Jeff and Trina LeRiche knew they were living in their family’s perfect home. The neighborhood is great for kids. They loved the neighbors. There was no way they wanted to move, but as the kids grew, they realized their living room and kitchen needed to be a bit more family-friendly.
The LeRiches’ story might not seem different from that of many families facing a renovation challenge, except that their house is a 110-year-old three-story brick and stone Colonial Revival home in the Roanoke neighborhood. It is the kind of house people drive by and dream about.
The LeRiches know, because they did for several years before they found it.
“We kind of stalked the neighborhood. We loved the neighborhood, but it’s hard to find a house here. They don’t go up for sale very often, and if they do they are often purchased internally within the neighborhood because people want to stay here,” Trina LeRiche said.
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Finally, the house on Madison near 36th Street went up for sale by owner in 2004. According to a neighborhood historian, the home was constructed in 1906 as a wedding gift for Sophronia Muehlebach Buchholz and her husband.
She was the daughter of George Muehlebach, who had owned a brewery bearing his name and became the namesake of the Muehlebach Hotel, which was built with funds from his estate. Sophronia’s brother lived next door. Her husband, William Buchholz, was active in politics and was prosecuting attorney for Jackson County.
The home was sold to the owner of Stackhouse Meat Co. in 1963 after Sophronia Buchholz died. In 1969, Joseph and Patricia Shaughnessy, owners of Olde Theatre Architectural Salvage Co. bought it. The LeRiches purchased it 10 years later.
When the LeRiches moved in, the leaded glass doors and windows were intact downstairs. Dark natural woodwork throughout the first floor was in beautiful condition. The original cabinetry in the former music room and an original canvas mural in the dining room all had been kept with great care.
“The running joke for us is that we’re always looking for the Thomas Hart Benton signature on the mural,” Jeff LeRiche said. The house is just a few blocks away from Benton’s home.
The LeRiches did some minor upstairs renovations at that time, adding closet space and improving bathrooms. It took a while before they decided they were ready for the first-floor project.
“You have to live in a place for a while before you know what you want,” Jeff said.
A more modern kitchen
The kitchen was the problem. It had poor access and was separated by a 110-year-old brick wall from the family room where they spent much of their time. They needed a contractor who knew how to take out a brick structural wall in a century-old house, who could advise them on the best way to open the flow from the front of the house to the back, and who could make it all look like it was original.
Joe and Mary Thompson, owners of Architectural Craftsmen, had done work on several homes in the neighborhood. Joe, who has a background in architecture, carpentry and renovation, says a task like what the LeRiches wanted is not easy. It is important for homeowners, particularly of pre-World War II homes, “to understand how old houses work, how they are constructed,” he said. “By doing that you will ensure you have a grasp about what is actually correct.”
The project at the LeRiche house included significant structural work completed before even one brick could be removed.
“At any point in the process, you could end up with a crack that could run all the way through to the floors up above, which becomes a very expensive proposition,” Thompson said. A double I-beam supports the space where the brick wall used to be.
The crew raised the floor in what once was a sunken family room and replaced windows with double-wide patio doors to open the north side of the room and let light into the space. The project included an outdoor room with a fireplace.
The Thompsons also opened a new doorway to the front hall and created woodwork that is indistinguishable from the 110-year-old door frames throughout the rest of the first floor. The secret: knowing how to get correctly milled wood.
“The difference between wood they used in 1900 and the wood they use today is that it’s cut differently,” Thompson said. It is also useful to have a carpenter like Thompson who knows how to make the trim match its predecessor.
He also created leaded glass cabinet door fronts and a wood counter top out of reclaimed material.
Learning to love your contractor
Remodeling is a personal experience, said Jan Burchett, the executive director of the Kansas City chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry. Being able to have good communication with a contractor and being able to trust the work is important for homeowners.
“You have to really like, almost love, your contractor. This person is going to be a part of your family. They are going to meet your kids. They are going to pet your dog,” Burchett said. “They are going to spend a lot of time in your house. If you don’t have the right personalities, it is almost like a bad marriage.”
Planning and a functional budget were priorities. Unlike on HGTV shows, the project was not done in a couple of weeks. Burchett said it is important to take your time, check references on contractors and find someone who has done similar work in the past.
NARI keeps a list of contractors it considers to be experienced, professional and ethical. “They do it full time. They do it the right way, and they need to continue to do it over and over,” Burchett said.
No renovation project is a cookie-cutter experience, particularly for people who live in old houses. According to Jeff LeRiche, the Thompsons talked with the LeRiches for a long time about design and project needs before the Thompsons ever swung a hammer.
“There was always a lot of feedback, a lot of talking every day. They made it easy. They were clear about the fact that they had to design a lot of things as they go,” Jeff said.
The renovation took about three months. They completed it a year ago, and even though they had to make do with a hot plate and a fridge while the work was done, Trina said, the renovation was definitely worth it.
“We couldn’t be happier with this,” she said.