A Bold Palette

Designer Kurt Knapstein energizes a dated Sunset Hill Tudor with a fresh new look

The location was great. The bones of the house were good. But the tipping points in a Kansas City interior designer’s decision were really special. “As soon as I walked in the door and saw the spiral staircase, I was intrigued,” says Kurt Knapstein of his Sunset Hill Tudor. “When I saw the barrel-vaulted ceiling in the master bedroom, that was the clincher.”

Making the move from his polished Plaza-area condo to a three-bedroom, two-story home required a year-and-a-half of remodeling and redesigning. “One of the challenges of renovating an older home is repurposing the spaces for changing lifestyles,” he says. The home had not been updated in 50 years. “It needed a facelift.”

Known for the exceptionally customized spaces he designs for clients, Knapstein was no less particular when the client was himself. And he knew exactly what he wanted.

Technology integration was high on the list. “I work a lot,” he confesses, “so when I get home late after seeing clients or working out at the gym, I want to watch my big-screen TV in the kitchen, make myself some dinner, and relax.” Knapstein designed his home to function so he can do just that. A flip of the switch, a turn of the dial, and silent servants do the work of dimming lights, warming a floor, or turning on music, especially Michael Bublé or Norah Jones.

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And the second thing was to surround himself with colors, art, furniture and objects that continue to give him pleasure in the mix of styles he favors. “I’m drawn to strong accent colors, but I also love beige and taupe and charcoal gray,” he says.

Contemporary art—especially pieces by New York artist and Kansas City native Brady Legler, the son of one of Knapstein’s friends—brings in bold cerulean blue and vivid red to shake things up. “I’m a big believer in buying original art,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be expensive. You could have found it at a flea market. But an original art piece will have a story and it will make your house more unique.”

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For another dose of strong color, Knapstein converted the former sunroom into a moody blue music room, painting the walls and trim in Benjamin Moore’s Symphony Blue. “It was a bit of an experiment,” he admits, “but I think it’s so cool.” The room’s focal point is the six-foot ebony baby grand that can be played by a pianist or remotely via a built-in player mechanism. Although Knapstein doesn’t play the piano, he hosts gatherings with live music. “You had to work the player with a floppy disk, but I had it updated so I can control it with my iPad.”

“A strong color in a dining room or powder room can be dramatic,” he maintains. “Especially a dark color, which gives that ‘wow’ factor.”

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When Knapstein kept to neutrals, he gave them a twist. In the dining room, the charcoal-gray wallpaper features black-flocked dragons. “Everyone who walks into the dining room has to touch the walls and comment on them,” Knapstein says. Streamlined neoclassical wingback chairs with a Greek key design pop in lighter-hued upholstery around a circular table in dark wood.

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“I like wallpaper,” Knapstein says, “but a lot of people are afraid of it. I use it to get a really unique look.” In the entry way, Knapstein papered the ceiling in a gold-leaf tea paper. In the library, he used a shagreen print bordered with brass nail-head trim on the ceiling.

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“In every house, I have to have a really comfortable master bedroom and a really wonderful master bath,” says Knapstein. In the bath, Knapstein installed heated flooring and floor-to-ceiling tile in tones of taupe, gray and limestone. “I have to have really good lighting, too. It makes a huge difference,” he says.

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In the master bedroom, Knapstein remixed the charcoal gray, beige and taupe with a study in texture. Grass-cloth walls, a leather headboard, crisp sheets, velvet “the color of a Weimaraner” and tapestry-like upholstery on a bench work well with the polished wood pieces.

In a house in which Knapstein says that he wants things “to look like they’ve always been there,” he uses more contemporary lighting to keep the look current.

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Knapstein designed the light fixture over the kitchen island. The dining room chandelier is a cascade design of glass rods and brass balls. In the music room, the chandelier looks like a geodesic dome of faceted mercury glass. A Sputnik-shaped chandelier in the master bedroom draws the eye up to the unique ceiling. And on the second floor landing, an all-chain fixture casts striped shadows on the plaster walls. “It’s a really cool effect,” Knapstein says.

The whole house is on a Lutron lighting system, so Knapstein can flip a switch when he gets home and “the whole house comes alive,” he says.

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