Finding a modern home in Kansas City is not easy. Luke Owen discovered as much when he was looking for one for his family. So the design/build business owner developed an entire community dedicated to the style. It’s called Urban North, located north of Missouri 152 and just off North Oak Trafficway.
“Modern houses in older neighborhoods tend to be polarizing and controversial, but if you have a whole neighborhood of modern houses, everyone fits in,” Owen says.
In August 2015, he broke ground on the first of what will be 24 modern homes. With it now almost half complete, the neighborhood is starting to form an identity.
DRAW Architecture + Urban Design designed five floor plans for the subdivision. Each house is different, with the exterior architectural style varying from riffs on midcentury modern to farmhouse to industrial, but the feel driving down the street is cohesive.
Most notably, it’s not beige. The houses are painted in grays and blues with pops of red, yellow, chartreuse and turquoise.
The houses range from 2,000 to 2,800 square feet of living space, not including finished basements. Natural materials such as stone, steel and wood make the spaces appealing and comfortable.
“Modern tends to have connotations of being harsh,” says Owen’s business development director, Charielle Sowers. “But you can soften it with certain materials. An open floor plan and lighting also can change the feel of it dramatically.”
The community has received praise from visitors and passersby who’ve never seen modern housing.
“Even if the architectural style doesn’t appeal to everyone, most everyone realizes it’s done well,” Owen says. “People tell me they are surprised by how different the houses are and how much they like them.”
Urban North drew Greg Locker and Nate Martinez from their downtown loft one Sunday after they saw an ad on Facebook announcing the development. They drove up to check it out. After two more weekends of checking it out, they realized they were more serious about building new than buying a Waldo fixer-upper as they had envisioned.
Locker was hesitant about going modern at first. “I thought that it meant everything would be stark white with weird sculptures in the corners,” he recalls.
He found the process fun once he realized they could build what they wanted. Inspired by modern homes in Seattle, they decided on a rustic-contemporary aesthetic, featuring warm woods inside and out, exposed metal and Edison-style lightbulbs.
“It has a really cool woodsy feel but also beachy colors like teal,” Martinez describes.
One of the drivers for the couple choosing the community was the green aspect. “We really liked the rain barrels and how airtight the homes are built; that’s something we couldn’t find in homes built in the ’50s or ’60s,” Martinez says.
Staci and Brandon Porras and their three children were among the very first families to move into the neighborhood. They were living three blocks away and heard about the concept for Urban North from Owen, who attends the same church.
“My husband is an artist at Hallmark and I manage a design team at Cerner, and we’re really interested in design,” Staci says. “So when Luke mentioned building a community like that, it really appealed to us because it’s a design we really like.”
Nine homes have been completed, three are under construction, and it’s already a close-knit neighborhood.
“We meet regularly,” Staci says. “We do bonfires together and last year did a Halloween get-together. And any neighbor that’s in the process of building, we invite them too. I just met new neighbors that moved in, and they mentioned that we all have something in common because we all like modern design.
“We have couples with no children, older couples with grandchildren and couples with children. So there’s a big variety, which is nice too.”
Beyond the differences in style, Urban North’s homes function on a higher level than most others. Automation packages make residents’ lives simpler and safer with remote access to their homes’ security, lighting and sound systems. The insulation package makes the homes quieter and airtight, while fresh air exchangers keep air quality high.
The windows are solar-tinted, low-e, high-performers. Five-hundred-gallon rain barrels run the lawn sprinkler systems, while drought-tolerant plants require less water. And the homes are wired for future solar panel installation.
It was important to Owen to build sustainably, not just for energy efficiency but also for longevity. The homes’ average cost is $375,000 to $435,000.
Customers can hire Owen Homes to build a home of their own design in Urban North, but it will cost $12,000 to $15,000 more to design the new floor plan, complete the engineering and create new construction and LEED/Energy Star documents.
“Product durability and lifespan go into it,” he says.
That speaks to the type of buyers moving to Urban North. “Almost everyone planned their homes with the intent to stay here a substantial amount of time, which changes the way you build a house,” Owen says.
Owen finally found the modern house he was looking for — in the community he created from scratch. A true believer in his product, Owen understands the desire for something different from the current offerings.
“There’s a growing segment of buyers who see an opportunity here for modern houses. I believe we are fulfilling an unmet part of the market who wants that style,” he says.
For more information on Urban North, visit refinedkc.com.
Cynthia Billhartz Gregorian contributed to this article.