A Home on a Hill

High in the Sunset Hill neighborhood, a Kansas City couple is inspired to build the home of their dreams

A few years ago, Dan Auman and Kirby McCullough decided it was time to downsize from their spacious Ward Parkway home—which, incidentally, was the very first home featured in the very first issue of this publication.

Can you beat it? The problems with moving, though, for a pair who has lived so graciously and elegantly and within very generous square foot- age, were threefold—space, ease of maneuverability and location, location, location.

“We love the Sunset Hill neighborhood,” says Auman. “It’s perfect. The neighbors are fantastic, the proximity to
the Plaza and Loose Park is just fabulous, and the architecture is beautiful.”

Beautiful, yes, but—traditional. Very similar, in fact to their own beautiful home, which had become too large and traditional for the pair.

Back to the drawing board—literally.

“We decided, ultimately, that what we needed to do was to create our own space and home, from scratch,” McCullough recalls. “We found the perfect location, just right for us (and dog, Louis, a beautiful red standard poodle the couple adopted from a poodle shelter when he was just a puppy) and decided to build. So, we donated the existing home to Habitat for Humanity, who tore it down and carted off the parts to make more homes. We got rid of everything but two fireplaces and one basement wall—the sustainability was very important to us.”

Auman and McCullough once again worked with architects Jeff Schmidt and Clark Greenlee (who also designed the renovation of their previous home).

“They spent probably six months just working on drawings so we could make sure that we got everything exactly right,” says Auman.

And there were challenges. What is now a light-filled house that boasts unbeatable Plaza and neighborhood views was essentially drilled into a hole in a hill.

“When the house came down,” Auman says, “we really wanted to make sure we got lots of light in every room, which certainly took effort. But our architects planned lots of bump-outs so that we could overcome the shadow-of-the-hill prob- lem. They flipped the former floor plan, which had the bedrooms in the front, to make sure that the living space would be bright and airy and that the bedrooms would have privacy.”

They were successful, too. What the team created now stands as a model of fine planning and workmanship, built to last. “We planned things so this could easily become our final house,” McCullough says, “which is why we built the living area all on one level, with wide open spaces and hallways. We even created space for an elevator shaft so, if it’s ever necessary, we can install an elevator from the lower-level garage up to the main-level living space.”

And here’s how they did it: Between the foyer and the kitchen is a short hallway bookended by two open doorframes. The current “hall”—what they refer to as one of ‘Clark’s Portals’ in reference to the architect who dreamed them up— is now a broom closet on one side and a pantry on the other. But, should the time ever come when they should choose to move things around, “we can lift up the floor and put in an elevator shaft. There’s a matching closet downstairs in the garage so we could very easily drop an elevator into it.”

Nice forward thinking, and typical of the home’s final result. For instance in the back of the house, the wing containing the garden room, bedrooms and bathrooms is floored with polished concrete that the pair was able to custom-color before pouring.

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Underneath the shiny surface is in-floor radiant heating, which is a “much nicer, kinder heat than forced air—and great for the plants, who love it and thrive on it,” says Auman, referring to the regal trio of Ficus nitida and assorted succulents that line the garden-room wall of windows and add a splash of vibrant color to the black cabinetry and Carrara marble in the kitchen.

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“We’ve always had white kitchens,” Auman says of their decision to go dark, “so when we built our ideal space to work with and create in, we decided that because we were going to get so much morning eastern light, we needed to ‘cushion’ the space by making the work area black, which also delineates the various areas in the room.”

The pair loved the idea that Pam Vernon at Classic Kitchens had to open the kitchen to the dining room, which makes a huge room, but to also keep the kitchen separate and its own space. They kept surface areas clean and open too, with double ovens built into one wall. One oven is a GE Monogram Advantium dual microwave/oven, which does double duty and looks streamlined, too. At a second sink, a tall window behind a cabinet holding a warming drawer gets a spectacular view of the Plaza, as does the Martini deck off the adjoining dining room.

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“The dining room gets such amazing light,” says Auman.

It’s connected to the living room, creating one massive light- filled space, so the pair kept the furnishings minimal to take advantage of the space’s greatest feature—the sun pouring in. Auman says that “one of the greatest things about building your own home is that you’ll always know that the furniture is going to fit.”

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In fact, they didn’t buy a single stick of furniture for this house, just had a garage sale and then took the rest of the stuff to their place in the country. Which still left some pretty great pieces for the new home—like the lovely Oriental rugs that line the warm wood and concrete floors. The rug in the dining room is one they bought from the mother of one of their friends, reputed to have come from an old Kansas City family.

This tie to the city runs deep and true in Auman and McCullough. Much of their artwork, for example, is by local or native artists. The watercolor of the Kansas City skyline over the rectangular Baker console in the dining room is by 1930s artist Paulina Jones Everitt.

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In the foyer, a black-and-white photograph from the Late Show Gallery in the Crossroads sits atop an antique mahogany dresser that came from McCullough’s family. A cutting from a northern magnolia from their former home is held in a vase from GEORGE in the Crestwood Shops, and a Robert Sudlow oil painting is propped on an 1820 Louis IV commode.

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Meanwhile, in the master bedroom— also home to an Eames lounge chair— two vintage Wilbur Niewald paintings are featured.

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“We love to collect locally referential art and objects,” Auman reveals. “This is our home, and we want it to reflect who we are, where we come from, and what is important to us. We plan to stay here forever.

SOURCES:
Art
Dolphin
1600 Liberty St., 816-842-4415

The Late Show Gallery
1600 Cherry St., 816-474-1300

Strecker-Nelson Gallery
Manhattan, Kan., 785-537-2099

Cedar fence
Leap Construction Services, 816-304-1105

Kitchen
Classic Kitchens
7956 Lee Blvd., 913-385-3636

Architects
Clark Greenlee and Jeff Schmidt
Greenlee Schmidt, 816-444-0981

Antiques and objects
GEORGE
5510 Oak St., 816-361-2100

Nick Carter & Co.
3410 Main St., 816-561-7655

Flowers
Flowers By Design
120 W. 63rd. St., 816-361-5505

Ironwork
Sculpturehaus
816-853-7276

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