Time, cost and quality are the three measures Jim Lichty has used throughout his 40-year career in architecture and development to deliver on projects. So when he and his wife Shelley decided to build a custom home for themselves, the process was no different.
The couple owned an odd, wedge-shaped sliver of property along Prairie Village’s Indian Hills Golf Course that sloped 12 feet from end to end.
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“It was a challenging site to build on,” Jim says.
Previously on site was a midcentury ranch that rested four feet below the new level of entry — and missed out on the view across the greens.
“It was necessary to experience the golf course the way you need to experience a golf course, not looking into the side of a hill,” emphasizes Jim, who has belonged to the golf club for more than 20 years.
“The site always dictates what you can and can’t do,” he explains. “It suggests levels, which is what we’ve got here.”
Jim also designed the home to be low-energy and low-maintenance. Several outdoor seating areas and pathways along the back of the house, plus a sunny yellow spiral staircase to a rooftop deck, offer plenty of opportunities to connect with nature. Windows line the back wall of the house so the greens are always visible from inside.
From the front, the buff-colored brick facade has been mistaken for a nearby assisted living facility.
“I would describe the style as International or at least Continental,” Jim says, pulling from decades of business travel. “I know it’s different from most people’s houses, but I live here.”
His work experience also critically sharpened his skills managing the project’s time, cost and quality. Jim’s firm, Archetype Design Group, specializes in modular prison housing systems.
“Every project is about economizing spaces and solving problems,” he says.
That career specialty of designing spaces that imprison people, he adds, wore on him at times, though he did parlay that keen sense of problem solving into his personal home, where he plans to spend retirement.
“No decisions were made on the run; there were only three change orders,” Jim says proudly, referring to changes to the scope of work laid out in the original contract. “It’s a tribute to the forethought of my staff at the office.”
They stuck to a small selection of cabinets, tile and even high-tech bidets, and repeated the pattern throughout the house.
“One thing you’ll notice is that the finishes are very simple and consistent,” Jim points out.
One thing you might not guess is where he sourced the cabinets: Ikea.
“I got 50 percent more cabinets at less than half the price of custom,” he says.
He even followed the established material selection in the master suite, which is located off the kitchen.
The other side of the house features twin guest rooms and studio spaces on two levels. Studio 1 just off the main living space, is Jim’s office, where he sometimes relaxes by watching TV shows on his computer monitor when he doesn’t feel like being exposed to golfers peering in through the glass.
Studio 0 is Shelley’s sewing room. It neighbors the lower level’s home theater, wine cellar, game area and two tandem garages, where Jim putters on a workbench or on his motorcycle.
A dining room that can seat up to 12 is located at the entry, not its intended original position.
“My wife relocated it from around the corner,” Jim says. “I agree it creates more circulation and light.”
The couple like to host small- to medium-size dinner parties, and last fall they hosted a blowout open house with a band and more than 280 guests.
Shelley is happy to command the kitchen.
“I eat the best of anyone I know,” Jim says.
He designed her an all black kitchen with an induction cooktop on the island, allowing uninterrupted views into the living room as well as the dining area and entryway. Down a hall is a powerhouse butler’s pantry with custom trash and recycling chutes to the garage, plus laundry, pantry, and a small bar with a wine chiller and ice maker.
“A lot happens in this transitional space,” Jim says.
The house isn’t all about function, however; art for beauty or humor’s sake is featured prominently. One commissioned work is a mobility-themed piece by the couple’s son, Stephen: a brass cane showcased in a niche at the front entry.
The Lichtys like to spend time connecting with all the artists featured in their home, whom they often meet at art fairs.
“Part of the process has been getting to know the artists and liking them, as well as their work,” Jim says. “Their art is a reflection of them.”
Some notables include two whimsical paintings by Milwaukee artist Beth Bojarski, as well as three rotating orbs of soldered car and metal parts on stands in the living room by her husband, Mark.
The Lichtys commissioned kinetic sculptor Jeffrey Zachmann, of Fergus Fall, Minn., to make the piece in the dining room that features important numbers, such as the addresses of all their past and present homes, as well as their two kids’ birthdays.
Another touch of working artistry is the glass-doored elevator, which doubles as an age-in-place necessity. However, just as the kinetic art sometimes errantly shoots balls off into space, the elevator has been known to trap people inside for a few hours.
Jim takes the mistakes in stride. What else can you do when living with cancer? He is currently undergoing immunotherapy treatment for what started as Stage IV ocular melanoma that metastasized to the liver. One morning in June 2015, at the onset of the house’s construction, he awoke and only had partial vision in his right eye. The doctor removed a tumor along with the eye.
Despite the life disruption, progress continued on the house but more slowly.
“It caused me to be patient with the time schedule, but less patient with our first contractor,” Jim recalls.
An artist painted him a prosthetic eye that is a beautiful baby blue match — a representation of both the artist and the owner, just as it is with the rest of the Lichtys’ art collection.
Now, more than ever, Jim can appreciate the values he has long held in his new surroundings. He says he’s grateful for the time to enjoy the home he’s worked so hard for.
“I’ve lived quite a charmed life and I’ve been through struggles just like anybody,” he says. “I’ve worked hard, and I’ve earned this.”
Finish builder: Richard Wetzel, Centric Projects LLC