Featured Homes

The Lake Life

Madden-McFarland designer Pat Conner helps a Kansas City family create a vacation home that perfectly melds life at the lake with a dash of ranch house inspiration

It started simply enough. “We had been coming to Lake Lotawana to see friends since 2008,” says Russ McElliott, owner of a transportation and financial services company. “I have never been a lake person, but I began to enjoy it.”

His wife Tammy, a former “horse-show mom,” now shows Arabian horses herself and has the medals and trophies and photos to prove it. With two grown daughters and five grandchildren, they wanted a getaway that family and friends would also enjoy.

At first, they thought it might be somewhere near Scottsdale, Arizona, where the couple goes every February. But they realized that it would be difficult for their grandkids to visit often. So the idea started to take hold of an easily accessible weekend home that would be totally different from everyday life in southern Overland Park. Russ learned to captain a speedboat and a pontoon and came to appreciate the boating life.

They bought their lake house in the fall of 2012. Because building restrictions center around the original footprint of the house, they carefully tore it down to expose the outline. They put in a dock and started day camping there on weekends. “We’d bring coolers and umbrellas and chairs and all of that stuff,” says Tammy.

All the while, they were thinking and planning the house they wanted to build—an 1800s-inspired lodge with views of the lake. For that, they turned to Rick Jones at NSPJ, who designed a stone-clad, soaring space with beams that were pegged together in true 19th-century style.

During the design and building process, Tammy had a standing weekly appointment with their interior designer, Pat Conner at Madden-McFarland. Russ collected all the architectural drawings, the spec sheets and vendors in a book he calls “the green bible.”

“It is fun working with them,” says Conner. “They are so organized and they knew what they wanted down to every detail. And there were literally thousands of decisions they had to make.”

Conner not only helped make the design eminently livable, but opened doors through her design contacts, so the couple sourced furniture artisans in Mexico City and hard-wearing woven fabrics for the bedrooms to achieve a custom look.

They measured the wall space for art and then Russ found pieces that Tammy also liked and would work in the space. “Every piece has a story,” says Tammy.

Throughout the space, the counterpoint of fine art plays off the rugged wood interior—a landscape by Rich Bowman, Dan White photographs of the Flint Hills, and an early 1900s Navajo dress purchased from the maker’s family.



The couple moved in December 2014, everything was done, and they could start enjoying their home right away. Yet it still has the feel of a place that was curated over time.


As soon as you walk in, the view of the lake draws you forward into the living space. A large leather sofa with hand-tooled design sits in front of a majestic fireplace with a handmade metal screen, complete with tomahawk and arrow details. Over the mantel hangs “Pearl Sky,” an oil painting by Teresa Elliott. Underfoot are wonderful Turkish carpets the couple found in Istanbul.



In the adjacent open kitchen, amazing Brentwood countertops resemble petrified stone. A hammered-copper farm sink quietly dazzles. Pendant lights that look like lanterns are fitted with Edison bulbs hark back to the past. “I get up before everybody else and love to sit by the window and drink my coffee here,” Tammy says. “It’s so peaceful.”



In the hallway leading to the main level master bedroom, more art awaits. A Mark English work in paint, paper and pen was framed by his daughter, Dawn English.

A Lisa Lala painting that the couple commissioned hints at morning birdsong. The massive bedstead with copper accents was custom designed by a Mexico City artisan. A woven custom coverlet keeps the mountain lodge look.


The master bath, in dark wood and Travertine marble, features mosaic sinks.

Upstairs, a small area near the staircase became a visual memory of Tammy’s father, Lloyd Hicks, with an arrangement of cowboy boots, a Stetson, and an antique saddle. On the wall of the hallway, an antique painted sign from 1850 advertises “Shoeing and General Stabling.” The children’s bunk room sports Adirondack camp-style beds and framed antique posters of Buffalo Bill and cowgirls.


On the kid-friendly lower level, man-made slate tile and a copper-topped table can take wet bathing suits, muddy feet, spilled drinks and other grandchild hazards.


Nearby, a second kitchen features a glass wall that opens up to make an outdoor bar. A basketweave backsplash and cowhide shade keep the ranch house feel.


In the entertainment area, a painting by Barbara Meeker evokes Tammy’s Western horse. Photos of her competing in Arabian horse shows make this space personal.

“I never thought our visits to Lake Lotawana would lead to this,” says Tammy. “We come here as often as we can. It’s our escape.”



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