Nationally acclaimed Kansas City designer Karen Mills injects a traditional home with intoxicating colors, rich texture and international style.
Story by Jeanne de Lathouder | Photos by 29Pixel Studios, LLC
A master of creating extraordinary living spaces reflective of the homeowners who dwell within, Kansas City designer Karen Mills has a true passion for helping people live better. Recently featured in a newly released design book entitled Architecture Today Interior Design, Karen’s cutting-edge work on this grand Georgian-style home is beautifully showcased among the best interior design projects on the international scene. Aside from designing spectacular one-of-a-kind interiors and penning her own award-winning design blog read by more than 130 countries, Karen is perhaps best known for her long-running interior design show called Living Large featuring numerous celebrity designers and national television personalities.
With an exceptional knack for creating living experiences that engage the senses and nurture the soul, Karen attributes her firm’s success to building long-term relationships with clients while helping them translate their personal style into a signature look. For one of her latest projects, this home is nestled within the lush neighborhood of Mission Hills, Kansas. Karen created a transitional-meets-traditional look with an eclectic mix of internationally sourced artwork, custom furnishings, and European antiques that perfectly melds the personalities of both homeowners.
“Even though my clients relish their traditional Georgian manse in Mission Hills, they wanted to inject their love of contemporary art and international culture into the design mix to create an iconic look,” says Karen. “The man of the house was a big-picture thinker who envisioned a home that embodied the essence of the international boutique hotel scene, while his wife was more of a traditionalist who drew inspiration from classic design,” she notes.
The melding of minds of this husband and wife duo turned out to be a huge success. Throughout the entire home, each space delivers an intoxicating experience stemming from an unmistakable richness that Karen created with her meticulous attention to detail, splashes of vibrant color, and sumptuous mix of fabrics and textures. Impeccable and well-positioned lighting also works to highlight the couple’s extraordinary artwork and stunning personal collections.
“With this project, we started by scouring the world for the perfect piece of original art that would provide a visible expression of who our clients were,” Karen reveals. “Once we selected the artwork for the foyer — which happens to be an original Mattini painting — the project grew from there, beginning with a custom-designed rug inspired by the colors and the design of the painting. As an interior designer, I wholeheartedly believe that the foyer of a home sets the tone for the style, color, and overall look while also providing a preview of what’s to come and who might live there,” she adds.
Next, Karen sourced an antique console table from the South of France to pair with an existing mirror, and then introduced a one-of-a-kind ceramic vase to complete the foyer vignette. For the finishing touch, she wrapped the room with a handmade chevron wallpaper to create richness and depth.
For the dining room, a contemporary Swarovski crystal chandelier provides a stunning juxtaposition against the existing traditional furniture, while also drawing visitors in from the foyer for a closer look. The leather wall covering creates a calming neutral backdrop for the chandelier, and orange velvet seat covers introduce a playfully graphic giraffe-spot pattern. A traditional hand-knotted blue rug helps to anchor and balance this visually compelling space.
“In the library, the homeowners wanted a room that not only held their military memorabilia but also mementos from world travels and family heirlooms,” says Karen. “To offset the dark stained walls, we began by introducing lighter custom-designed furniture to brighten up the room and provide much-needed contrast. In addition, we added custom lighting to the built-in shelves to create a decidedly romantic ambience,” she notes.
The library’s custom desk made of champagne leather, glass, and wood embellished with nail-head trim provides an ideal focal point for the room along with a pebbled-leather wingback chair perched regally behind it. At the room’s entrance, a stunning custom-designed chair gives onlookers a pleasant glimpse of the overall style of the space, and a custom-designed wool rug created by Karen and her clients grounds the room and brings a decidedly bespoke aesthetic to this handsome space.
For their master suite, Karen’s clients wanted a private sanctuary that provided a refuge from their hectic travel schedules and work responsibilities. To achieve the look, she introduced a muted blue-green color on the walls to create a calming effect. A leafy textured wallpaper backdrop works to accentuate the eye-catching bed. Comfy chairs, a chaise lounge, and a bench upholstered in coordinating colors lend a serene feel to the room.
“For the third floor, my clients requested a luxurious guest suite that they could also use as an extra space in which to relax and unwind,” says the designer. “We aptly nicknamed this space ‘the Flat’ after their previous London abode — the perfect escape from everyday life,” she laughs.
In the entrance to the third-floor guest suite, Karen brought in blue-green décor to match the wall color along with barren branches to visually connect the space to the outside. In the guest living area, she continued the outdoor feel with a lamp that looks like stacked glass stones, which she paired with a modern sculptural table and a contemporary wool rug. A layering of custom furnishings in coordinating colors finishes the look flawlessly. With limited square footage in the guest suite bedroom, Karen designed hanging end tables and lamps to maximize the space on both sides of a lavish custom-designed bed made of silk, leather, and wood. Plush custom bedding completes the elegant look and brings a tranquil air to this welcoming environment.
“Our vision for this entire home was to create interiors that worked well for entertaining large groups, hosting family gatherings, or just relaxing alone,” says Karen. “Collaborating on the design with the homeowners to create something that was totally unique and memorable was incredibly rewarding,” she adds, “but the best part of all was building lifelong friendships with this couple who have become more like family than friends.”