Movie Magic

A midcentury Briarcliff home stars in new sequel

Who knew that Kansas City had a rich filmmaking history? In 1931, Forrest (F. O.) Calvin and his wife Betty started making 16mm business movies for clients such as Kansas Flour Mills, Western Auto, and Kansas City Southern Railways. Soon, Lloyd and Sara Thompson became partners in the company. During the 1950s, the Calvin Company boomed, with headquarters at Troost and Truman. The filmmakers attracted the likes of director Robert Altman, actors John Carradine and E. G. Marshall, and even President Harry S. Truman.

For that golden age, the Thompsons’ 1948 home in Briarcliff Hills with its stunning view of the Kansas City skyline was the perfect place to entertain. Widowed in 1960, Sara let the house remain as it was and traveled the world. After she passed away at age 104 and the house went on the market last March, Trey Morgan and Jake Patton knew it still had the old movie magic.

“As soon as we walked in, we could tell it had a really cool vibe, even if it had not been updated in decades,” says Morgan, a visual artist and real-estate broker.

Patton describes this as a “passion project,” finding a new way to breathe life into this home with its tiny kitchen and warren of rooms. The two used their new company, Sweetbriar Properties & Design, to do the work. Morgan is the “concept person” while Patton does the detail work and architectural planning. Willow, their Slovakian rough-haired pointer, makes sure it is lived in.

Three terraces have views of the Missouri River and the Kansas City skyline—the wide patio that Betty had paved in multi-hued stones for a wedding, the courtyard off the kitchen on the second floor, and the terrace off the master bedroom on the third floor.

A small existing stair rail leading to the basement inspired custom railings in a midcentury design. “We decided to carry that throughout the interior and exterior,” says Morgan. “Jake built all of them by hand and designed them with a screen on the exterior. He does the majority of the construction on our projects and will also replicate or build what we can’t buy.”

True to films made in the 1950s, this multi-level house goes both black and white as well as Technicolor, with jolts of teal blue, gold, and purple. Both Morgan and Hatton love Kansas City-based Porter Teleo wallpaper and used the hand-painted papers over the living room fireplace and in the hallway.

The living room revolves around the fireplace clad in the original gold metallic tiles. Two swivel club chairs in peacock blue and the sofa in a gold basket-weave were upholstered in fabrics from Nell Hill’s. The midcentury lamp with its original tangerine shade from Christopher Filley Antiques brings the pop.

Gilded ’60s-style wall art by midcentury modernists Curtis Jere (the tongue-in-cheek nom de plume of artists Curtis Freiler and Jerry Fels) was a score from chairish.com. But the set light in the corner from Calvin Company, found in the attic, steals the show. “The original light bulb still worked, but it was so bright, you felt you were running from the police,” jokes Morgan, so they got one that isn’t quite so bright.

“The original kitchen was a tiny shoebox,” Morgan says. “We wanted a kitchen that was more open and clean. Jake loves to cook; I’m the one drinking the wine.”

They decided against upper cabinets because they wanted to spotlight the work of a graphic artist they both love, Christopher Burnett. They painted the lower cabinets a teal blue and use the black breakfront in the dining area for extra storage.

The old sunroom has become “the jewel box room,” says Morgan, since it got a fresh infusion of jewel-toned colors—teal-blue walls and a silky purple chair with a glass-and-chrome bar cart set up for happy-hour martinis.

The old screening room on the lower level is now the family/movie room in neutral tones, with two chairs from West Elm and a comfy sofa. “They used to edit film in a tiny dark room down here,” says Morgan, a room that is now a mini-kitchen/bar area for inside and outside. Brass birds take wing over the painted fireplace. A guitar in the corner references Nashville, where the couple met.

On the top level, two smaller bedrooms became the master suite, all in neutral tones. Grasscloth papers the feature wall in the bedroom, setting off the dark wood headboard.

The master bath was designed around shower doors by Coastal framed in blackened bronze and the three pendant lamps that they already had. A two-sink vanity in dark gray with black-framed mirrors keep it clean-lined and classic.

“We love this house,” says Morgan.

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