The concept of family living has evolved over time. For upper class Victorians, it meant confining children to the third floor of a city townhouse, ruled by nanny. A century later, the split-level in suburbia celebrated the casual family room where adults and children could watch one of three television channels while sharing a bowl of popcorn.
In 2016, enlightened family living embraces open-concept design, environmentally friendly materials, fresh air, green space, and a walkable neighborhood.
For architect Josh Shelton, a partner with El Dorado, Inc., his wife, Destiny, a horticultural designer, and their children Roman (13) and Electra (14), their Westside house is all that and more. “We think of this house as an urban sanctuary,” says Josh Shelton. “It has an almost magical presence.”
While living in a Victorian house in Kansas City’s Westside neighborhood, in 2010 they bought a sloping lot nearby where they raised urban chickens and enjoyed picnics on Saturday afternoons. “It was kind of our backyard, so we got to feel how the sun streamed in and how it felt to be 20 feet up on a limestone bluff,” says Shelton.
Slowly, the idea took shape of building a house that took full advantage of the unusual lot, and ticked all their boxes: economy, simplicity, respect for the neighborhood, open spaces, modern design and green living. “We were intrigued by the possibilities,” he says.
In 2013, the house was finally ready.
It’s almost invisible from the alley, where you enter past a garage, studio, and spa space with a steam sauna and a cedar soaking tub. Before you know it, you’re in a wildflower garden, straight out of a children’s book—is it The Secret Garden or Heidi? This “green” roof is planted with little bluestem and native flowers.
It cuts energy bills by keeping the envelope house warm in winter and cool in summer. The porch cantilevered over the bluff and the rooftop garden offer amazing views.
You walk down the terraced courtyard into the U-shaped house of ebony-stained cedar and glass. It’s a study in sophisticated simplicity—a wing for cooking and dining, a central section for gathering, and a wing for sleeping. The central sunken courtyard “is one of our rooms in spring and fall,” says Shelton. And glass on three sides brings sunlight into every room.
Everything about this house is fresh and unexpected, organized and free-flowing. Pale beech flooring (with radiant heat underneath) and white walls provide a natural palette that doesn’t compete with the courtyard views. Pops of navy and dark green mimic the night sky and the treetops.
In the kitchen/dining wing, the cooktop is on a white Corian-topped stainless island, fabricated by El Dorado. “We cook as a family,” says Josh, “and we eat most of our meals around this island.” They chose a downdraft instead of a vent hood so the room would feel more open.
Shelton built the dining room table of reclaimed walnut with his neighbor Adam Jones. Vintage midcentury-modern chairs provide more seating when the family entertains.
In the central living area, a Romotop Stromboli wood-burning stove with a sleek, contemporary look is also very energy-efficient. This stove rotates on its raised hearth, so it can be turned toward the living, dining, or bedroom areas. It’s an indoor counterpoint to the outdoor fire pit in the courtyard.
Above the minimalist yet comfortable sofa from Design Within Reach is an art wall. “Through the years, I have been on many boards and have collected works by Kansas City artists I have met and admired,” says Shelton. He especially likes a ginkgo leaf drawing by Karen McCoy, a fine-art photograph by Mike Sinclair, and a work by James Woodfill. Other midcentury pieces from Retro Inferno and a black leather lounger with an ottoman create zones for reading, watching television or snuggling up before the fire.
The wing of bedrooms is private yet transparent. “When we’ve been cooking in the kitchen, we can look across the courtyard and see if Roman is doing his homework,” says Shelton. “Well, at least he’s looking at something on his computer screen.”
When they first moved in, Shelton and his wife loved sleeping with the door open, listening to the muted, soothing sounds of faraway trains passing in the night.
The main bathroom of 2-inch by 2-inch white tile, etched glass and Corian counters is sleek and easy to maintain. A trough sink on a floating white contemporary cabinet maintains a family-friendly practicality.
Says Shelton, “When we’re here, we can’t believe we’re in the city. It’s so quiet and green and calm.” Just like they planned it.
Josh Shelton, AIA
Steve Salzer, AIA
Kelly Construction Group