House + Home Q+A

KEM Studio reimagines the everyday

Updated: 2013-09-08T01:21:43Z

By ALICE THORSON

The Kansas City Star

Kansas City’s younger generation of architects includes KEM Studio, founded in 2004 by principals Jon Taylor, Brad Satterwhite and Jonathon Kemnitzer. The firm is a successor to Kemnitzer Design, run by Kemnitzer’s father, Ron Kemnitzer, for more than 20 years.

KEM is based in the West Bottoms, in the renovated Daily Drovers Telegram Building, 1505 Genessee St., owned by the Haw family.

Featuring a pool table and an espresso machine, “The space is as wide open as we could make it,” Taylor said. An original leg brace made by noted modern designers Charles and Ray Eames under a contract with the U.S. Army is mounted on the wall of a meeting room.

“Studies for that brace led to their molded plywood chairs,” Taylor explained.

It’s a fitting emblem for KEM, which specializes in industrial design as well as architecture.

You started in midtown. How did you end up in the West Bottoms?

The energy that Bill Haw Jr. and Bill Haw Sr. have about this area is really contagious, and we were also inspired by the pioneering spirit of John O’Brien in moving his Dolphin gallery here. We like that the area is authentic and that it’s grown organically. There’s an entrepreneurial feeling: People are looking to make things happen. It’s a little ecosystem of creative people, and there’s a real sense of community.

What kinds of projects have you done?

Our architecture projects include Kemper at the Crossroads, and we collaborated with O’Brien on the Dolphin gallery’s West Bottoms space (now Haw Contemporary).

Jon (Taylor) was with Gastinger Walker Harden architects when they designed the Kansas City Art Institute’s addition to the Irving Building and the new Dodge Painting Building. He’s the board president of the Charlotte Street Foundation. Brad is on the board of the Studios Inc.

Right now, we have several residential projects, both single and multifamily. We’re doing 29 Gillham, a 22-unit apartment building, with developer John Hoffman and his son-in-law Lance Carlton.

In the lot just south of our studio, we’re designing Stockyards Place with FS&L Architects for the Haws. It will have 10 high-end apartments and commercial and retail on the first floor. It will be entirely made of precast concrete and also incorporate Corten steel and natural wood, with storefront glazing on the retail level.

The apartment units cantilever over the entry to the commercial spaces creating a covered walkway, and the second-floor units will have balconies overlooking Genessee. East-side balconies on the third story will look to downtown.

Tell me about some of your industrial designs.

We designed a kayaking helmet for a company called Shred Ready. The clip doubles as a bottle opener. Brad purchased a snow helmet from Shred Ready that didn’t fit, so he called the company and met the owner, who grew up in Topeka. We developed a relationship, and he asked us to design a product.

What’s the story behind the Skate Bench?

That was inspired when we were officing in Westport and stopped in at the skate shop in the basement of Loma Vista Hardware. We were drawn to the skateboard form. It reminded us of Eames, and we liked the graphics. We started brainstorming about using the deck of a skateboard for a stool. We designed our frame to fit the existing holes for the wheel assembly, so that skaters would have the option of utilizing their old skateboards as a seat on our frame. Hammerpress did four graphics for us.

The bench wasn’t feasible to mass produce, so we launched it on Kickstarter in 2011 to raise the funds and met our $15,000 goal in 30 days. Then the Tony Hawk Foundation in California asked us to donate two of the benches to a benefit to raise funds for skate parks in low-income areas. The Skate Bench became the first product in our Better Design, Better Living line.

What are some of your other furniture pieces?

For our Lounge No. 1 chair, we were trying to create a clean form and make it very lightweight. It has an aluminum frame and is upholstered in white leather with custom stitching.

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

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