9 of the coolest homes in Kansas City

Nicole Kinning

We spent the past few months driving the metro area, block-by-block, to curate this selection of the coolest homes in Kansas City, from a modern Fairway ranch to a historically-designed build in Olathe.

 

Why We Love It: This Italianate masterpiece in Olathe captures the familiar form of a local icon that remains in ruins.

No, you’re not seeing double. This massive Italianate home in Olathe’s Heritage Hill neighborhood was modeled on KCK’s famed Sauer Castle. Heritage Hill is known for its collection of homes in historic styles, from federalist designs to Victorian-era Queen Anne dollhouses. When endodontist Dr. Bart Putnam and his wife, Anne, were looking for a plot to build their forever home in 1999, they knew that this neighborhood was the spot.

“At the time, the neighborhood had a certain number of types of historic homes that were on a list that you could choose to build from, and then you sat down with the neighborhood architect [Dan Wessel] to design it,” Bart says. “We drove around town, looking at houses and taking pictures of houses. The Sauer Castle in Kansas City, Kansas, was one that we were really interested in.”

The homes in the neighborhood were all built in the backend of the twentieth century, but Putnam says many have historically significant features in them, like refurbished stairwells from old buildings and reclaimed stained glass from churches. The Putnam family’s ode to history is a Romeo and Juliet-style balcony off the master bedroom that they bought at an architectural salvage yard in downtown Kansas City and re-fitted for their home’s exterior.

Castle Quarrel

Things are heating up in the long-simmering fight over the original Sauer Castle in KCK. In December, the unified government ordered the structure to be boarded up as a hazard after failing to reach an agreement on securing the space on Shawnee Road, which has been registered as a historic landmark since the seventies. The property is owned by Carl Lopp, the great-great-grandson of the German immigrant who had it constructed. Lopp is reportedly in arrears on taxes and fines but says he is planning to eventually restore the property, which he has owned for more than thirty years

 

Why We Love It: This super-stylish Fairway ranch shows the power of a tasteful renovation.

The Fairway neighborhood where this house sits is almost exclusively made up of Atomic Age ranches. This one benefits from a tasteful renovation that gave its Elvis-era charm a major punch-up. The smoked glass garage door and section of wood paneling around the eye-catching red door really freshen up the look of a home that’s somehow seventy years old.

Why We Love It: This Mission Hills home has Spanish vibes thanks to its stucco facade and private courtyard.

Mission Hills has no shortage of gorgeous homes, but this one pops out thanks to its unique design, with an inviting private patio surrounded by three buildings and a matching wall, which, to our eye, recalls a Spanish-style courtyard. Built in 2005, this home sits on a large lot that’s almost a half acre. The home was designed by an architect-occupant, which shows in the way the stucco walls and a matching fence pair with the greenish-gray zinc roof to give the home a clean, earthy and understated elegance.

Neighborhood Notes

Mission Hills is usually ranked as the wealthiest community in Kansas, but Leawood and Fairway sometimes edge it out, depending on methodology. Any time Mission Hills isn’t tops on a list from a national publication, you can expect a story in the Star explaining exactly why.

 

Why We Love It: A designer skillfully updated her family’s century-old Brookside home, adding a few modern touches while maintaining its charm.

When interior designer Lisa Schmitz and her husband, Chuck, bought their Brookside home in 2002, they weren’t afraid of a challenge. Actually, they were looking for one. “Ideally, we wanted to find something that needed a lot of work,” she says. “With me being a designer and my husband very familiar with construction, we were not intimidated by something that was run-down.”

One thing was for certain: The couple wanted to keep the bones and style of the home the same so as to keep the end product respectful to Brookside’s charming collection of Tudors and bungalows. Luckily, the 1919-built house already had the modern, clean lines that Lisa desired in a home and just needed a few updates to finish it off, including a fresh coat of grey paint, a sleek front porch that leads to a stone paver walkway, and a sprawling hardscape patio where they like to gather with friends and family. In the backyard, they planted an Airstream trailer, which Lisa says was meant to be part of the home’s panorama.

“We had this vision of it being in the backyard, kind of a fixtured part of the landscaping,” she says. “We have backyard concerts all the time, and the band will usually perform right in front of the camper.”

The Brookside Border Battle

Where does Brookside start and end? It’s an age-old debate without clear consensus. Maximalists would say the neighbor-hood encompasses everything south of Country Club Plaza and north of Gregory between State Line Road and Holmes. Minimalists argue Brookside begins around its eponymous park at 55th and ends at the neighborhood’s shopping strip, while excluding everything west of Ward Parkway.

 

Why We Love It: At first glance, it looks like a modern house. Look closer and you’ll see the unmistakable markings of a jazz-age Bauhaus.

Unless you’re an architecture geek, you probably wouldn’t be able to guess the age of this house on a hillside south of Country Club Plaza. Believe it or not, this isn’t a contemporary build but a 1936 International Bauhaus that’s rich in custom detail, including the artful little curve of the front overhang and an eye-catching fountain near the road. A recent real estate listing shows that it’s even better around back, where there’s a stunning pool and cabana fit for a Hollywood power player.

Did You Know?

One of only three known International Bauhaus homes in the city, this house was designed by James F. Terney and has been featured in several architecture books. The decision to put the garage facing the front of the home was wildly controversial in 1936.

 

Why We Love It: We love the way this asymmetrical Tudor balances a strong brick facade with the more delicate slate trim.

It’s hard to drive a block through the neighborhoods south of Country Club Plaza without encountering a well-kept English Tudor home. Built starting in 1916 by John Van Brunt, who is credited with bringing English residential style to the area, this home has made its way through a number of owners, from real estate and oil investment giant Albert Hovey Dickinson to Omar Abernathy of the Abernathy Furniture Company. The home balances imposing brick and delicate slate trim on a facade where everything has a custom size and shape. It was recognized as the Kansas City Designers’ Showhouse in 2007.

Now, the home is occupied by Christian Frank and his family—and they haven’t had to do much to it. “The prior owners have done a complete gap renovation,” Frank says. “Actually, there was literally nothing we needed to do to move in. So it was fantastic.”

 

Why We Love It: This house in KCK was designed by local architect Louis Singleton Curtiss and deftly fuses his influences from the Prairie Style, Oriental and Secessionist schools.

On the Missouri side, early twentieth century developers like J.C. Nichols tended to build entire neighborhoods of posh homes in a singular style. But in KCK’s historic Westheight Manor neighborhood, developer Jesse A. Hoel took the opposite approach, overseeing the development of an eclectic collection of impressive homes in a variety of styles. His own home in the neighborhood was designed by Louis Curtiss—sometimes called the “Frank Lloyd Wright of Kansas City”—and shows a deft blending of influences from the Prairie, Secessionist and Oriental schools.

Neighborhood Notes

Westheight Manor in KCK is a trove of notable homes designed by most of the area’s top architects of its era. The neighborhood’s annual holiday home tour is popular with local architecture and history geeks.

 

Why We Love It: The home is an overall stunner, but the dynamic view from the back is hard to beat.

When Annie Kern worked with architects Elswood Smith Carlson to design and build her Prairie Village home in 2014, she wanted the space to maintain classic style while keeping it comfy and breezy.

“We wanted the back to be almost all windows, bay windows and doors,” she says. “This also ensured that the interior would remain naturally bright and airy.” The windows and doors lead out onto several covered porches and balconies, which illuminate at night and can be seen from the golf course out back.

Kern, an interior designer herself, wanted to keep the home’s look classical yet understated, which she did with informal shingles and fixtures. “All of the wood railings and pergolas were important to me,” Kern says. “They help visually balance and layer the exterior without being overly ornate.”

 

Why We Love It: This “old world modern” home is an airy artisan that feels like a getaway in a Tuscan countryside—and has an eye-popping enclosed courtyard to boot.

Kyle Freeman was the designer-builder behind this home in the Northland neighborhood of Shoal Creek, which he describes as “old world modern” style.

The roof infrastructure is typically associated with old world home styles like Tudors—it’s made up of gables without overhanging eaves. The pitched roofs make for cathedral ceilings inside, and the house is also built in multiple segments under separate roofs.

“We thought of it more as wings of the house that were connected together by smaller areas,” Freeman says.

The rooms of the home are centralized around an open-air courtyard with cafe lights and a French cafe-style bar. Just off the courtyard, you’ll find an open-air plunge pool, which can also be accessed by a secret staircase via the master bedroom.

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