“We decided to try the condo life,” says Kim McGrath of her family’s move from small town Butler, Missouri, to downtown Kansas City a few years ago. “At first, we thought, ‘what have we done?’ and then we loved it.”
They left their spacious home to a blended family of four grown kids and moved into the Western Auto building. But soon, they were itching to have their own space with a little outdoor area. They looked for something they could rehab and found a fixer-upper on the West Side.
The McGraths chose Dominique Davison of DRAW Architecture + Urban Design to make it happen. “I love to work with the authenticity and charm of older buildings,” Davison says. “The McGraths love the arts and moved downtown partly because of that. We wanted to make sure the sightline of the house had a direct view to the Kauffman Performing Arts Center and lived the way they wanted.”
The brick shotgun-style house, built in the late 1800s, had been converted into three dilapidated apartments, which had then become boarded-up squats. “The lowest level was a wood floor over dirt,” says Davison. “We had to pour a new slab and change the grade so we could have a walk-out basement.” They also had to stabilize the brick exterior while they gutted the inside.
“We kept it simple,” says McGrath. “Save the building, save the space. And create an outdoor area, which is like gold in this part of town.” Anything they couldn’t re-use, such as an old clawfoot tub or pocket doors, was donated for architectural salvage.
Meanwhile, the adventurous McGraths were living in their Airstream trailer at the Wagon Wheel Mobile Park in Kansas City. One year turned into two, then three. “We had a great time there and met some wonderful people,” says McGrath, “but we were glad to see our house come together.”
Today, their passion for art infuses the space. An exterior iron sculptural piece by California artist Jesse Small marries form, beauty and function—welcome and security. Machine Head installed the massive piece. A neutral palette in the open concept main floor keeps all eyes on the view.
“I love to buy local art,” says McGrath, who regularly visits area galleries as well as the Plaza Art Fair. Her pieces take center stage in every room.
In the living room, a vintage La-Z-Boy recliner was re-upholstered by So Be It. A black and white cowhide rug is cozy underfoot but stands up to Einstein, the pug, and Banksy the Gray Russian Blue cat. The black and white ink and charcoal piece is by Lester Goldman, longtime art instructor at the Kansas City Art Institute. “Cicada” is by Michael Cole.
The long dining table, made from true 2 x 4’s salvaged from the house, has an authentic bullet hole from some long-ago dispute. A pony wall behind the table keeps the view but hides the kitchen.
A corner pantry keeps clutter, such as the coffeemaker, at bay. “I wanted my countertops empty,” says McGrath.
In the kitchen, walnut butcher-block counters and a marble-topped island fit in with the white-washed brick. A balcony off the kitchen is a great place to enjoy morning coffee, with city view in the distance and a closer view of the Airstream and urban garden.
McGrath asked that the stairs be angled a different way for “better feng shui”. She nestled a desk area at the top of the stairs, underneath a window with a view of the street and of the hyper-realistic “Three Pigs” by Nora Othic. The guest bedroom features a brass bed and a work by Lisa Lala.
Down the hallway is the master suite, dominated by a piece that McGrath just had to have. “Alison,” by Brad Williams, is an oil on canvas with two stories. One is the piece itself, which suggest a young woman standing in rising—or ebbing—waters. Is she about to go under or save herself? McGrath had wanted it, but it had a sold tag. The owner, Jo Marie Scaglia of The Mixx, was intrigued but in the end, sold it back to Blue Gallery, which then offered it again to McGrath.
The lower level, which walks out to the urban garden, was a space that McGrath and Davison dug out deeper to achieve higher ceilings. Here is where the grandkids hang out, with a sleeping area and built-ins for art projects and reading. It also holds McGrath’s home office and the watercolor she did from a class at the Art Institute.
A Jonathan Adler bamboo-like fixture hangs from above and an IKEA floor lamp, “customized” by one of the grandkids, sits in a corner. A hooked rug from West Elm makes the space cozy. Swivel chairs, also re-imagined by the former So Be It, let everyone stay part of the action, wherever it is.
The pocket garden, with its living wall of succulents, has just enough grass for the family pets to get their toes in the dirt. “I had to get a little push mower to take care of it,” McGrath laughs.
After two years, it’s home. “It’s always lively here,” says McGrath. “And it’s where I want to be.”