The Making of a Sanctuary
We can never anticipate what role a home will play in various chapters of our lives.
For Patty Zender, the last year and a half has opened many chapters, but one thing has remained a constant — her 1950s ranch in Reinhardt Estates.
The petite four-bedroom, three-bathroom home is a bright homage to Traditional Home and design inspiration that is prevalent in today’s shelter magazines. However, Patty unexpectedly would have to travel through the most trying time in her life to find what she describes as her “sanctuary.”
“Life in this wonderful little ranch was all great, all wonderful — then the pivotal point when he died,” says Patty of her husband, Bob, who unexpectedly passed away in 2010. “You know, your home is your sanctuary, but I needed to create a space that was a little more light.”
Drawing upon the interior design help of the young and talented Mindy Day, Patty was quick to work on shifting the blended style of she and Bob — which featured earth tones and masculine textures — to an aesthetic that was refreshing and even pulled from her “portfolio” of design ideas collected over the years.
“Mindy helped transform my ideas,” says Patty, adding that Mindy was a preschool parent from Village Presbyterian Church where Patty was the school director before retiring. “Her energy and her style are so wonderful. I am very traditional but she taught me how to mix it up a bit, and I just so appreciate her ability to know somebody.”
Their relationship, while rooted in home décor and hellos at school, quickly became a sort of interior therapy.
“Mindy, quietly with assurance, said ‘I’ll help you do anything,’” says Patty. “And I said, ‘I think I need to make some changes … gentle changes but keeping the essence and spirit of Bob here too.’”
A New Chapter
The open kitchen is set against pine checkered-board flooring and faces the combined dining/living room, which is illuminated by bright windows looking on to the luscious backyard. As Patty confirms, the space is ideal for indoor-outdoor living and most importantly — entertaining.
“Every Sunday (our children) would come over for dinner,” says Patty. “My husband was a fabulous chef and I would do the table and create the ambiance while he would lovingly make the dinner. It’s just a fabulous time in our lives so I am trying to, as best I can, do it on my own.”
Not only is she doing it on her own — with a pending birthday party right around the corner for not one, but two of their three sons — she is doing it in fine fashion.
The dining room is a testament to Patty’s most cherished color, wedgewood blue. Mindy expanded the palette by adding navy, robin’s egg blue and white. The result is a chic yet distinguished space for Patty to doll up tables and fill a room with love and energy.
Mixing her fondness of antiques with modern pieces, a small 18th century bench from London rests at the head of the table, as if it will always hold a place for someone special. The white upholstered chairs by Hurley surround the table, which is an antique replica from the Carolinas.
“I love the mix of antiques and more contemporary pieces,” she says.
Suspended above the table is a whimsical lantern in place of a traditional chandelier. Reflecting on the distinctive piece, Patty says, “The lantern was something he and I were looking at together … that was one of the first things that I did.”
The lantern will relocate this spring when Patty gives her master bedroom a facelift, taking it from ranch to retreat.
Throughout the home is a subtle but powerful reverence to Bob’s memory — the Flint Hills. A treasured and iconic landscape in central Kansas, this is where the Zender family decided to memorialize a loving husband and father.
In the dining room, four delicate illustrations of native grasses to the Flint Hills flank the contemporary hutch. One of Patty’s sons and daughter-in-law gave her these pieces after Bob’s
As I visit with Patty Zender about her 1950s ranch redo, music hums in the background. Quick with the remote to adjust sound, it’s easy to see that music is always playing in her home.
“The music that was playing has been an important part of the healing process,” says Patty. “Andrew, my son who is the editor of the K-Stater magazine, put together a fabulous mix of soulful music for me that speaks to love and family, loss and joy in our lives.”
“California Stars,” Billy Bragg
“Up to the Mountain” and “Heavenly Day,” Patty Griffin
“Glory Bound” and “Bold Riley,” The Wailin’ Jennys
“Be My Sailor,” Heather Masse
“Happy Everafter in Your Eyes,” Ben Harper
“My Stunning Mystery Companion,” Jackson Browne
“You’re Not Alone,” Mavis Staples
On the other side of the room, a beautiful built-in hutch anchors the room. But the piece that catches the eye is the vibrant Allan Chow painting above the mantle. Patty, who already had a few of Chow’s lithographs, says, “His palette is wonderful but what he really does is paint from the soul.”
Patty’s friends and colleagues commissioned the Kansas City artist to paint a scene of the Flint Hills, which is particularly significant to the Zender family.
“I just love this piece,” she says. “Not only did he not have to paint it from a picture, he’d been there. His work is just wonderful so this has specific important memories because it does center around a spot very important to us.”
The room’s furnishings are a mix of blues and whites peppered with reminders of the prairie. Horses top the coffee table, which rests on a beautiful hide rug. Stacks of design books, which Patty has collected over the years, fill the shelves.
“Most of the books you see, outside of my personal library, are about design people that influence me, and every Christmas (my sons) give me a new book and I pore over them,” she says.
The intimate breakfast nook, also serving as a transition space, is flanked by a large picture window overlooking the long backyard.
“I can’t say that most ranches have a lot of charm to them, but there are times and parts of ranches that are fun,” says Patty of the 1950s throwback window.
Bold, blue Clarence House wallpaper surrounds the room creating a dramatic effect that is simple yet elegant. The hand-blocked David Hicks pattern is famously known as The Vase.
“It comes in many different color waves but since blue is so important — and my other favorite color is orange — I am trying to blend pops of orange,” says Patty. “But I love this little transition place.”
And a tipping of the hat to Patty’s Kansas roots is a metallic mirror that reminds her of a sunflower.
The clean, crisp living room welcomes visitors with a vibrant orange wall dressed with white shelving. Here, pieces of blue and white antiques dot the shelves along with books and mementos.
Nearby on a sofa table is a glass bowl etched with the phrase “Every Man a Wildcat.” The Kansas State University motto is a favorite of the Zenders and their alma mater.
The room is one of Patty’s greatest design achievements.
“It actually was a natural progression for me,” says Patty of her anthology of styles. “I had it in me all along but the homes I grew up in were very traditional, and I loved that, but it’s more with a twist, change it up just a little bit.”
With Day, they emptied the room and started over. White furniture creates an almost angelic feel, making the room calming and restful. Keeping with a natural theme, end tables and mirrors are cast with twig legs and a leaf frame. An Oriental bench covered in a silk polka dot pattern by Madeline Weinrib of New York joins the cast of pieces.
“I’ve always loved just the polka dot feel but yet with this really, lovely natural fiber,” says Patty.
The white brick fireplace and mantle plays host to the home’s most sentimental piece, a painting by Kansas artist Phil Epp.
“His iconic clouds in this piece — the clouds are Bob and these three horses are my sons and here we are in the Flint Hills again,” says Patty. “This piece spoke to me.”
Found at the Leopold Gallery, Patty knew instantly that it held significant meaning, but that it would also be the inspiration for her ranch redo.
“So really the entire room, the lightness in the blue and white, was really put together from this painting,” she says.
Reflecting for a moment, Patty silently confirms yet again that Bob’s presence is with her. Despite the immense change in her life, Patty’s home clearly became a canvas of solace worth sharing.
“I just love coming home, and I love having people come in to share my life.”
photos: Brynn Burns