Building a New Home on the Westside Gets Personal

In the living area, an Art Deco English mahogany armoire anchors one wall. The vintage wood-framed sofa, an estate sale find, has been recovered and repainted many times. Flowers from The Little Flower Shop. Photograph over mantel is by Tom Parish. Photos by Aaron Leimkuehler

Olathe, Prairie Village, Hyde Park (twice), Sunset Hill, Country Club District, Downtown, Crossroads, Fairway, Roanoke, Kansas City, KS, and now the Westside—all neighborhoods and towns I’ve lived in and around Kansas City. Although I grew up in Iowa, I’m nothing if not local. In every one of those homes, I did some sort of renovation. Sometimes a lot (my husband and I lived in a garage for six months while we renovated the Sunset Hill house); sometimes a little (a coat of paint will do wonders for even the worst room).

All those renovations left me with a taste for something new. As in a new-build. What would it be like to design a house around how we live instead of trying to fit how we live into a house?

So, dear reader, we did.

A collection of onyx is displayed in the foyer.
Vintage rugs from The Knotty Rug line the hallway; wrought-iron staircase designed by Asheer Akram
Max and Major pose on the one piece of furniture they’re allowed to sit on. The antique French pearwood table is from Steve Nuss Ltd. Large antique Chinese jar is from Christopher Filley Antiques.


When people ask me what it’s like to design and build a new house, my go-to line is that it’s a lot like giving birth: miserable pain that you happily forget once it’s all over. Now, I have never given birth, but I can verify the painful contractions I felt when the hardwood floor was delivered, and it was not at all what I was expecting when I selected it from a 1-foot by 2-foot sample. It’s grown on me, thankfully.

We started with finding the perfect lot. We both knew we wanted either a view or a wooded lot in our much-loved Roanoke neighborhood. The view won.

The first thing I learned is that you can’t have everything you want. My dream house in my head has always been U-shaped, with rooms opening onto a central courtyard. Our Westside lot had a fabulous Downtown/Crossroads/Union Station view, but it was a slender 50-feet-wide. So I began sketching a floor plan that would work on our lot, oriented toward the view, and still fit our life. The finished house remarkably could be dropped into that very first rough draft, down to the little side courtyard for our dogs.

A view of the great room. The vintage Moroccan rug-draped table separates the casual space from the more formal space.
A live-edge counter crafted by Matt Castillega holds a granite vessel sink in the powder room. Phillip Jeffries “Enchanted Woods” wallcovering available through designers from KDR Showrooms.

Now I’m no fool; we hired an architect. He’s a long-time friend who was happy (I think) to work with my vision. And when it came to details like the master bath and closet layout, he skillfully designed something to fit in the box I labeled “master bath and closet here.”

In the library, the Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa faces the TV.  Wrought-iron coffee table is an estate-sale find. Large gray abstract drawing is by Buffy Rath Quegg. What you don’t see is an entire wall of bookshelves stuffed to the brim with books.
Antique fern prints from Christopher Filley Antiques are displayed over a vintage console that serves as a bar.
Custom kitchen cabinetry is from Portfolio Kitchen & Home. The Bertazzoni range holds pride of place. Integrated GE Monogram refrigerator from Factory Direct Appliance. Dining table and light pendant from Restoration Hardware.
Brass library sconces from Barbara Cosgrove Lighting are centered over the stainless-steel sink.
Black-and-white ticking covers a settee. Cabinets display years of estate-sale vintage-silver finds. The tulipiere atop the cabinet is from Pryde’s Kitchen and Necessities.
Antique Louis XV bergere is upholstered in vintage African mud cloth from Christopher Filley Antiques. Paper collages by A. Cort Sinnes.

People are sometimes surprised to find that I designed the house from the inside out. The floor plan was fashioned around furniture we already had, so every sofa, chair, table, armoire, and credenza had to be measured to the inch. Art received the same treatment. I tucked in-floor outlets under chairs and sofas, so lamps could float in the space. I made sure we had the perfect space for everything we owned (and a couple of new pieces).

Our budget was tight, but everything we really wanted was right there on the plans, including the small “martini pool” in the back courtyard. (In my case you might call it a “white-wine pool.”)

In the master bedroom, a John Robshaw coverlet from Terrasi Living and Scandia Down adorns the Room & Board stainless-steel bed. Flowers are from The Little Flower Shop.

We wanted a small house (under 2,000 square feet) that lived big, and I think we succeeded. The great room toward the view is the living, dining, and kitchen, with a small pantry just to one side. A mudroom connects the garage and that previously mentioned doggie courtyard. The library—where we live most of the time because besides all our books it also holds the TV—is a small, cozy, dark chocolatey-brown room. Our master bedroom is the exact same size as our Roanoke bedroom because the size worked so well. The main hall provides a dramatic enough entrance, and the guest bedroom and bath are tucked upstairs.

Imagine our excitement, when after months of delays, they finally began digging the basement in November of 2015. That first day I got a call from the contractor: the ground was so porous that they needed to install 36 piers to support the house. Well, there went the pool.

The antique canopy bed in the guest bedroom is a family heirloom.
The vintage tub in the guest bath is sited for the perfect downtown view.
Brass-and-glass sconces in the master bathroom are from Barbara Cosgrove Lighting. Teak stool is from Wisteria.

Even with all the setbacks and upsets, we love living on the hill. At night as we’re heading to bed and all the lights are off, the view from the great room still thrills.

But by now I know better than to say it’s our forever house.

The loggia off the great room is oriented to the downtown view.
Abutting the driveway is a stone wall that’s original to the 1800s house that once stood there.

The It List:

Architect: Craig Shaw,

Contractor: Design Build Services,

Floral Design: The Little Flower Shop,

Furniture Maker: Castilleja Furniture | Objects,

Kitchen Cabinetry: Portfolio Kitchen & Home,

Landscape Design: Arcadian Design,

Lighting: Barbara Cosgrove Lighting,

Rugs: Knotty Rug Co.,

Wallcovering: KDR Designer Showrooms,

Windows and Doors: Kansas City Building Supply,

Wrought Iron Fabricator: Kansas City Metalworks,


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