A prominent Kansas City attorney’s passion for architecture and design transforms a local landmark
At first glance—across a conference table, boardroom or community event—Maurice Watson, chairman of Husch Blackwell LLP, may appear formidable. He is a presence. Tall, broad-shouldered, with a low melodic voice that carries, he draws attention. But up close, his manner is easy, his wit is quick and his laugh is big. His home is much the same.
The house, a stone Tudor strongly influenced by the British Isles and British style, is imposing. It doesn’t loom exactly, but it’s significant with its pitched and varied rooflines. But the seriousness of the façade gives way as the wide front door swings open.
“The house was dark,” says Watson. “The woodwork and the paneling were all stained a brown that was almost black. The floors were dark.” The previous, though not original, owners, Emmy Lou and Bill Potter were great Anglophiles.
They had traveled to England every year and brought back architectural elements for their home, including mountains of paneling. “They were basically nocturnal,” reports Watson. “Bill was up all night writing and doing needlepoint. It worked great for them, but I had to have some light.”
Watson began by deciding to paint the woodwork pale gray, which immediately lifted his—and the house’s—spirits. He replaced the floors with reclaimed elmwood. “I didn’t want shine at all,” he says. “We used Monocoat, a water-based seal, that gave it a raw, earthy finish.”
With these subtle elements in place, Watson, with the assistance of designer Patrick Kappelmann and antiques dealer Christopher Filley, began to build lively, colorful rooms. “I love a lot of strong color,” he notes as he points out the inky blue walls of the entry. In order to create a more welcoming space, he removed a closet and a powder room, making way for a mirrored niche and a pair of charming French bergeres from Parrin & Co.
It’s here that visitors get their first glimpse of Watson’s extensive art collection, which contains several portraits and scenes with African-American subjects.
The great hall just off of the entry has an impressive double-height ceiling. “Tall ceilings are great but can be heavy. Sometimes it feels like you’re standing in a tunnel,” Watson says. To bring things down a bit he purchased two lanterns from 1st Dibs. “They are four-and-a-half feet tall without the chain.”
Other changes were made to soften the scale. Watson removed a too-small fireplace surround and installed a more substantial one designed by Filley, who also sourced the limestone. Leaded windows inset with stained-glass crests—an element that appears throughout the house—flood the room with light as do the new skylights.
The space, inspired by the late California designer Michael Taylor, is anchored by two Chinese screens in opposite corners. Cheerful orange accents liven up the upholstery set against a cool backdrop of pale blue-gray walls that Watson says changes throughout the day. It’s here that Watson tips his hand to comfort by combining antiques with new pieces. The sofa in front of the window is Restoration Hardware, but the rug and the Knole sofa, in its original velvet, both came from the Potter estate.
The study, which is tucked into the side of the house, gives way to the dining room, or the “bronze room” as Watson calls it. The room is the only one that still reads “dark” as befitting the intimacy and drama that dining rooms demand. It holds a large Chinese cabinet (“It had to go there. We couldn’t get it up the stairs.”) and a pair of Biedermeier chests that were separated in Watson’s former house and are happy to be reunited here.
The kitchen, just beyond, glows a bright and cheerful egg-yolk-y yellow. “I wanted it to feel like a real room and not just a kitchen,” says Watson.
But it is in the garden room where the house most echoes Watson’s lively and sophisticated spirit. Crisp green, the color of young lettuce, covers the walls, offset by the light trim and black French doors, which open to the Kappelmann-designed garden. Brass hardware and gilt lend a dashing note. “The mantel is original, and we designed the bookcases around it,” he says. “It’s a true salon. I can sit here and watch TV, or I can use the center table as a second dining room.”
The second floor was largely reconfigured creating three guest bedrooms and the master bedroom. Here again, Watson combined old and new. The California-king sleigh bed is from Restoration Hardware, but the rug was the Potters and the stunning aqua porcelain lamps are from antiques dealer Linda Hancock.
Surely after all this work Watson is in the house to stay. A smile breaks across his face. “I quit saying things like that a long time ago. You never know what’s going to happen next.”
Christopher Filley Antiques & Art
Parrin & Co. Antiques