Built in 1909, the formerly sloping backyard of this historic Loose Park residence now presents as a series of entertainment and relaxation spaces.
Story by Ann Butenas | Photography by Matt Kocourek
Located just a stone’s throw away from the historic Jacob L. Loose Park in Kansas City, Missouri, this magnificent home, situated on the corner of 53rd Street and Wyandotte, has witnessed noteworthy moments in its 111 years of existence. Originally built in 1909, the house enjoyed an update in 1937 and a porch addition in 1947, but since that time had remained relatively untouched in terms of appreciable aesthetic and structural changes until current owners Trace Shapiro and Scott Parrish moved in with their family about eight years ago.
Most recently, the homeowners decided to update the look of the exterior of the home, but did so with the commitment to stay true to the character and integrity of the estate and its surroundings. When they took possession of the 11,000 square foot home, the remodeling projects soon followed in constant motion. The couple wanted to provide a home that would offer a wealth of memories for their six daughters. Every project has been an undertaking, and each definitely required a formidable balance of grit, determination, creativity, resources and, above all, love.
According to Shapiro, the home originally consisted of five lots. It currently comprises three lots and stands as the 14th house for which Shapiro has rolled up her sleeves to dig in, remodel and fix up.
“Each house calls for its own story,” she expressed. “This particular home originally had a fountain, a garden and a stable/carriage house and even a few cisterns. Throughout each project, we made sure to remain historically-minded to the home and its story.”
When it was time to give a new look to the outdoor landscape and backyard areas, Shapiro and Parrish partnered with Joann Schwarberg, a Kansas City based landscape architect. Shapiro greatly appreciates the beauty of her historic home, and its unforgettable aesthetic appeal is not lost on her. She extends Schwarberg tremendous praise for her efforts in bringing everything to fruition.
“Joann is quite brilliant,” asserted Shapiro. “She has a vision for the site and understands what people like and how they live in a house and then ultimately knows how to make that vision work.”
Shapiro referenced one of the larger aspects of the backyard renovation project which presented quite a challenge, but was one Schwarberg creatively overcame.
“There was a 22 foot drop from the front door to the corner of the property,” she noted. “We built it up to create a usable yard that wasn’t usable before.” Loosely translated, there were appreciable grading issues, and Schwarberg had to specifically level the property so as not to make it appear awkward. Fortunately, it all worked out wonderfully, after leaping over a few stumbling blocks along the way.
Nestled on a corner lot, the narrow back yard and larger side yard presented as somewhat of a puzzle for Schwarberg, who designed and installed all the hard surfaces of this backyard masterpiece Her work included the entire layout – the wall, pool, garage, arbors and paving, as well as some plant materials.
“The required setback on the Wyandotte side was only 15 feet but the house was built 92 feet back,” referenced Schwarberg. “We had a lot of room to work with. However, with the grade challenges, we had to create terraces to come down to the pool level comfortably, sloping to the low wall and then eventually to the street.”
Schwarberg then pulled back seven feet from the sidewalk on the Wyandotte side for planting space as well as for the pedestrian experience and then pulled back 16 feet on the 53rd Street side to retain old trees that influenced the shape of the remainder of the yard. All of the old asphalt and concrete was ripped out and all new sub surfaces were subsequently installed, properly grading the space. Schwarberg also installed all new stone pillars around the top terrace and the existing wall that wraps around the property. The stone placements throughout the yard’s expansive palette including the large slab bluestone flagstone surrounding the pool are visually strong, stable and grounding, both physically and aesthetically.
Another notable change was with respect to the garage. The former garage was in the basement and one would have to drive down and under to access it. According to Shapiro, the space would barely fit a Versa automobile.
“We moved the garage forward to create a private, intimate space for the previously exposed back yard,” noted Schwarberg. “We sealed off the unusable old basement garage, backfilled the soil to be level with the rest of the yard for more usable space, and created the new garage to fit well with the architecture and materials of the historic house.”
Unique to the garage is its wood door on the front and a glass door on the back that opens to the arbor and backyard. This creates the perfect venue for the music events the owners love to host throughout the year.
“We like to put on house concerts,” stated Shapiro, who used to perform as a singer. “We will bring in musicians from all over the world, hosting them for dinner and potlucks. We can now use the patio and side yard as stages and can also use the garage with its door open for an alternate venue.”
The garage also comfortably delineates the public and private space. The arbor is in between the garage and the house. An enclosed porch formerly existed in that space until the owners decided to open it up. Additionally, when the new garage was built, the homeowners deferred to experienced masons to provide its historically-appearing stone exterior.
“They picked the stone to make the garage look historical and in accordance with the home,” stated Shapiro. “The masons did a beautiful job. Such work is really a lost art.”
On the west side of the home is a covered patio, fireplace and the luxurious pool, which enjoys full stone coping and an automatic cover. This area provides a perfect gathering spot. One can sit in the indoor terrace and still feel a part of the pool terrace that is just four feet below.
“We created a series of staircases to add to the formality,” emphasized Schwarberg. The rise and run of the steps creates a more elegant feeling, incorporating the longer steps with the shorter rise. With just eight steps, it feels effortless. In between those steps is a slope with no rail, which allows for good interaction with the pool level.”
Schwarberg also put in a pool bathroom with stonework over the door.
“The only bathroom in the house at that level is way on the other side of the house,” she indicated. “We tucked this bathroom in between the garage and the house, about halfway down. It is easily accessed from inside and outside the house.”
When it came to highlighting the yard and garden areas, Shapiro relied on her skills as an herbalist.
“We incorporated many herbals and edibles into the yard,” she indicated, referring to such highlights as elderberry and witch hazel which have been delightfully integrated into the landscape. “We feed wild animals with other plants so they don’t eat my garden!”
Shapiro also maintains a variety of other edible plants such as chards and strawberries in assorted pots around the yard and garden areas.
“I like the idea of having an edible landscape while simultaneously ensuring its beauty,” she smiled.
Even though this backyard presents as a uniquely refreshing and relaxing garden spot, it was also designed with an express purpose in mind.
“Our goal was to create a layout that was both usable and beautiful,” said Schwarberg, who worked closely with the city planning and historic preservation offices on many elements. “This was always meant to be a place for friends and family. The end result and ultimate success of the project is due to the cooperation and talent of the entire team, including the architects, structural engineers, city staff, contractors and the homeowners. It’s a thrill to work with people who want to do things right and well. Overall, this project turned out beautifully, delivering the best landscape and architectural results, staying true to the home and to the neighborhood while also making the best use of the space.”
- Landscape Architect: Joann Schwarberg Landscape
- Architect: DRAW Architecture
- Historic Preservation Consultant: Rosin Preservation
- Structural Engineer: Bob D Campbell, Engineers
- Surveyor: D&A Surveying
- Pool: Swim Things
- Stone Masonry: C&M Masonry
- Stone Masonry: Sturgis Materials
- Carpentry: Guehne Made Custom
- Concrete: Hoge Concrete Construction
- Planting/Lighting/Fencing: By the Blade
- Concrete Pots: VanLiew’s Home & Garden