A house with a view and privacy, too

Updated: 2014-02-09T03:19:39Z


The Kansas City Star

Cydney Millstein is Kansas City’s go-to source when it comes to historic buildings and issues of architectural preservation. But her own house, a contemporary ranch built by architect Kirk Gastinger on the city’s West Side, is brand new. Sixteen months ago Millstein moved in with her Airedale, Chi Chi, a 14-year-old Westminster champion that she rescued.

How did you end up in this area?

A decade ago, I did a project about Kansas City’s historic West Side and thought, “Maybe I could build a little house here.” I began looking for vacant lots and found a pair of them at 15th and Belleview.

You seem very happy here.

It’s really changed my life. Having grown up in a ranch house, this suits me. It’s 2,000 square feet with a full basement. The gate across the front makes it very private. I enjoy the skylights, and I have solar and European-style door-windows that open onto the front courtyard.

The bedroom has northern light, so I come out of my cave in the morning into bright light. There’s so much southern exposure, and the views are wonderful.

Who designed it?

My brother David Millstein spent seven hours on the footprint. It’s based on the golden mean, a ratio that is very pleasing to the Western eye. Kirk Gastinger provided the conceptual drawings, and Franken-Polli built the house.

It’s very organic, with no wasted space. The living room and kitchen are the same size; because of the slope of land, there’s a difference in elevation between the rooms. Each space has two steps.

Tell me about the way you’ve furnished the living room.

It’s all things I’ve accumulated. That Mitchell Gold couch can sleep two — foot to foot or head to head. It’s about 12 feet long. The artwork above it is by Allan McCollum. We worked together on a project at Grand Arts. The shapes are the counties that border the state line. The top is Missouri and the bottom is Kansas. As you go south they look like those black square abstractions by (early Russian modernist) Kasimir Malevich.

It all feels very unified.

The living room has a poured concrete floor; the floors in the rest of the rooms are grade B maple. I didn’t want monochromatic; I wanted life and character.

All of the cabinetry was made by David Polivka. It’s all hickory, and each room has different layers of stain. In the living room, two layers give it a bronzy, ashen cast. In the kitchen, there’s one layer, and it brings out the green of the hickory. In the utility room at the back, we just used naked hickory, and David was very attentive to the grain in the pieces he used.

You have a mantel but no fireplace.

The mantel is St. Mary’s limestone from St. Mary’s, Kansas. I love the idea of fire and the process of getting wood and bringing it into the house, so I’ve paired it with a wood-burning stove. It’s so efficient that the heat doesn’t come on, and it has a little soapstone shelf where I can reheat food. It takes the place of a TV in this room. I put herb stems in and it scents the whole house.

Your TV room is quite a surprise — everything is much softer.

I’ve had the rattan furniture with the floral cushions for a long time. Later I got the Heywood Wakefield coffee table to go with them. I found the poufs at They’re Moroccan hand-stitched leather. The abstraction above the couch is by Charles Sloan, and I have another abstraction in this room by Glenn Goldberg. The print above the red Eames chair by the window is by Akio Takamori.

Tell me about some of the items in the guest room.

That’s an Afghan kilim on the floor, and the table is the top of an old English trunk from the early 1800s mounted on a stand made by Polivka. I got the lamp from The shade is cork with mica. It’s so midcentury modern.

That’s a Design Within Reach “Flight Chair.” I was in Design Within Reach in Minnesota and sat on it, and it was so comfortable I bought it off the floor. My dad owned an Army surplus store and sold used airline seats, and through the years I had the experience of sitting on many different styles of airline seats.

The desk is by Lawrence furniture maker Will Orvedal. There’s no metal in it. Half of the furniture in my house is handmade. There’s a handmade cherry nightstand in the bedroom, and Polivka made the walnut bed. I love natural wood. I love polishing furniture.

I’d say the bathroom is the piece de resistance.

I put in a steam shower, and that diamond shaped tile in the center of the wall is my drishti (yoga gazing point). The corner cabinet in the bathroom is the first piece of furniture I bought as an adult. It’s a china cabinet sized for the Brookside house where I lived for eight years.

On exhibit

For the past four years, Millstein has been researching Kansas City’s old Pratt & Whitney plant in what is now the Bannister Federal Complex. Her findings and large photographs of the plant then and now are on view in the exhibit “Velocity of Change: The Evolution of Albert Kahn’s Pratt & Whitney Plant in Kansas City” at the Belger Arts Center, 2100 Walnut St. The show continues through May 3. For more information, call 816-474-3250 or go to

To reach Alice Thorson, call 816-234-4783 or send email to

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