Living on land was always a shared dream for Mike and Eileen Burns, who owned 600 acres on the edge of Garnett, Kansas. Mike owned the property before the couple got engaged and built a cabin he used as a quiet retreat for fishing and hunting.
As their family grew, the couple built a house in town, but by the time their five girls started driving themselves, their interest in building a home in the country was renewed.
“We’d come spend time out here with the kids; we all love being outdoors,” Mike says.
The couple built stables for their horses as well as a small lodge that would function as a temporary home while they built their dream house. It was a time for bonding.
“Family time was all the time,” Mike says.
Building their absolute dream home was a process that required creativity and patience. For starters, finding the right house plan took much longer than the couple anticipated. And once they agreed on one, it acted merely as a guide for the architect.
The original plan was for eight bedrooms and three levels. The Burnses made decisions to increase the size of certain rooms, such as the informal living room off the kitchen, which created space for a craft room on the second floor. The immensity of the project pushed them into commercial footings for the foundation, thereby further altering the dimensions of the house, but that happily resulted in a basement-level entertaining area with 13-foot ceilings.
Mike says he never calculated the house’s final square footage, but it is in the five-digit range.
“It got to be a square-foot monster,” he admits.
Mike credits contractor Rick Forner of Forner-LaVoy Builders for his dedication throughout the lengthy build. Subcontractors were on site every day, and Mike oversaw their work from the lodge. He had worked construction when he was younger and was adamant about the job being done right.
Though they were sticklers for details, the Burnses did invite subcontractors to take a break and enjoy themselves.
“They got to fish at the lake,” Eileen says.
The couple’s good nature was a definite draw for interior designers Jill Tran and Carmen Thomas of Tran + Thomas Design Studio.
“They are the sweetest, kindest, most generous people,” says Jill, who led the project.
The Burnses needed professional help to make the lengthy number of decisions required, as well as to find a compromise between two opposites.
“Mike and I don’t have the same tastes in some respects,” Eileen says. “He kept going darker, and I kept going lighter.”
There were other interplays — between formal and informal, indoors and out.
“There’s no way we could’ve done this without Jill,” Eileen says, “Especially being so far away from the (Kansas City) metro.”
The couple consistently agreed on quality products, which Jill had shuttled in on the hour-plus commute from Kansas City. Every material selection was of the finest quality, and all together, created clever combinations of stunning detail.
“Each room has its own personality, but they all speak to each other,” Jill says.
One unifying element was the color green, Mike’s favorite, which Jill wove into each space.
Organic textures, such as grasscloth and hammered metal, add interest to the scaled-up spaces. References to an agrarian lifestyle and nature are abundant, from cattle horns and rusty milk cans to farm implement parts.
On every ceiling, an eye-catching treatment draws the eye up. In the kitchen, it’s a photograph of aged tin tiles, as well as reclaimed barn wood from the property over the breakfast table. The master bedroom features a swagged fabric nook and geometric wood planks above the bed.
The overall look defies categorization but rather creates its own style that Jill dubs French Colorado.
“It’s beautiful and rustic,” Jill says.
Making the sizable spaces feel welcoming was a challenge Jill accounted for with plenty of tricks for the eye.
She tamed the 23-foot-tall great room by using double-height drapes with a subtle horizontal effect that appears to cut the room in half. Two large-scale chandeliers hung low create a sense of intimacy.
“I was concerned about it being so gigantic; these visually bring it down in scale,” Jill says.
Tall-backed furniture and a mantel set at head height reigns the scale in further. Above the mantel, wallpaper that looks like weathered steel invokes the widely used farm material but without the 700-pound weight affixed to the wall.
“We knew someday we might want something different there,” Eileen says.
Room to evolve was important to the couple, who now have grandchildren and only one high schooler left at home.
“Eileen and I made sure that when we retire, our life will exist mostly on this main level,” Mike says.
That is possible with the first-floor master suite and Mike’s office, which is just off the main entry.
“I would like to find out what it’d be like to have even a month off where I don’t have to answer an email,” he says.
For now, they try to balance their obligations with enjoyment of their home. Whether it’s relaxing in the hearth room with a game on the TV and food grilling outside or throwing a party in the lower level with its billiard area, bar, theater room and hidden wine cellar, the Burnses have lots of fun options for where and how they spend their free time.
Sharing their home with others has always brought them joy. They felt it most this last Christmas, when after years of waiting, the family finally moved in. The youngest girls had felt so deprived of a big celebration that they ordered a 12-foot-tall tree as a last-minute surprise, and kept it up through January.
Mike and Eileen may tally up who won which design battle — and they often laugh at the expense of it all — but the three-year process culminated in the best home for them.
“I’m not used to spending money that doesn’t pay me back, but this is paying me back in enjoyment,” Mike says.
In the end, it’s all about connecting with friends and family and the land around them — which was their dream from the beginning.
“From the first day here, it felt like home,” Eileen says.