Houseguest

Rod Parks owns Retro Inferno and the octagonal Bruce Goff house

Updated: 2013-04-28T01:46:52Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Rod Parks got a blast of national attention last month when he and his Bruce Goff house in Crestwood were featured in a color spread in the New York Times. Locally, Parks is well known for his Retro Inferno modern furniture store and as patron of arts organizations including the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, the Unicorn Theatre and Owen/Cox Dance Group. Parks has held many functions in his one-of-a-kind dwelling, an octagonal floor plan house embodying the eccentric modern architect’s unique sense of style.

Three and a half years ago Parks bought the Goff house, built in 1966 by the Nicol family, from its second owners, Mark Sappington and David McGee.

“I’m still getting to know it,” he said.

Its best known feature, after the unusual floor plan, is the living room, an 8-sided carpeted conversation pit surrounding a circular fountain, made from the cut-off end of a boiler tank and lit by a gas ring in the center. Mirrored strands lead up to a central skylight and the Russian Sputnik that hangs below it.

Tell me about the house.

It’s all triangles, hexagons and octagons, including the windows and the shingles. It has eight rooms around the perimeter and they’re all eight-sided. I have about 4,200 square feet of living space. Every room has a skylight with a decorative object above it. The one above the fountain is an actual Sputnik. It has the compartments for the electronics and everything. This is one that wasn’t sent into space.

I guess it’s not surprising that you have great furniture.

I love having cool stuff around. If you’re going to have a chair, why not have it be a piece of sculpture? I sought out the Erwine and Estelle Laverne chairs. Nicol had four in the house originally, and I always wanted to put the chairs back. The Lavernes were the first people to do an acrylic chair. It was designed in 1959 and is called the “Lily” chair. Goff designed that octagonal table. It’s a cutout piece from the door on an acrylic base. He also designed the table and stools in the kitchen. The dining room has the original Gio Ponti chairs.

And you have lots of art.

I’m not an intense art collector, but I always have my eye out. It’s not like I have a lot of super high-end art. My previous house was very gallery-like, with white walls and hardwood floors, and I could put almost anything in it. This house rejected a lot of art, including a cool 3-D Pop Art piece I had. I used to be a notorious overdecorator.

But you seem to have found many artworks that work well in here

The black and white abstractions are by Randy Twaddle from Houston. The glass sculpture is by Stephan Cox from Wisconsin. The previous owners had a piece of his, and I wanted one so I got hold of the artist. Now I’m kind of a dealer for him.

I got the Alice Aycock drawing and the Roxy Paine “Scumak” from Sean Kelley, who also sold me the Jeff Zimmerman glass works that look like horns.

I see quite a few pieces by Kansas City artists.

I saw the big Archie Scott Gobber painting at Dolphin. I have a Nicole Mauser abstraction, a photograph by Art Miller, a Jessica Kincaid bead piece and a work by Anne Pearce. The helmets are by Jesse Small, and the pots are by Jim Leedy.

And the outdoor sculptures?

The big red one is a remnant of an important Bruce Goff house. It was the framework for a pool in the middle of a room from his Shin’en Kan house in Bartlesville, Okla. I bought the piece from a guy on E-bay after the house burned. The “World” sculpture out front is by John Brommel from Iowa. Almost all the outdoor pieces are by Brommel and James Bearden, also based in Iowa.

I’m intrigued by those abstractions that look like pin-up girls.

Those are by Stewart Clare. I have 80 pieces — the majority of his life’s work — that I bought from the family 10 years after he died. I have about a dozen of them up in the house.

Clare was a color theorist and teacher. Most of his artworks were pretty angular and geometric, but he did some organic forms, and some of those have a sexual vibe. He really studied the female form.

His studio in Riverside was like a time capsule. The work area looked like he had just gotten up and walked away, and there were these wooden crates of cut-up stuff — different colors of yarn, UPC labels, bottle caps — in different glass jars. It was really a picture of a guy that was just obsessed. I have at least 10 crates of this stuff.

I also got a lot of books that he used as reference, including books on the female form. The funniest one was “Naked Yoga,” of naked women doing yoga. I also have two hand-written volumes he wrote on color theory.

How did the New York Times piece come about?

Last summer Ingrid Spencer saw the house. She organizes Modern Home Tours and was an editor at Architectural Record. She suggested to her friend Sarah Amelar, another former editor at Architectural Record, that she pitch it to the Times.

The view is quite colorful from the living room: you have a pink music room, a green bedroom, a purple bedroom...

I’ve kept original colors, but the second owners changed all the carpet to a medium gray. The original carpet was electric lime green, and it continued onto the 8-sided sofa that surrounds the pit. The sofa cushions were also green carpet. They were later upholstered in fabric. The kitchen has the original tile, and Goff designed the table and stools.

Goff was also a believer in functional design?

He did a lot of really smart stuff, including two-sided cabinets in the kitchen where he extended the cabinet doors to cover the fluorescents that illumine the counter tops. All the rooms have accordion doors to close off the spaces. He put dressers in the closets and created lots of pullouts, including baking pan drawers in one of the bedrooms. In the basement he put in a central VAC system and a laundry room.

There’s quite a lot of space down there.

There’s a rec room with a bar, and I’ve turned a room designed as Betty Nicol’s sewing room into a workout room. I use it as a cloakroom when I have parties.

Do you think you’ll get tired of living here?

I’ve been here three years. I just recently realized how much I’m catching up to the house. I thought I had a grasp on his genius. Like any good art, it gets better all the time, and you get more out of it all the time. I wanted the experience of living here. It exceeds my expectations on a continuous basis.

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to athorson@kcstar.com.

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