have home remodel list.
With Staten’s construction company doubling as the maintenance crew, the only item left for the homeowners to worry about is having a clean countertop to host their next coveted event. With such devotion to creating a flawlessly detailed and functional scene, this modern home transformation pays thoughtful tribute to its past, a topic that could dominate dinner conversations for years to come.
Local Project Resources
Excavation/demolition/trucking: Terry Trucking | Framing lumber: CMI and Schutte Lumber | Drywall: Rew Material
Plumbing: Spirit Plumbing | Plumbing fixtures: Dorfman Plumbing Supply (now Ferguson Enterprises)
Appliances: Alexander & Rays TV & Appliance | AV: J&J Technologies | Windows/doors/hardware: Kansas City Building Supply
LED lighting: LED2 | Countertops: Canyon Ranch Stone | Cabinets: Summit Cabinets | Mirrors: Santa Fe Glass
Dining tabletop: Bill Stewart | Metal dining table base: Dusty Patrick | Tile Installation: A&C Construction
Metal fabrication of custom exterior panels: Red Devil | Metal roofing: Western Metal
Landscape material: Family Tree and Grass Pad | Handrails: Keller Metal Works | Concrete finishing: Tommy’s Concrete
Intern Architect: Jessica Reed-Schultz