You could say that designer Kelee Katillac’s apartment/work studio at 3800 Baltimore St. in midtown Kansas City is a chamber of yets — as in it’s urbane yet whimsical. Couture yet eclectic. Historical yet frothy and fizzy.
Its mix of traditional and modern furnishings set against a cotton candy palette inspired by gemstones gives it a distinctly continental feel.
In a city perceived by its design community as being traditionalist and conservative, this space stands out — so much so that Gestalten, a publisher and creative agency in Berlin, featured it in a book titled “Chamber of Curiosity: Apartment Design and the New Elegance.” Other featured interiors are in Rome, Barcelona, Hong Kong, London, Paris and Buenos Aires. The book, published last year, is currently out of print.
Katillac’s home/studio fits perfectly with what the book’s editors describe in the introduction as “a captivating selection of interiors from around the world that tell compelling stories of their owners’ unconventional personalities and life paths. Each page transports the reader into their eccentric, deeply personal and consistently fascinating spaces.”
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Or, put another way: “Today’s glamorous chambers of curiosity are to apartment design what the dandy is to fashion.”
Editors of the book called Katillac after seeing a 10-page spread of her home/studio in House Beautiful. Gestalten is known for its books on art, architecture, design, photography and typography.
“The Berlin aesthetic is known for being a point of view of art, design and style that is very cutting-edge and progressive,” Katillac says. “It looks back in time and forward, and combines the best of art and architecture with a modern take on things.”
Katillac and Steve Heiffus, her husband/business partner at Kelee Katillac Interior Design, bought the apartment in the building known as Baltimore Place about 10 years ago. Built in 1915, it was designed by Wight and Wight, designers of the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, and has a center staircase with iron railing and limestone floor. Its mezzanine has a grand Palladian window.
“When House Beautiful and other editors from New York come, they’re surprised, because it’s like a Paris or Upper East Side building,” Katillac says. “It’s a hidden treasure.”
Their space occupies half a floor and comprises 2,500 square feet, three bedrooms, three bathrooms, a maid’s quarter, foyer, large grand drawing room, dining room and kitchen.
“It has southern exposure with really beautiful light, which is why the images have so much ambiance. It gives it a still-life quality,” Katillac says.
Her designs, she says, are always influenced by history, literature, theater, pop culture and even music, then linked to colors that inspire, heal and motivate. It’s also important for her to honor a building’s history and architecture.
“It’s satisfying to the soul to make sure it’s stylistically and architecturally correct,” she says. “Then the juxtaposition of modern against the historic architectural background makes for a very exciting and sophisticated mix.”
Baltimore Place, a four-story building with 10 condominiums, was designed in a classical revival style, so everything is well-proportioned. Katillac’s apartment had its original wood floors, and the wood-burning fireplace and mantle were still intact.
Katillac based the apartment’s palette on gemstones. She began with blue chalcedony on the dining room walls because it relates to peace and meditation. Then to lend vitality and optimism she added a healthy dose of yellow, which she says repels negativity, and sprinkled in touches of rose quartz, a hue that runs over into the bright pink dining room, visually connecting the spaces.
“Rose quartz is about affection, feeling good in your space,” Katillac says. “Rose quartz silk upholstery refracts light and changes throughout the day.”
Katillac’s aim was to create a literary and cinematic feel with couture drapes and upholstery. The crystal pleats on the edge of the pink drapes, for instance, were painstakingly hand folded and lend a luxurious yet historic touch to the room. She and her assistant, Sherry Mirador, created the drapes by first making muslin versions, the way tailors and designers make gowns and suits, to get the fit just right. It took weeks to make each set, Katillac says.
“For the dining room, I was thinking the upstairs and downstairs of a Jane Austen setting or even of ‘Downton Abbey,’ where the simplicity of the kitchen is as attractive as the gilded dining room,” she said. “But you do need masculinity to ground it, and the black, the wood and the coarse linen bring that masculine weight. Mr. Darcy would feel comfortable, because there is enough counterpoint to make everyone comfortable.”
When it came to the master bedroom, Katillac went with a more 20th-century aesthetic. She loves grand hotels and thinks bedrooms should be sexy.
“Sophia Loren wore this incredible empire-waist gown to Cannes in the ’60s with a broach at her waist,” Katillac says. “That was the inspiration for the curtains in the master bedroom. I was thinking Italy in this room, but seen through a 1950s or ’60s lens. ”
Wood Wallcovering Inc. of Lee’s Summit upholstered the bedroom walls in aqua fabric.
“Each wood piece that frames the wall had to be hand cut and put in a certain place, because the frame engages with the fabric,” she says. “It’s like a complicated intricate puzzle.”
As for the color, she says aquamarine is all about being comfortable with yourself, being in the flow. And by keeping things tone on tone, she was able to have a lot of detail without the room looking too busy or complicated.
The whites, she adds, keep everything fresh and modern, as do the shades of pale gray.
“I do neutral modern rooms and love them. They’re serene and livable,” Katillac says. “But personally, for me, color is inspirational and an expression of us.”