See the Light

Architect Bruce Wendlandt designs a luminous contemporary home for a Mission Hills couple

People who live in glass houses—love it.

This Mission Hills contemporary isn’t all glass, but it might as well be. Soaring spaces and walls of glass bring in the light, the sky, the birds, the greenery. The edges where each room ends and the outdoors begins are blurred.

And that’s how Fred and Jill Embry want it.

The couple started off in a little Prairie Village home, then moved to a Mission Hills ranch in 1977. Situated on a hilly lot with no parallel lines, the house presented a design challenge to “live” the way the couple wanted.

“I am Don Drummond [a Kansas City designer of midcentury homes] contemporary,” Jill Embry says. “Fred is traditional. So we had to find a way to do both.”

Fred is a casualty insurance executive and Jill is a community volunteer.

“We knew we could either renovate or build,” says Embry. “We decided to build.”

Finally, in 2006, the plans for a new house on the old lot were finally approved. The house was demolished and they moved to temporary quarters.

Thus began their extensive partnership with architect Bruce Wendlandt. “In the design of the Embry house, Jill really knew what she wanted,” Wendlandt says. “’How big can we get these windows?’ she would ask. I’d draw them up. She’d slide the design back to me across the table and say ‘bigger.’ She was on a mission.”

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“I made Bruce tape outlines on the wall so I could see how big it would be,” Embry says.

The Embrys also asked designer Daniel Houk of Trapp and Company for input on creating livable spaces.

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“Zoning is important when you have one big space,” says Houk. He created a floor pattern in the living room that helps define the area. He also helped reinforce verticality in the rooms by suggesting the Embrys use large works of art and tall furniture.

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Their house was finished in 2009. Now, it’s mission accomplished. Seven sets of oversized glass double doors on the main level open to reveal lofty spaces full of light. In the living room, a long, see-through fireplace separates two different, but complementary, conversation areas.

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Four other massive, tiled fireplaces on the first floor are surrounded by glass. Walls of glass windows on the street side and on the back facing the garden, and skylights that run from inside to outside make sure the home glows with light on even the darkest winter days.

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“I love how this house brings the outdoors in,” Embry says. “And it has stood the test of time.”

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