In an historic Kansas City neighborhood, an architect designs a contemporary house that’s sensitive to its surroundings
Three years ago Jesse and Matthew Hufft were living in an iconic Drummond house that they loved with a toddler and baby on the way. The last thing the couple was looking to do was build a house. But on his birthday this local architect drove by an empty lot in Roanoke and the wheels began to turn.
“We were not looking to move,” says Jesse, who is marketing director and interiors consultant at Hufft Projects. “But we love Roanoke. Our office is in the neighborhood as is our children’s school. It was perfect.”
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Matthew agrees. “There are several houses in the neighborhood that originally had large side lots. Our lot was one of them, and it had never been built on.”
In addition, Roanoke was once home to the artist Thomas Hart Benton. “I’ve always liked Benton,” he says. “This street curves and Benton’s house sits at the other end. Our front doors are basically on the same axis.”
Since the house is in a landmark neighborhood, the process of approval for building was significant. “The Historic Development Commission requires that you build sensitively,” Matthew says.
It was important that the home fit into the neighborhood but look distinctly new. “So we looked at the components of the houses and boiled them down. The homes here largely have a front porch, a lime- stone base, brick cladding, a gabled roof and painted wood trim,” he says, ticking off each element on his fingers. So the Huffts began planning their home with these components in mind.
“Basically, we were the client,” Matthew says. But while the couple was sure about what they wanted the house to be, there was still a critical creative tension that elevated the process. “Jesse was integral to the design. I would draw it and then show it to her. Then she would make suggestions, and I’d go back to the drawing board.” This process honed the final project.
The couple envisioned an open entertaining level on the first floor. Hufft relied on slatted screens to separate space between both the dining room and the entry and the rise of the stairs.
The kitchen occupies the middle of the first floor. Work surface and eating space is provided by a large island. It’s remarkably sleek and tidy, especially for a family with three small children.
“We like lots of cabinets so you can put everything away. It keeps all the surfaces clean,” says Matthew.
The family room beyond overlooks the backyard and is complete with television and a heat-generating fireplace framed in blackened steel that can heat the entire downstairs when it is burning. The built-in storage for firewood is not only handy but provides a textural and graphic element.
The second floor belongs to the children (and those who care for them, obviously). Rather than stepping off the stairs into a landing or hall, a playroom greets the lucky visitor to the children’s domain. Bright, open and sunny, the large rectangular windows provide a view of the neighborhood outside. Here, too, built-in storage hides toys and an ever-growing collection of Legos.
“We think this room will grow with them,” Jesse says. “Someday it can be used as a study area.”
Like the children who live there, there are repeating elements that tie the rooms of the second floor together, while each one remains distinct. The Huffts chose hard-wearing and replaceable Flor tiles for the rooms on this floor. The ceilings in the playroom and in all three of the children’s bedrooms are murals inspired by Thomas Hart Benton paintings. Bold and graphic, they are just a few of the personal elements that underscore the custom design of the house.
The third floor, with Matthew’s home office and the master bedroom, is an adult retreat. “I’m basically always working,” he says. There is a wet bar here, too, equipped with both coffee and whiskey, and a deck that the couple is hoping to use more often. “We’re trying out prototype furniture here to figure out what it is we want,” says Jesse of the deck.
“It’s one of our favorite places,” Matthew says, pointing out the view and the protection of the cantilevered roof.
The bathroom is nestled in the center of the suite allowing the bedroom generous views of the backyard. Skylights flood the space with light.
“We have all the space we need,” says Jesse. “It is a big house, I guess—a tall house. But it doesn’t feel that way to me because we use all of it.”
There are no doors on the third floor, and Matthew included space for an elevator in the layout. “There’s no elevator there now, but there could be. We have no intention of moving,” he says. Still, there is a lot of energy here—the architect, the designer, the Legos. Movement seems inevitable.
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