Home Q & A

Houseguest: Couple take dwelling from foreclosure to midcentury marvel for less than $80,000

A house in south Kansas City was falling apart and in foreclosure before Mark and Kathy Corrigan bought and renovated it.
A house in south Kansas City was falling apart and in foreclosure before Mark and Kathy Corrigan bought and renovated it. The Kansas City Star

For years Kathy Corrigan wanted to renovate a house. A couple of years ago, she persuaded her husband, Mark Corrigan, to look for the crummiest, most damaged one around.

“We became experts in bottom feeding,” Mark said.

The couple stumbled onto a single-story house built in 1977 in a quiet neighborhood off Wornall Road in south Kansas City. It was in foreclosure and falling apart, but the price was right: $50,000. So they bought it.

Gobs of elbow grease and an additional $30,000 later, they’ve repaired and remodeled the home into a charming, midcentury-looking marvel with vintage furnishings.

The chatty, personable couple were eager to show it off recently.

“Everything about it is a bargain, and everything has a story,” Mark said.

Was your house before like this one?

Mark: It was actually a suburban split-level Mediterranean. This one was meant to be contemporary when it was built, but we think it really lends itself to midcentury design, mostly because of the fireplace and tall vaulted ceiling and beams (in the living room).

These white kitchen countertops are gorgeous. What are they?

Mark: The kitchen counters are butcher-block Formica that was worn from bleach.

Kathy: We painted them white with a special tile paint, then poured a two-part epoxy over it.

Mark: One of you pours, and one of you walks behind with a blowtorch to set it.

Kathy: We caught a couple of gnats in it (she points at two microscopic dots and chuckles).

What about the rest of the kitchen? Are the sink and faucet vintage?

Mark: This is a 1955-ish sink from Habitat for Humanity, and this is a new Dishmaster Imperial (faucet) that they’ve been making since the 1940s. They sell them at the hardware store on Southwest Boulevard, but I got this one from Amazon.com. It squirts soap through the (attached) scrubber brush. It was invented before dishwashers and is still in use in places where they don’t use dishwashers.

The cabinets we cleaned to within an inch of their lives, and we got knobs and handles for 90 cents each.

What fabric is your kitchen window shade made of?

Mark: That’s vintage barkcloth. It’s from drapes we found at River Market Antiques, and Kathy’s friend made it into Roman shades.

Where did you get the retro countertop between the kitchen and living room with boomerangs on it?

Kathy: Lowe’s. If you want it in pink or any color besides gray, it costs four times more.

What structural repairs did you have to make?

Mark: The walls were leaning so bad that they were cracked, so we had to fix that. But the house and everything in it, including the decor and repairs,were all less than $80,000.

Did you know how to do remodeling work before this house?

Kathy: No. Nothing. We just recorded a lot of home repair shows like “This Old House” and watched them over and over.

Mark: And we researched the heck out of midcentury style. We have the same taste, which is good.

Tell me about this glass fireplace screen.

Kathy: That’s actually part of a coffee table. We had it propped up here while we were cleaning, and a friend said, ‘What a cool fireplace screen!’ So we kept it.

And the sunburst clock above it?

Mark: It’s old. But I didn’t like the brass, so I got chrome furnace tape and covered the arms. I got better as I went along. I started at the 9 — it’s kind of obvious. We also steam-cleaned every brick. They were covered in soot.

The white leather sectional sofa looks new. And your guest bathroom is mostly contemporary. So you mix time periods?

Mark: We’re not trying to re-create the ’50s in here. This is really our vision of what a modern house should look like.

What is the blue-green color on the accent wall in the guest bedroom?

Mark: Gulf Stream from Sherwin-Williams. The furniture was my parents’. It’s from 1951.

Tell me about these vintage cabinets.

Mark: They are Heywood Wakefield pieces from River Market Antiques and Craigslist. But you can buy the stuff online. They still make it.

What is on the walls of the basement?

Mark: This was just a gray concrete cell, and a damaged one at that. Everything you see in here we did with our own hands. We looked online for ideas for loft basements. The walls are covered with bamboo fencing from Habitat for Humanity’s Restore. I paid $200 for the lot of them. The TV is the case from a 1958 Sears Silvertone with a Costco TV inside where the picture tube used to be. It still has the rounded glass in it, so it gives the illusion of a ’50s picture tube. We used carpet tiles on the floor that we found for 25 cents each.

How long have you been working on the house?

Mark: It’s been 17 or 18 months. We had five or 10 minutes a night (laughing), and we were living here.

Kathy (laughing): Installing a ceiling fan takes us a weekend.

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