After building what they thought was their forever home in Liberty, Bob and Kathy Waller began to envision a new dream for themselves: a smaller home on a larger tract of land.
“It was like saying goodbye to a dear friend,” Kathy recalls of the decision to put their home on the market. “We had designed it and lived there 11 years.”
The Wallers found the perfect piece of land and made a deal to sell their home. Then, after they moved out, both deals fell through at the last minute. In shock, they moved back in and reassessed their plan.
Because large plots of land can be hard to come by, they decided to downsize to a smaller house while continuing their search for the perfect piece of acreage.
They wanted to stay in the Northland, and found a 2 1/2 acre property at Riss Lake that backed up to woods and a creek. The landscaping, putting green and pool with a cabana drew them in.
“We got a little of what we wanted — like the privacy,” Kathy says.
They also got an interior design challenge.
The house, which was on the 1995 Street of Dreams tour, was designed in honeycomb-shaped pods, with no right angles. It was filled with partial walls that created awkward transitions.
“They tried to do something unique, and it just turned out weird,” Kathy says. “Everybody has their own ideas about style and their own vision of what they’re comfortable living with, and I can appreciate that. This house was just not our style.”
Kathy, who previously worked as a designer for Madden-McFarland, enjoyed the process of making sense of the dysfunctional floor plan.
“Our goal was to open up everything and make it more breathable,” Kathy says. “Anywhere we could diminish angles or eliminate nonsensical walls, we did.”
The Wallers hired contractors Mark and Austin Cornell of MSC Enterprises. The Lee’s Summit-based father-son team is a member of the Kansas City chapter of the National Association of Remodeling Industry (NARI). In fact, the home was on the group’s remodeled homes tour last year, and the 2019 Spring NARI tour is right around the corner: April 13 and 14. The tour features 10 remodeled homes in the Kansas City metro area. You can view the full list of homes at remodelingkc.com.
Before the couple started renovations in the main living spaces, they holed up in a basement bedroom to redo the master suite. The master bedroom had an awkward half wall separating it from the bathroom, plus a wet bar and an angled ceiling with six skylights with shutters. The bathroom had a giant Jacuzzi deck, mirrors across one wall and a glass block entry to the shower.
The Cornells updated every surface, removing all traces of what was considered cutting-edge design 25 years ago, and streamlined the suite’s look and functionality.
The next major point of contention was the main entry and living area, which was cluttered with 11 columns.
“It looked like Caesar’s Palace, it was so elaborate,” Austin says, explaining that removing the columns made the space feel much larger and more open.
Only four of the columns were structural, but the Cornells called in an engineer to reinforce the space by installing a steel beam in the attic.
“We were confident in moving forward with Mark’s and Austin’s expertise and knowledge,” Kathy says. “We can’t say enough good things about them.”
The kitchen was also rife with problem areas, from a heavy block of cabinets on the perimeter and pinched counter space to a nonexistent work triangle and raised dishwasher that Kathy couldn’t even reach.
Kathy hired Elizabeth Rishel of Orion Design to address the dysfunctional areas.
Rishel’s plan involved removing a peninsula that cut off the connection to the family room, shifting the island, and reorganizing the cabinetry.
For this transitional time in their lives, the Wallers desired a stripped-down look, so they chose white cabinets and a blue island with clean lines and not a lot of fuss.
“We’ve never had painted cabinets before, and we love them,” Kathy says. “It’s soothing without being super-trendy.”
Throughout the home, the Wallers made several cosmetic decisions to line up with this new approach. They replaced cold Travertine tile floors with pre-finished hardwood and faux fireplace surrounds with limestone. They removed mirrors throughout the home and got rid of the Old World light fixtures.
“We did the Tuscan thing before,” Kathy says. “We wanted something new and fresh. Plus, there was so much going on at the time that the simplicity of this felt right.”
The Wallers sold their upholstered furniture and started over, keeping only a few wood pieces that they loved. Then they added contemporary art in bright colors.
“I love the mix in here,” Kathy says. “It’s not too matchy-matchy, not too busy.”
The only piece the couple kept from the existing house was the great room’s crystal chandelier, which they had tried to sell.
“But now that we redid everything else, it works, and we love it,” Kathy says.
Despite the time, money and attention that the Wallers put into remodeling their house, it remains a detour on their way to their ultimate dream of owning a home on a large piece of land.
“This was an adventure,” Kathy says.
Brian Dirks of Cabinet Designs
Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams
Trapp and Company