House & Home

Kansas City modern: bright, efficient houses with warm Midwestern touches

The Walshes’ home looms over their boat dock. “When you are on the water at night and look back, you can see the lights in the house and it’s very warm and pretty,” Austin said. “I’m sure Kem thought of that. It stands out of the trees and lends itself to that modern lodge feel.” The limestone used in landscaping was dug up from the ground during construction.
The Walshes’ home looms over their boat dock. “When you are on the water at night and look back, you can see the lights in the house and it’s very warm and pretty,” Austin said. “I’m sure Kem thought of that. It stands out of the trees and lends itself to that modern lodge feel.” The limestone used in landscaping was dug up from the ground during construction. rsugg@kcstar.com

The first time I saw the Westside neighborhood, just west of downtown and Interstate 35, I was amazed. It was three years ago, shortly after I had moved to Kansas City, as a colleague drove me around during our lunch hour.

“How did this happen?” I asked, gawking at historic cottages and bungalows mixed with cutting-edge modern homes. I’d just moved from inner city St. Louis, which is pretty much chock full of early 19th century red-brick homes. The neighborhoods are beautiful but predictable, and many of their residents are determined to keep them that way.

I’d soon learn through my job as House+Home editor that Kansas City is a bastion of world-class architects, and their work is sprinkled throughout the city and beyond. That work is also winning prestigious awards and getting national and international recognition in home and architecture magazines.

When we began planning this section several months ago, I called Kristin DaMetz, at the Kansas City chapter of The American Institute of Architects, and asked for five local architecture firms doing important modern residential architecture.

DaMetz paused. She sighed. She chuckled. That wasn’t going to be an easy task, she said. There are too many.

Not long after, I was talking to a friend who’d worked as a senior editor at Dwell magazine, the bible for modern residential architecture, and he said, “Yeah, you guys have some cool (stuff) going on out there.”

Just last month, says Jerad Foster, a partner at Studio Build, his firm had two of its homes featured in Dwell.

Foster, a co-founder of the advocacy group KC Modern, lives in a 1950s mid-century modern house in Prairie Village by Drummond-Runnels. His house was featured in last year’s special section “20th Century Jewels,” which also included homes by such modern masters as Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer and Bruce Goff. Many of those structures had features similar to the homes in this section.

Modern architecture, Foster says, is about an honesty of the materials used in their simplest forms, large expanses of windows for natural light, open floor plans and a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency. (They also, I noticed, have small master bedrooms with big walk-in closets, because as their owners point out, most of our waking hours are spent in other parts of the house.)

“That’s what separates modern homes from a McMansion in the suburbs,” says Foster.

There’s a growing demand for modern architecture in the Kansas City area, he adds, attributing that to Kansas City’s unique take on modernism.

“There certainly is modern architecture that is cold, but modern architecture in Kansas City is warm, because we still have a Midwestern palette of materials,” he says. “Modern architecture in Kansas City looks different than modern architecture in Miami.

“And a lot of people, once they spend time in a modern house, they appreciate it if it’s done well.”

We took a closer look at the following five homes and the architects who built them:

▪ Weatherby Lake modern lodge by Kem Studio built for stunning views, lake parties

▪ Westwood home by GastingerWalker& factors in light, efficiency, common spaces

▪ Prairie Village home by Hufft Projects merges airy style with traditional touches

▪ KCK home by Studio 804 stands out for its barn shape, energy efficiency

▪ West Plaza home by DRAW Architecture designed for urban and personal comforts

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