When Alan Antin and Terry Cracraft-Antin decided to change their suburban lifestyle after their grown children moved out, they began looking at condos in downtown Kansas City for a number of reasons: less yard work and exterior maintenance, plus walkability to restaurants and shops.
So when Alan approached his wife about 6,000 square feet of raw space on the 35th floor of 909 Walnut, Terry thought he was going in the wrong direction, not the typical downsizing most empty-nesters do.
“It wasn’t exactly what I had in mind,” she recalls.
But Alan convinced her of the penthouse’s one-of-a-kind opportunity, so they embarked on a year and a half of contract negotiations plus another two years spent turning the concrete shell into a four-level penthouse.
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“We had to buy it all, not just a portion of it,” Terry recalls. “There was a rickety staircase going up; it involved a lot of engineering. Not everyone would want to tackle that.”
A rare find
A penthouse is defined as a residence on the top of a building. This home should have unobstructed views, a big floor plan and upgraded amenities. Real estate agent Andrew Mall says there are dozens of buildings in town that have a “penthouse level” that creates a variety of styles, sizes and price ranges.
Architecturally speaking, a penthouse is an individual structure set back from the walls of a building, and with rooftop access. A few local buyers have built penthouses atop existing buildings, including The View, Union Carbide and Freighthouse Flats.
Real estate agent Christina Boveri says it’s rare to find a true penthouse. She estimates there are 40 in all of Kansas City.
A bird’s-eye view
The Antins can enjoy glorious sunrises and sunsets, and they can spot a storm coming from miles away.
“Watching the weather is cool but intimidating; lightning happens 360 degrees here,” Terry says.
They also have prime seating for Fourth of July fireworks and the air show at the downtown airport. “We get to be a part of everything without leaving the house,” Terry says.
Michael and Ginger Frost get the same benefit in another happening area of the city: the Country Club Plaza. The couple’s 21st-floor perch at The Sulgrave Regency overlooks an always-bustling street. For them, the penthouse is a getaway from their Mission Hills home. On Thanksgiving, it’s the best position for watching the holiday lights turn on.
A high perch also helps penthouse owners stay above the fray. During the Royals World Series Championship parade, when hundreds of thousands of peoplefilled downtown’s streets, the Antins were able to watch the chaos from their window.
Those who can afford the top can afford top-notch interior design. That can mean swanky and modern or warm and comfortable.
The Frosts’ Plaza penthouse has undergone renovations to raise the ceiling and create an efficient floor plan for entertaining. The couple added marble floors, mirrored vanities and thick, decorative moldings. The furnishings mix the couple’s tastes: his is contemporary; hers is classical. The kitchen is fully equipped for a feast, and a large bar handily serves a crowd. There are two bedrooms in case a party lasts late into the night.
The Antins’ penthouse, their full-time residence, is homey, full of elegant furnishings with a hint of Asian-inspired decor.
“I’ve always loved decorating, but not only was this a huge project, the first floor looked like a bowling alley. I felt frozen in place,” Terry says.
Prices vary by size and finishes, but the average penthouse in Kansas City costs $300 per square foot, says Boveri, adding that “if they’re spending that kind of money, they want it to be to their liking.”
Working with interior designer Karen Marcus, the Antins visually divided the long and narrow open space with rugs and different seating areas that makes each space feel like its own while being a part of a whole. The living room, dining room and kitchen line up in single file, with Alan’s home office behind doors at one end.
Terry thinks previous lookers passed on this penthouse because of the lack of windows on the second floor, a factor the Antins used to their benefit, creating sanctuary for a master suite and a pitch black theater room. A light well in the center of this floor allows for natural light and offers access to the rooftop terrace via a spiral staircase.
Third-floor guest rooms are tucked into the building’s crowning patinated green tower, giving them a nook-and-cranny feel. Peering out the windows offers side views of the carved architectural edifice. Each room, outfitted with a built-in bed, dresser and bathroom, feels straight out of a high-end hotel.
“We have no trouble getting the kids to come home,” Terry says.
A party place
The first penthouse was built in the 1920s for publishing magnate Conde Nast, known for lavish entertaining and a high-profile guest list. Kansas City isn’t quite the Roaring ’20s in New York, but a penthouse party is still a hot ticket.
The Antins entertain quite a bit, from charity events to small gatherings of friends, most of whom are willing to make the trek in from out south. “All our suburban friends get a kick out of coming down here,” Terry says.
Their fourth-floor pool room fits inside the turret of one of the building’s iconic towers, featuring glass walls and a soaring ceiling that envelopes them in a personal skyline. “It’s a view you can’t buy anywhere else,” Terry says.
The Frosts use their penthouse mostly for family gatherings and Ginger’s bridge parties, plus the occasional benefactor party. Ginger also uses the penthouse to hide away and do paperwork.
Location, location, location
Ginger and Michael Frost regularly eat and shop outside their front door, although Ginger laments the loss of some of her favorite places, such as Halls, that have closed or moved away from the Plaza.
A downtown revitalization drew the Antins, who gallery hop on First Fridays and visit farmers at the City Market. Terry is a regular at Cosentino’s and walks to her CVS.
“We’ll even walk to the Bristol if I’m not wearing too cute of shoes,” Terry says.
She’s looking forward to the arrival of the street car that will carry her to all her favorite places. “It will be a seminal thing for downtown,” she adds.
Lock it and leave it
A hallmark of penthouse living is an easy, lock-and-leave lifestyle, often with a concierge to fulfill any need while you’re away: park the car, take out the trash, gather the dry cleaning or feed the dog.
The Antins have a private elevator opened by key fob that rockets them to their own private floor.
The time gained from less maintenance can be spent elsewhere. Alan builds furniture in the building’s woodworking shop, while Terry cooks and sews.
Living 35 stories up has required minor adjustments, but it’s been an experience the Antins are thankful for.
“I didn’t foresee this 15 years ago, but it’s really opened up our eyes to a new life, and we’ve never regretted it,” Terry says.