For six years, Robert Nizzi and Anne Hannah commuted 45 minutes to be together. He lived in southern Johnson County; she resided in Liberty.
They did this while their kids were younger, not wanting to force them all together, but after marrying in 2014, the couple finally met in the middle, geographically speaking, by building a house in Brookside.
Stylistically, it was also a move in a new direction for the couple, who came from traditional homes.
“This is something that is ours,” Anne says.
Not unlike their lives as newlyweds, everything about it was a fresh start, from the empty lot to the modern cues.
Architect Chris Mitchell of LOOK a Design Studio, who sold them the lot, had plans drawn up for the site in a U-shape around a central courtyard. That idea stuck as the Nizzis then brought on Steve Bowling of Hive Design Collaborative and Kali Buchanan Interior Design to finalize the plans for construction.
“The overall goal was to not be so far removed from the existing fabric of the neighborhood,” Kali says of the exterior’s distinct architecture. “We acknowledge it’s new construction, but the modern feel dovetails with the craft of the neighborhood. It’s a blending of two worlds.”
The act of blending extends to the needs of a family versus those of empty nesters. With six grown children, ages 21 to 28 (mostly out of the house except for a few transitional moves), the Nizzis still wanted room for everyone to feel comfortable during their stay but not so oversized when it was just the two of them.
“We are a family that flexes,” Robert says. “When everyone’s home, it doesn’t feel like a giant house.”
Getting to that just-right spot hinged on many discussions between client and design team.
“We talked a lot about how you live, how you move through a house,” Kali recalls. “Your typical Brookside house is compartmentalized, and they didn’t want that.”
The floor plan was designed for main-level living 90 percent of the time, in a relaxed flow with transitional spaces, many of them including storage for concealing the stuff of daily life.
“We tried to capitalize on space wherever we could,” Kali says, pointing out closets, a built-in bench and a drop zone near the entry.
A lower level comprises entertaining space, plus a laundry room, weight room and doggie apartment. The third floor includes two bedrooms and a live/work room with a sofa bed that expands to suit extra guests.
A “floating” staircase connects the three levels along steel stringers that leave open space where the risers would normally be.
“It’s a modern detail as well as easier to clean,” Kali notes. Captivating the simple space is a Moooi light fixture called Non Random against a tongue-and-groove backdrop wall.
The main gathering spaces are a duet of formal and informal seating areas in one large room. Kali tied them together visually with blue-green velvet sofas from Anthropologie.
“It’s a really fun space that’s super functional,” Kali says. “It’s flexible to house a larger group.”
Its style, too, is a blend, from its sleek Carrara marble fireplace surround to the sculptural trio of Eames walnut stools.
“There are nods to detailing, but it’s a little more streamlined and tailored,” Kali says.
A clean and uncluttered aesthetic became top priority throughout, especially in the all-white kitchen, where the casework was built by a local Mennonite in simple Shaker style with a full overlay for a modern spin. Quartzite countertops continue straight up to become the backsplash in an effort to simplify the palette.
A vaulted tongue-and-groove ceiling carries through to the dining room to unify the spaces, while a partial wall serves up privacy and offers valuable storage on one side and a prime spot for the couple’s favorite piece of art, a work by Dean Kube, on the other.
“Dropping the partition down gives the whole space a nice airy, open feel,” Kali says. “And it instantly makes this art wall the biggest focus.”
Apart from the loud Sunday dinners with kids and plus-ones, this side of the house is the quiet sanctuary of the master suite.
“It’s not a huge space, but it’s just perfect for us,” Anne says.
The walk-through (rather than walk-in) closet, interestingly, is the entry point to the room — with storage built in along both sides of a hallway. Downsizing their clothes closets was the only real point of pushback in cutting ties with their former lifestyles.
“It was a very good exercise for us, especially Robert with his suits,” Anne admits. “This represents the biggest change for both of us.”
Another major change includes how they interact with the outdoors. For instance, the house has three outdoor living spaces that serve different purposes.
The homeowners like to sip wine on the outdoor sofa in the front courtyard, which overlooks the busyness of the street. An adjoining covered porch provides shelter during inclement weather.
“In the area I moved from, this would only have been built in the back so you wouldn’t have to talk to anyone, but here we talk to everyone who goes by,” Robert says. “It reminds us we’re not doing the same thing as everyone else.”
There is also an open-air patio between the house and garage, lit by string lights over an outdoor dining table.
“We had a whole discussion of attached garage versus detached,” Robert explains. “Not having it attached has created this beautiful space where we grill and eat.”
Additionally, the couple enjoy the scenery of mature tree-lined streets during walks to nearby restaurants and along neighborhood trails. They are content to put those monotonous highway drives that separated them in the past.
Despite a complete upending of location and lifestyle, the Nizzis marvel at how markedly easy it was for them to create a new life together.
“Personality wise, we’re different: Robert is the ultimate extrovert, and I’m the ultimate introvert,” Anne says. “But we have the same taste, and we don’t sweat the small stuff.”