The House that Love Built

An HGTV Design Star shines her talents on KC's new Ronald McDonald House.

   Designing a new 21,000-square-foot, 20-bedroom home for critically ill children and their families is a daunting task, but Jennifer Bertrand of Weatherby Lake was up to the challenge for two reasons.

   One, she is the 2008 winner of HGTV’S Design Star, a weekly realty competition television show that was watched by thousands of people.

   Two, and most importantly, she is the mother of a special needs child and knows all too well how great design can make a person feel better.

   So when the folks at Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City asked Bertrand to help design their third house on Cherry Street near Children’s Mercy Hospital, she jumped at the chance. How could she not? She and her husband stay at a Ronald McDonald House in New York City when their son, Winston, is undergoing treatment for facial abnormalities.

   “I know how it feels to be on the other side,” Bertrand says while taking a visitor on a tour of the new home called Wylie House at 2525 Cherry St. just a week before the house’s grand opening. “When you go through all that, your heart is heavy; your soul is heavy; you’re facing life’s hardest things.”

   Her goal in designing the new house was simple: infuse elements of high-end design with user-friendly, accessible design. The house, which was recently unveiled to the public and now open for business, is expected to help at least 1,000 additional families a year while their children undergo medical treatment. It was built with donations of $5.1 million with an additional $500,000 or so in donated goods.

   Rising like a phoenix from a lot where two run-down apartment buildings once stood, the house was desperately needed. For each of the past three years, about 1,000 families were turned away because of lack of rooms, says Holly Buckendahl, CEO of Ronald McDonald House Charities of Kansas City.

Jennifer Bertrand


   Buckendahl says Bertrand was the perfect choice to design the new house. “Jen has done a really good job of making sure that when people walk in they feel at home; they feel a warm environment,” she says.

   The new home features about 18 salvaged doors and other elements from the former apartment buildings on the lot. The beachfront/craftsman-style house, designed by HMN Architects, was designed to fit in with the neighborhood, while maintaining a fresh, modern yet classic style.

   “We tried to pay homage to the more traditional design on the street but kind of bring a little contemporary edge to it,” says Amy Higgins, a designer with HMN who collaborated with Betrand. “So I think the house is a great blend of traditional and modern.”

   Calling the house [is] a combination of “Hamptons meets Willie Wonka meets Tim Burton,” Bertrand says that chief among her challenges was making sure her choices in materials, like carpets and countertops, could sustain wear and tear over many years while remaining in style. The home, which features private bathrooms, a large kitchen and quiet areas, incorporates soothing colors in the upstairs bedrooms and more vivid colors in the downstairs playroom.



   “This is like my dream design job because you get to have a sense of whimsy and you get to push the boundaries with colors and textures,” Bertrand says. “Most people in their houses get scared to color outside the lines, but here it is encouraged and then lacquered.”

   She asked area Kansas City artists to donate cheerful, inspirational art. She was thrilled to work with Chris Duh, a Shawnee artist who designed the playroom and a 48-foot mosaic sculpture that runs the entire height of the house and highlights the names of all those who had a hand in the building of the house. Volunteers painstakingly attached the mosaic tiles.

     Filled with vibrant, local artwork with messages such as “Be Brave,” “Just Keep Going,” and “Dream Big,” each of the 20 bedrooms feature two double beds and a predominantly brown and gray color palette.

   People were skeptical of her choice of brown and gray, Bertrand says, but she says it’s a trend that homeowners should try because the combination can create a serene atmosphere.

   “When you’re loving gray, if you don’t pair brown with it or a natural, organic wood element, it can be cold; it can be sterile,” she says. “Adding a little bit of brown, or a tree branch or a wooden organic bowl gives it a life and a soul that gray actually needs.”

     Ultimately, Bertrand says, “I just want to celebrate Kansas City and that Kansas City cares. This really is the house that love built. That sounds cheesy, but it really is. Everyone knows that you can’t complain when you’re behind your design schedule and rushing because ultimately the story is bigger than that. It’s about helping kids and families.” 

For more information on Ronald McDonald House KC visit For more information on the interior design and architecture of Wylie House visit and


Design Resource Guide 

Architecture: HMN Architects

Interior Design: Jennifer Bertrand

Interior Paint Colors: All by Benjamin Moore

Paint Color of Exterior Front Door: Cloudburst by Sherwin Williams

Furniture: La-Z-Boy, West Elm,, Bassett and Pottery Barn Teen

Artwork and Accessories: La-Z-Boy, Restoration Emporium (shelving/paint), Ikea, Anthropologie, Bella Patina. RePurpose ReColor Stain (by Cari Cucksey), Happy Habitat (by Karrie Kaneda), Chris Duh

Solid Surface Countertops: Corian: White Jasmine, Silverite and Canvas

Glass Wall Tile: Daltile: Color Wave – Blue Lagoon and Tango Tan

Ceramic Wall Tile: American Olean: Profiles – Ice White and Designer White

Contributing KC Artists: Allyson Lassiter, Matt Kounkel, Cece Merkle, Jennifer Rivera, Sarah Walsh, Chris Duh, Julie Hansen, Anastacia Drake, Kirsten McGannon, Flora Chang, Jennifer Bertrand, Tom Styrkowicz,nAmpersand Design Studio, Mike Savage, Beth Snider