Never judge a home by its exterior. If that’s not a saying, three homes in the Crossroads district say that it should be.
Over the past 20 years, artists and art lovers have been developing the Crossroads, one dilapidated building at a time, into an urban haven. As writer Karla Deel puts it, “The energy here is like you can be who you are and do what you want; it’s like the land of entrepreneurs.”
Deel, editor of Squeeze Box City, and her husband, artist Sterling Witt, bought a 4,650-square-foot mid-century office space in the Crossroads four years ago. The exterior isn’t much to look at — and that’s after they painted the cinderblock and spruced up the surrounding parking lots and alleys — but the inside is enviable.
The couple had been searching for a building to convert to a live-work space for years. Witt says that when they found it, “it was a mess. It had drop-down ceilings and little cubicles everywhere.”
Deel adds, “You could literally see the pathway that the workers walked for all the decades they were here — like this little dirty pathway on the carpet.”
Not a trace of the daily grind remains. With the help of their contractor at Linn Construction, the ceilings are now 15 feet high. Five large skylights stream the sunlight across gleaming concrete floors stained a brilliant turquoise.
When the couple began the rehab — which took three years rather than their estimated eight months — they decided to use mostly found construction materials, upcycling items like eight 20-foot rough-cut Douglas fir beams from an old sporting goods store to create bookshelves, an island for the kitchen sink and floor-to-ceiling accents.
Deel and Witt gathered their bathroom tiles in Mexico and backpacked them home. Their 150-year-old soapstone kitchen sink was ripped from a West Plaza house just before its demolition.
But one of Deel’s favorite pieces is the dark wood bar rumored to have been in the Olathe hunting lodge of 1930s political boss Tom Pendergast.
Though they describe the floor-to-roof remodel as “beyond challenging,” they love the space and think of it as belonging to Kansas City — Deel says they’re just the caretakers for the time being.
A few doors down, Aaron and Alexandria Laue had a similar vision of urban bliss. A year and a half ago they purchased a 12,000-square-foot rubber factory.
Aaron Laue, owner of Ministry Machine, a film and software company, says he’d always wanted to live in a loft or industrial space and loves his view of the city: Sprint Center, The Star and the tip of the Power and Light building.
Unlike Deel and Witt’s place, 80 percent of the third floor — the Laues’ living space — had already been finished by artists who lived in the building for 15 years. The remaining 20 percent and the two unfinished lower floors have presented its share of challenges.
A flooring company is laying commercial-grade laminate in a large, open space Alexandria Laue says will be their utility area — also the location of one of the home’s only two windowed walls.
The other windowed wall faces west in the open living and dining area — that view Laue is so fond of. A crystal and metal orb chandelier hangs from the shiny corrugated metal ceiling over a wagon-wheel style dining table salvaged from a Springfield lamp company.
The kitchen and three bedrooms open into the hall that connects the two windowed rooms. Their baby’s playroom and nursery are across the hall from each other and feature large matching internal windows that face into the utility area — Laue installed one of the windows, himself.
Around the corner from the Laues’ home is Kevin and Denise McGraw’s 6,000-square-foot converted firehouse.
The McGraws bought Fire Station 8 in 2000. Kevin McGraw, an artist and real estate agent, says 17 years ago the Crossroads was “still tumbleweed city.”
A new firehouse was built in 1951, putting No. 8 out of commission. A tire center took its place for a while, but by the time the McGraws found it, a “For Sale” sign was faded and torn.
Kevin McGraw says, “I’d always wanted a building so I could have a studio. A big space where I didn’t have to worry about paint smells or getting crap on the floor. This building fit.”
He has since reimagined every inch of the place, from adding walls to building a deck with a working kitchen. The only thing he hired out was the wiring.
At one time the couple was concerned the location might pose difficulties for raising their 12-year-old daughter. But they’ve since found plenty of green spaces, and sometimes play volleyball and soccer in the street.
The McGraws use some of their space as a gallery for young artists who might not be able to show at bigger venues. They call it “Gallery No. 8.” The Planned Industrial Expansion Authority tax abatement encourages using extra space for the arts, an incentive that has molded the Crossroads into a thriving arts district, according to McGraw.
Each of the other couples also plans on using a portion of their homes for business: Deel and Witt will have a 2,000-square-foot mixed-use event space, and the Laues will offer office rental space.