Michelle Van Trump was having a hard time accepting that her youngest child was going off to college. So she bought a big old crumbling house in the downtown Quality Hill area and spent the next 18 months restoring it.
“It’s cheaper than therapy,” she joked one afternoon while giving a tour. “I think this is what saved me from going into a rubber room.”
The three-story, Queen Anne-style home was built in 1887 and sits on a 200-foot-high bluff in the downtown neighborhood, overlooking the confluence of the Missouri and Kansas rivers and the West Bottoms. Surrounded mostly by modern condominiums and office buildings, it is among only a handful of original buildings to survive in Quality Hill, which is the oldest residential area in the metropolitan area to remain continuously inhabited.
Officially founded in 1857, Quality Hill was considered the most fashionable and expensive neighborhood in Kansas City until a short time after World War I.
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Van Trump, a real estate agent with the Boveri Realty Group, and her husband, Kevin Van Trump, are only the third owners of their Quality Hill home, which was built by David Slater, a tailor from Ireland and a prominent early citizen of Kansas City. Slater built the home and its carriage house using brick and sandstone for the main structures and wood and terracotta for the trim. The exterior walls of the main home are three-bricks thick.
The electricity had been turned off after the second owner moved out, causing pipes to burst and flood the first floor of the main house and the carriage house. The Van Trumps took the rooms down to their studs, though they were careful to preserve as much of the finer woodwork as possible, including three sets of 10-foot-tall pocket doors and two fireplace mantels and tile surrounds.
The second owner was using the first floor as office space, so the Van Trumps decided to do the same. Several staff members work on The Van Trump Report, an investment and marketing advice website, in the first-floor rooms. The second and third floor as well as the carriage house have been turned into apartments.
Michelle thinks the two-story, one-bedroom, 1.5 bath carriage house behind the main home originally served as servants’ quarters. Now it feels like a New York City loft thanks to the open floor plan on the first floor and exposed ductwork that contrasts nicely against a black tin ceiling and antique crystal chandeliers.
The first floor of the main house has four rooms that originally served as a dining room, parlor, kitchen and den. Three of those rooms are intact, and the fourth has been converted into office space, a small partial kitchen and a powder room.
The upper floors comprise a pair of two-story apartments, each with two entrances: one at the top of the indoor staircase and another at the rear of the home via a deck. The Van Trumps installed a new roof, tuck-pointed the brick and created a new walkway of cobblestones.
The Slater home is the latest and by far largest in a long line of homes that the Van Trumps have renovated or restored to flip or lease. Michelle’s goal was to retain the old soul of the spaces inside the Slater home while updating them with upscale, modern amenities.
She scoured flea markets, estate sales, antique and architectural remnant shops in seven states for many of the home’s antique features, including a solid brass ancient goddess sculpture to top the staircase newel in the foyer and ornate metal antique fireplace covers, which she integrated into the apartments’ backsplashes.
She has replicated, as best she could, the original trim in the home, going so far as to find antique rosette accents and installing simpler moldings in rooms where servants worked or slept, as was customary when the home was built.
The apartments are outfitted with solid wood doors, antique crystal chandeliers and sconces as well as modern materials such as marble tile and countertops in the kitchens and bathrooms and top-of-the-line appliances. She also preserved as many stained-glass windows as she could.
Michelle became so enamored with designing and buying antiques for the Slater home that she is opening a design boutique in the Crossroads Arts District called Michelle’s Home Gallery.
It will open soon, offering a mix of antique items such as restored crystal chandeliers and fireplace covers, along with modern items and one-of-a-kind art pieces that she says will serve as focal points for different types of rooms, such as man caves, powder rooms, a dining room or office.
“Items that you won’t go to your neighbors and see,” she says.
She’ll also provide design services to create unique office and home interiors.
LeAnn Dahl, a fashion and interior designer, recently moved into the larger second-floor apartment in the main house with her husband and two goldendoodles.
“I knew as soon as I saw photos of this place on the website, I knew it was meant to be. Also, the original owner (Slater) was a garmento!” says Dahl, referring to her and Slater’s careers making clothes.
Dahl believes in positive and negative energy in spaces and says she felt warm fuzzy vibes when she walked into the apartment for the first time. She pointed to a stained-glass transom above a large picture window in the living room.
“She could have taken that out and had a new modern window put in, but she didn’t do that,” says Dahl, noting that the prisms “shoot little rainbows all over the room” when the sun hits them at certain times of the day.
And she doesn’t mind one bit that Michelle is still on the search for a pair of antique pocket doors for her apartment.
“I think a really great project is never done,” Dahl says. “I always have a love affair with homes when I continually work on them and then when I’m done, I’m done. It’s time to move on. If we live here forever and she never gets this finished, I’m OK with that.”