Sweat equity pays off in a striking contemporary home built for a family
When it comes to real estate, there are three universally acknowledged rules: location, location, location. And when it comes to finding somewhere to live in Kansas City in particular, the area east of Troost Avenue breaks all three of those rules. It’s simply no place for a modern family home.
Try telling that to Johnny Rard and Tony Donley. Quite a few people did when the couple purchased a lot on the “wrong side” of that famous dividing line—and in response, they built a house that not only offers them and their children a level of comfort and a grand design they could not otherwise afford but challenges perceptions of the area.
Rard and Donley never had any doubts about calling Troostwood home. “It’s a hidden gem of a neighborhood,” says Rard. “Great people, lots of kids, lots of diversity … residents who really care about our city.”
In fact, with seven kids between them—including four currently attending college—their biggest concern was whether they could afford to build the home they wanted. They knew that an attractive, open-plan design in close proximity to Kansas City’s amenities might not be attainable, but that didn’t deter them from trying.
They spent their weekends driving around looking for empty lots. During one of their reconnaissance missions, they noticed four lots overlooking Brush Creek about a mile east of the Country Club Plaza. “We thought: ‘No way,’” says Rard. “But with the economy in the tank, the lots sitting empty for years on end, and the owners getting pressured to develop them, we got one for a steal.”
It was several years before they were in a position to take the next step. Finding an architect and builder they gelled with when it came to aesthetics would be a challenge in itself, but they also needed to find partners who would cooperate with them in terms of the design and build process. In order to stick to their budget, the couple knew they would have to take on part of the work, including sourcing and installing some materials themselves.
The solution came in the way of a firm of talented but young architects who were then as eager to build their portfolio as Rard and Donley were to realize their dream home.
“After a round of interviews, we found the perfect match: Studio Build. Three guys—Jerad Foster, Nate Adolf and Ryan Deveney—recently out of Kansas State’s architecture program, looking to build a business, who specialize in modern,” Rard says. “They felt that integrating the design and build process would maximize our efficiencies, and they were willing to allow us to participate in both the design and the build phases of the construction.”
So while Studio Build worked on the blueprints, Rard and Donley began hunting for materials, fixtures and décor. They discovered vendors they’d never known existed, including construction auctions and websites specializing in selling overages from large corporate design projects. That’s where the couple found the Brazilian Tigerwood hardwood flooring seen throughout the house and the carpet tiles (purchased for just 98 cents per square foot) in the master bedroom and home office. They also searched for bargains from familiar sources, opting for closeout mosaic tile from Costco in the kitchen and deeply discounted (thanks to a few broken tiles in the crates) travertine from Home Depot. When the time came, Rard and Donley installed them—along with the Ikea kitchen cabinets—themselves.
Putting in the legwork and elbow grease and knowing they couldn’t have afforded it otherwise made them value it all the more, Rard says, adding that although they had to cut costs, they were determined not to cut corners.
“We both have a high appreciation of form and function,” he says. “If it’s just a façade, that won’t cut it. If we’re going to do something, we really have to be able to pull it off.”
That shared respect for design that goes beyond simply looking good spurred the couple’s few splurges. When it came to the George Nelson “Saucer” pendant lamps and the Eames lounge chair (Donley’s 50th birthday gift from Rard) in the living room, no substitutions would do.
“It’s the details that make the difference,” Donley explains. “You can accomplish the same overall aesthetic in a knockoff with cheap materials, but it doesn’t have the same gestalt as the original’s designer intended.”
Those midcentury pieces are a natural fit with the home’s open floor plan, which allows for uninterrupted views to the city spread out before it. But for Rard and Donley, the design is not just about what they can look out to see, but what those outside the house see. Thanks to its striking exterior, the house draws a fair share of attention from the street—and they’re happy that it gives passersby a reason to slow down and take a second look at the neighborhood and to reconsider its potential. The couple has also left the home’s large floor-to-ceiling windows undressed intentionally, demonstrating openness not only in where they live, but in how they live.
“Let the world see us how we are,” Rard says, “a normal, loving family, making dinner and doing homework, just like any other family.”
Challenging perceptions yet again.
Photographed by Aaron Leimkuehler | Flowers by Studio Dan Meiners