An Independence couple renovates a Victorian home that’s perfect for their young family
In 1885, on a wide, tree-lined street in Independence, the Hickerson family built a lovely two-story home. Bess Truman played bridge there. A generation or two later, the Hettrick family raised active boys, adding a fireman’s pole for a quick way down from the second floor, plus a porch swing in the living room.
In 2013, Chelsea McClain Pierce—fresh out of law school and Le Cordon Bleu in Paris—and husband Dan Pierce—fresh out of an architectural internship at Ateliers Jean Nouvel—came home to Independence. They were expecting their first child. Dan took a new job with Hollis + Miller Architects, and they wanted a home in the Truman Historic District.
How can a young professional family live in a historic home?
“It’s exciting to be a part of the renaissance happening here,” says Chelsea Pierce. “There is no place like this in the metro area, the best of New Urbanism and historic preservation. We got to preserve the rich history of our home, yet give it new life.” Their young family includes 3-year-old Blair and 5-month-old Graham, as well as Olive, their golden retriever.
Because of their home’s historic designation, the couple was obliged to keep the front elevation true to its original design. To make the home more liveable with a partial open plan, they built a two-story addition in the back.
“We took the house down to its original footprint and lifted it up on a new foundation,” says Pierce. “We saved as many of the original features—like the wonderful staircase—as we could.” The exterior needed new wood siding and windows but stayed true to its spirited Victorian coloring.
Their design plan included a neutral background, pops of color and a whimsical, playful spirit. They made 1885 look as fresh as 2015.
When you walk in the front door, the old Victorian fireplace is now framed in marble tile and has a new gas insert. A contemporary swing, fashioned from a slab of live-edge wood and wrought iron, hangs from the tall ceiling. Two armchairs in pale linen sit on the area rug “that looks like grass,” Pierce says, a playful touch in keeping with the swing. The elegant staircase, restored to its original beauty, looks right at home.
The sightline—from the front door through the living room to the dining room—ended at a wall, with a door that Pierce wanted to camouflage. To do this, she used large-scale wallpaper from Anthropologie and “poof,” the door is gone. The floral wallcovering is a riot of color. The distressed blue-green dining-room chairs in an overscale Sheraton style cozy up to the table. On another wall is a vintage American breakfront she found at an estate sale.
The dining room shares the middle of the house with their library, which also functions as a home office. A wood and metal desk from World Market, framed art from the couple’s travels, and sconces from Restoration Hardware make this room “a great place to read and work,” says Pierce. Except, of course, when someone shinnies down the fire pole (a clever, latched see-through cover was added to keep it safe from curious children for now).
The kitchen and family room in the new addition are perfect for a young family. “This is where we live,” admits Pierce. And why not? Quartz countertops mean easier cleanup. Two-toned painted cabinets and schoolhouse-style pendant lights from Restoration Hardware reflect vintage style, but with a fresh look. Banquette seating at the breakfast nook is perfect for young children.
The family room features a vintage rocking horse that originally belonged to the grandparents. To keep the whimsical feel, a secret door in the bookcase wall opens for generous toy storage.
Another secret door presses open to reveal the back staircase to the second floor. The master bedroom is painted in muted shades of brown and gray-blue. Hobnail trim accents the leather headboard.
Babar prints that the couple found in Paris fill the walls of the nursery. A black-and-white tiger-print rug hangs on the side of the crib.
The middle room, above the library below, has been ingeniously transformed into a laundry and crafts room, where the kids can make a mess and it can all be cleaned up easily.
The guest bedroom has two balconies that, Pierce fears, will be a favorite adventure area for her boys in years to come (as if secret doors, a fire pole, and an indoor swing were not enough). But right now, the windows flood the room with light, picking up the spa blue and light taupe in the furnishings.
“We left a walkable community with historic charm in Paris—Saint-Germain-des-Prés—and found the Midwestern version of that right here,” says Pierce. “This is where we want to raise our family.”
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