Country mouse, city mouse. When a husband is one and his wife is the other, finding the perfect home can be a challenge.
So when one Leawood couple found a residence on which they could both agree, the find seemed a near-miracle.
“I’m a farm boy and my wife is a Kansas City girl,” says the husband. “I wanted space and privacy, while she wanted the convenience of living in town. This home fits both.”
Nestled on acreage and fronted by a serene pond, the home’s bucolic setting surprises visitors with its close-in location just off Leawood’s 143rd Street.
“We have space to ourselves, and yet the kids can still walk to school or a nearby neighborhood,” says the husband.
Yet while the location was a dream-come-true for the homeowners, something else wasn’t so dreamy: the house itself. Although the stately blue and white colonial had impressed many during its prime, 25 years without an update now revealed crumbling stucco, disjointed rooms and dated décor.
“It was Southfork,” says the wife, who now laughs about moving into a residence befitting of J.R. and Sue Ellen Ewing. “I like older things, so I always thought I might live in an older home. But not necessarily one built in 1981,” she says. “That’s why I called in the ‘dream team.’”
Made up of architect Bruce Wendlandt, builder Jay Holthaus and interior designer Kurt Knapstein, the homeowners’ dream team—together with the homeowners themselves—would soon transform the choppy, low-functioning colonial into a sweeping French country estate finely tuned to complement the family’s active lifestyle.
Architect Bruce Wendlandt still remembers the day of the project’s inception.
“I’ll never forget the first time I walked into the house,” says Wendlandt. “It was 20 different shades of blue inside, and the structure was made up of a collection of separate little boxes not unusual for homes of that era. But still, there were good bones to work with.”
Builder Jay Holthaus also saw potential.
“The location of the home on the land gave it a great presence,” says Holthaus, “but the shoebox shape wasn’t working.”
To fix the problem, the team implemented a phased approach to renovations that would ultimately include a redo of the homes’ exterior, the addition of a service wing, the creation of an outside living area and motor court, and an injection of glamour and modern luxury throughout.
First up was the transformation of the home’s exterior. A crumbling white facade, rounded windows and blue accents were replaced with stone-colored stucco, a chiseled entry, front-facing French doors and copper highlights.
“The richness of the materials we used—the contrasting roof with wood and copper, the cut stone and the stucco—really allowed the house to reach way beyond where it had started,” says Wendlandt.
Besides aesthetic richness, the addition of flanking stone wings afforded the family the increased functionality they craved. A paved stone motor court meant extra space for vehicles and room for the couples’ three children to spread their wings.
“The kids can turn up their music and ride their rip sticks or play basketball there,” says their dad. “They really enjoy it.”
Equally enjoyable was the addition of a grown-up play space: a hexagonal stone-hewn, timber-covered outdoor entertaining area, complete with kitchen, big-screen television and a fireplace.
“It’s probably my favorite room in the house,” says the husband. “We socialize a lot there, and the heated tile floor and adjustable screens [for keeping wind and bugs away] let you be outside longer.”
Yet while the country-bred husband exerted his influence on the grounds outside their home, his city-born wife put her own charming spin on its interior. Key to the lady of the house’s style is a love and respect for tradition.
“It’s one of the reasons we didn’t tear it down and completely start over,” she says. “We have an appreciation for tradition and the bigger picture, for things that matter.”
And although the things that matter to these homeowners include art, antiques and family heirlooms, the home is decidedly not your grandmother’s house.
“We wanted the place to be youthful and reflect who we are,” says the wife.
Interior designer Kurt Knapstein credits his client’s twist on timeless style with creating the abode’s unique charm.”
She has great taste, and she’s not afraid of color. She wanted her home to be fun, functional, family-friendly, and not look like anyone else’s,” says Knapstein.
To achieve the look, Knapstein helped the homeowners juxtapose old with new and elegant with everyday. He also employed vivid color and unexpected texture and pattern to heightened effect.
Case in point is the dining room, where cheeky blush-pink walls beloved by the homeowner play off Knapstein’s unexpected eggplant-hued ceiling. French dining chairs decked in satiny plaid tie the disparate colors together, as do surprise amethyst crystals hanging from a glittering chandelier. The effect? An enchanting, jewel-box glow.
“I love the colors in this room because they work for any holiday gathering—Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving,” says the homeowner and frequent holiday hostess.
Original art also plays a colorful role in the home, with vibrant works from local and national artists living comfortably alongside more conventional pieces. Bright-hued paintings from local talents like Rich Bowman and Lisa Lala greet visitors in the reconfigured entryway, and even an oil-painted bovine lingers effortlessly among vintage French side tables and crystal sconces.
Other art and antiques reflect not only the homeowners’ love for travel, but also their willingness to wait for the perfect find.
“We find a lot on our travels,” says the wife, pointing to sconces procured in Chicago and a painting brought home from France. “But sometimes our walls go without,” she admits. “Because for us, it isn’t about just getting [the décor] done, it’s about the journey along the way.”
Of form and function
The homeowners’ equally intentional approach to creating livable space has also paid off. For the kitchen, hearth room, and service wing, both form and function were paramount.
“When we were drawing up the kitchen plans, I taped them to my bedroom wall so I could visualize how I’d use the space on a daily basis,” says the wife and avid cook. The result? A kitchen both sophisticated and workable, where Calacatta Gold marble and polished wood counters hide easy-access refrigerator drawers and even space for hanging office files. Likewise, floor-to-ceiling painted shelving in an elegant butler’s pantry exudes a beauty and usability enviable to both aesthetes and neatniks alike.
Ditto in the service wing, where Knapstein and his client’s touch imbue a high-functioning home office, mudroom, expanded laundry, and even a powder room with a rare sense of charm.
“I like to use wallpapers in small areas,” says the wife, who recognizes the concept seems counterintuitive. “Sometimes larger prints can make the room seem more spacious.”
Yet nowhere is space employed to more dramatic effect than in the wife’s favorite room: the master bath. While the almond-glazed cabinetry of his-and-hers vanities provide a
stunning contrast to coffee brown imperial marble counters and flooring, shining brightest is the undeniable star of the show: a luxurious freestanding tub at the center of the room. Placed under a rotunda style ceiling, the tub reflects the light of a cherished crystal chandelier that once hung in the homeowner’s childhood home.
“It’s a piece that’s really special to me,” says the wife, “so I spend a lot of time here.”
Things that matter
In the home’s public areas, guests of all kinds feel at ease to linger longer too. For the homeowners, that’s evidence of a mission accomplished.
“We wanted to create a space where anyone, even people just passing through, could feel comfortable,” says the wife.
But coziness aside, it’s most of all that sense for timeless treasures—for things that matter—that make the charmingly sophisticated estate both a Johnson County standout and a place where even first-time visitors want to stay awhile.
“Because they kept the old, the house has more character,” says Holthaus.
And of the old-but-new home that’s a little bit country, a little bit city, and every ounce its owners’ unique style, the builder adds: “It’s something you don’t see everywhere—it can’t be repeated.”