Meticulously restored to its former glory, this iconic Liberty landmark breathes with new life and modern sensibilities.
Story by Jeanne de Lathouder | Photos by Matt Kocourek
Poised proudly just four blocks from the Liberty Square, a resplendent Georgian-style estate – brilliantly restored – pays homage to its rich historical past. Originally built in 1914 by Dr. Samuel Woodson, a renowned Liberty, Missouri, physician, the lavish structure boasted a poured concrete foundation – unheard of in that era – as well as four feet of brick above the foundation to ensure the house was far above ground level and impervious to insects. Over the next hundred years, the resilient dwelling withstood a long list of proprietors before at last falling into the hands of its current owners, who very well may be the beloved home’s saving grace.
True historians, with meticulous attention to detail, a prominent Liberty couple who wanted to be able to use their home to hold events for the many causes they support purchased the property with the intent to not only restore its architectural integrity, but also to bring a modern sensibility to its newly refurbished rooms.
“We wanted to strike a balance between taking the house back to its roots while at the same time taking advantage of the latest technology to make it as up to date as possible,” says the new homeowner. “Blending a spacious 1914 home with a modern lifestyle was not easy, so we visited some previous owners who had lived in the house for 50 years before moving to their retirement home in Arizona,” he notes.
From this visit, the couple discovered some unique features they could bring back to the house that would make a huge difference — the most important of these was the upstairs hallway, which was currently dark and narrow, and completely out of character to the house. They also discovered that in the late 1980s, another previous owner had taken an airy and open upstairs living room and converted it into a large bathroom for the original master bedroom.
“We tore out this bathroom and were able to restore the living room complete with French doors opening onto a second-floor veranda,” the homeowner recounts. “This also served to flood light back into the hallway as it was originally intended to do. Our general contractor, Dobbe Dobberstine, of Liberty, practically lived with the house and managed to keep the project moving along,” he adds.
Collaborating also with Timothy Homburg, principal architect of NSPJ Architects, the team worked together for nearly six months on the design and construction documents for the home, striving to embrace the classical nature of the existing structure while implementing the new additions and renovations.
“We took a great deal of time studying how the added exterior elements – the front dormer, the enclosing of the rear porch – respected the history of the original home,” says Tim. “The new construction replicated the existing scale and proportion as we attempted to make the new work appear that it had been done with the original home. We placed a large emphasis on reverting as many of the original rooms as possible back to their prior glory. We also worked diligently to add modern amenities, including a large kitchen, a master bath, and master closet, to make the home function better,” he adds.
To guide the design of the new interior spaces, and select the appropriate furnishings and finishes, the homeowners called upon their entrusted interior designers, Kristi Cates and Trish McGregor, of Cates Interior Design, with whom they had partnered on their previous residence.
“They are my dream clients and gave us complete freedom to develop ideas for their new project,” says Kristi. “When we began, we didn’t know anything about the history of the home, so we spent a day at the Clay County Archives trying to find information and old photos. We found a Christmas card with the original artwork depicting the facade of the house draped in greenery, so we had a framed copy made, and it now hangs in their foyer,” she adds.
The house took 18 months from purchase to complete the full restoration and additions. The largest addition was a second-floor sun room immediately above the first-floor sun room, which now flows into the master bedroom suite. The master bathroom was extended by building dormer windows – both front and back – to push out a large existing storage closet. This not only served to create a wonderful sunlit room overlooking the eight-acre grounds, but also helped to architecturally balance the house in back.
“We wanted the house to flow, so we removed a wall at the end of the foyer that separated it from the sunroom,” says Trish. “We wanted to bring the green into the sunroom, but in a fresh way, so we decided to paint the ceiling to keep the feeling of the room light and make the view to the outdoors the star. We added another doorway into the sunroom from the kitchen, as this is where the homeowners would be enjoying their meals when they’re not entertaining. Opening that doorway also helps with traffic flow when they are hosting large events, and we also had to figure out how to work with the elevator they were installing,” she laughs.
In the living room, with the original wainscoting still intact, the walls and trim were intentionally painted with the same subtle neutral hue to reduce the formality and lend a feeling of warmth. For a dramatic focal point, the fireplace was redesigned to include an elegant black marble surround. During the holidays, the mantel is embellished with fresh magnolia garland accented with a stunning wreath hanging overhead. Overall, the living space demonstrates a refined mix of traditional furnishings and antique pieces juxtaposed with a striking contemporary painting by Keith Jacobshagen on the back wall.
In the library, a Spanish antique desk inspires the warm sophistication of this cozy inner sanctum. Existing bookshelves were painted in a dark taupe, and a charming library ladder was installed as well as picture lights above each bookshelf. Sumptuous draperies were hung for privacy, but do not overshadow the extraordinary original windows. The antique maps showcased in this room are part of the homeowners’ extensive collection.
Other noteworthy furnishings throughout this magnificent home include a stately herringbone inset in the foyer floor, an antique Italian map in the foyer landing that dates from the 1700s, a stylish shagreen sofa table in the living room, and the master bedroom’s majestic four-poster brass bed. In the dining room, an extravagant solid walnut table can seat 16 and has done so on several occasions. Interior designer and artist Jennifer Bertrand embellished the dining room walls with her exquisitely hand-painted mural scenes from Liberty’s past that intertwine in some fashion with the family’s history as well.
“The kitchen and family room are, of course, the heart of the home and where the couple hangs out with their kids and grandkids,” says Trish. “They wanted to have a lot of comfy seating and a place where they could play board games. When we were designing this room, we envisioned their large family engaged in many different activities together. Someone may be cooking, there might be a sporting event on TV, and we wanted to make sure the space was multifunctional. The handmade tile that we used on all the kitchen walls and the hood was our jumping off point for the inviting taupe and yellow color scheme,” she adds.
“One of the most enjoyable aspects of our house was that the entire third floor was converted into a large play area for our grandchildren,” says the homeowner. “The space also includes a bedroom and bath for their overnight stays as well. For the most part, the only rule for the third floor is that the parents aren’t allowed, only kids and grandparents,” he jokes. “The house has exceeded our expectations as a gathering place for family and friends.”
An astonishing endeavor by any measure, the finished restoration of this landmark gem is absolutely unparalleled and undoubtedly cherished by both honored guests and those who simply pass by to catch a glimpse of this historic property.
“As an architect, you really appreciate seeing the time and care taken in the design of these homes,” Tim comments. “Craftsmanship and attention to detail are sometimes lost in our fast-paced way of life. Teaming up with clients who have a shared interest in doing whatever it takes to preserve this piece of Clay County history was thrilling.”
Architect: NSPJ Architects | Designer: Cates Interior Design | Contractor: Dobberstine Custom Homes | Elevator: Country Home Elevator & Stair Lift | Appliances: Factory Direct Appliance | Audio/Visual/SmartHome: Applause Custom Sight & Sound | Cabinets: Miller Custom Cabinets | Doors & Millwork: Kansas City Millwork | Electrician: Joe Kilowatt, Inc. | Engineer: Norton & Schmidt | Hardwood Flooring: Armstrong-Citywide | Framing: Fizer Precision Woodworks | Glass & Mirrors: Precision Glass | Hardware: Locks & Pulls | Heating & Cooling: Double C | Home Security: Music Vac Security | Landscaping: Green Expectations | Lumber: Porters Wholesale | Painter (interior): R&S Painting | Painter (exterior): Brent Webb Painting | Plumbing: Minder Plumbing | Plumbing Fixtures: Ferguson Enterprises | Stone Mason: Sharp Stoneworks | Stucco: Superior Stucco & Remodel | Trim Work: David Hawkins | Windows: Kansas City Millwork, Pella Products | Window Repair: Larry Young Wood Rot | Window Tinting: Energy Control Products | Sprinkler System: Samson Irrigation