Prairie Village perfection: A 1980s passive solar house gets a cool, modern makeover

Aaron and Shelby Bartelt definitely bought the odd house on the block. Set among the classic Cape Cods and sleek Mid-Century Moderns of Prairie Village, the boxy cedar specimen intrigued the couple from afar.

The couple first saw the house on the real estate website Zillow, while planning a move from Columbia, Mo. to the Kansas City area.

Built in 1980 as a passive solar house, it was decorated with brick accents, oak trim and a wood-burning stove. Across the back of the house was a two-story atrium with a dirt floor where the previous owner kept plants.

The house, which had been on the market for more than six months, needed buyers with vision.

“It had great bones,” Aaron says. “Anything we did to it was all going to be cosmetic. The stuff that keeps your parents happy — like the basement and foundation — was all set.”

Moreover, it was suited for a family, with four bedrooms and a two-car garage. And the Bartelts were about to become first-time parents.

The price point was approachable, leaving money for a makeover. The Bartelts looked at 25 other houses before deciding that the passive solar house was the home they wanted.

“It was daunting,” Aaron says, “but compared to everything else we had seen, it really wasn’t.”

They faced an additional challenge — that of conducting the project from 130 miles away. Shelby took to Instagram to find inspiration and stumbled upon local designer Amy Thurston. It was a pleasant surprise to find out that Amy lived just a few blocks from the proposed project.

Amy shared her portfolio and invited the couple to her home to see her personal space — kids’ toys and all. The connection was instant.

“I said, ‘This is our person,’” Shelby says.

Amy wasn’t scared off by the house. The stylistic anomaly piqued her creativity.

“When I walked in and got excited, I knew something great would come of it,” Amy says.

The designer worked with the couple to formulate a plan for transforming the house.

At the top of the list was that atrium, with its catwalk, spiral staircase and loft. Whereas the core of the house would be the cozy family room, the atrium was destined to be a Friday night hangout space.

The addition of a real floor made the unlivable atrium into a bright and airy dining room and a lounge with a record player.

“We love to host,” Shelby says. “I’m a big fan of community and bringing people together around the table.”

Inside the sliding patio doors that open to the house, Amy refashioned the floor plan by removing the floor stove. She also removed a brick wall between the kitchen and living space that functioned as a heat sink, absorbing the heat during the day and releasing it at night.

“We lost some of the ‘green’ features of the house, but we gained this awesome open-concept kitchen,” Aaron says.

With the space now an elongated rectangle, Amy borrowed three feet from the living room to create a walk-in closet and new entry to the master bedroom. She also reworked the entry from the front porch.

“It was the hall of doors,” Amy recalls.

One of the doors led straight through the master bath, exposing the couple’s personal items to any guest who came in to use the only facility on the first floor.

Amy walled off that door, returning the space to the private suite, and added a new powder bath in the spot of a built-in desk in the kitchen.

Shelby’s favorite part of the house is the butler’s pantry on the other side of that wall, a feature she’d always wanted in a home.

“I figured one of those was in my 25-year plan,” Shelby says, but the laundry room offered extensive space for adding base cabinetry. It doubles as much-needed storage and as a changing station for 10-month-old daughter Loulie June.

The deep green-painted cabinets and brass fixtures are Instagram-worthy, but the room is a reflection of the Bartelts’ personalities, manifested in details such as a salvaged pastel granite countertop and a wood swinging door from a chemistry lab.

Throughout the home, a mix of new and old, high and low is integrated in a way that feels curated without the pretense. West Elm meets Urban Mining in numerous places.

“This house definitely incites curiosity beyond the usual,” Amy says. “There is more to it than just where something is from; we move into the how and why as well. I love that.”

Finding each piece felt organic, not forced.

“I never once thought ‘Would this match?’” Shelby says.

For a young couple on a budget, the big money was spent in the right places — on the permanent elements, such as the countertops and tile. Good lighting was a priority, too, making each space stand out. Aaron’s favorite pick is the pair of perforated brass pendants above the kitchen island.

“At the end of the night, having these on makes such great ambiance,” he says.

Ambiance can go under-appreciated with a baby at home, but the growing family is weathering the transition beautifully.

“We both work full-time, so it was important for us to come home to a space that’s peaceful and restorative,” Aaron says.

The couple stayed true to their vision, and with Amy’s guidance, created the best possible home for themselves.

“It’s how I’ve always imagined my first home as a wife and mother,” Shelby says.

Adds Aaron: “It feels very us.”


Dining Table

Unruh Furniture


hc.modern (@hc.modern on Instagram)


Studio Dan Meiners