A Kansas City mother and daughter team up to make this spectacular Parkville property a warm and welcoming haven for family and friends.
Story by Jeanne de Lathouder | Photography by Matt Kocourek
For some, designing a home from top to bottom can be a perplexing, labor-intensive experience that never seems to end. But for Holly Starr-Thomson — a Kansas City television celebrity turned wife, mother, and active community volunteer — it was a meaningful journey like no other when she was able to work alongside a talented interior designer who just happened to be her mom. Holly, a former L.A. model and Emmy-Award winner who was also the face of 38 The Spot and Las Vegas TV, longed to return to her Midwestern roots. For a few years, she flew back and forth to tape in Las Vegas. After deciding to settle permanently in Kansas City, where she met her husband, John, her decision came full circle when their daughter, Brinklee, was born. Upon purchasing an extraordinary Parkville property nestled amid the lush grounds of The National golf course, they enlisted Holly’s mom, Jennifer Surface of Surface to Surface Interior Design and Construction, to help them remodel and make their house a home.
“My mom is very passionate and gets really excited about her ideas,” says Holly, a self-professed stay-at-home mom and ardent volunteer for charities including Cars 4 Heroes, LevelUp Kids, Inc., and numerous animal rescue missions. “Her energy level is unbelievable, and her vision and creativity allowed for ideas we never dreamed of. She worked 13 to 14 hours a day getting our home organized and perfect down to the last detail. She is a perfectionist and a people pleaser to a fault, possibly. I affectionately refer to her as a teenager on Red Bull when it comes to her design work,” she laughs. “During our remodel, she also worked alongside my dad, Ed Surface, a premiere contractor who can build anything and fix everything. It was a no-brainer to enlist them,” she notes.
When the design plan for the Thomson’s house began, Jennifer’s main goal was to make their home feel like a “stay-cation” as well as a vacation home for their out-of-town guests. The verandas are welcoming and feature breathtaking views, and music flows throughout the home in stereo. The entryway showcases a gorgeous baby-grand piano where Brinklee currently enjoys practicing her piano lessons. An indoor basketball court offers exercise and fun and entices everyone to get off their electronics for a while. When the family has get-togethers, they often find themselves in there shooting baskets or playing tennis. Afterwards, they can retire to the movie theater room to wind down.
“Knowing the clients you design for is helpful yet it doesn’t change the way I do things,” says Jennifer. “I designed Holly and John’s home to reflect their personalities and lifestyle. Their taste matters, and I wanted the home to represent them—not me. I helped them choose things that are timeless and steered away from trends. My intention was to design for their habits as well as their traditions. John loves traditions, and to be able to carry these out in his own home makes him very happy,” she adds.
“Brinklee, Holly, and I have made so many memories here already,” says John, an avid golfer and the founder and CEO of PayIt. “We love having movie night or watching Brinklee and her friends performing a dance routine that they choreographed themselves. It will also forever be the place we celebrated a recent Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl win with some close friends,” he adds.
Aesthetically, Jennifer wanted to create a sense of balance overall so that Holly and John would feel their home was glamorous enough for elegant dinners yet friendly enough for day-to-day life. Accented with large striking pieces that leave a lasting impression, their home is opulent yet casual. It is a comforting place where clutter is not welcome—but guests certainly are.
“This family is very laid back and down to earth—humble really, and kind,” says Jennifer. “For them, I chose quiet colors and textures. Color speaks volumes when you keep it soft. I allowed color to make its appearance with my custom artwork. In some areas, rugs were selected as my springboard, but in general, I use the same hues—a mixture of warm and cool throughout—in artwork, rugs, pillows, decorative accessories, and fabrics,” she adds.
For her grand-daughter’s bedroom, Jennifer chose Brinklee’s favorite color of pink. Against a clean white background, she added gold to the pink tones as well as eye-catching stripes and polka dots. Aside from a bedroom suite, they designed an “office” area for her and a fabulous art room where the two of them could create together and Brinklee could draw and paint with her friends and cousins. Underneath the basement stairwell, they created an American Girl doll room — Brinklee’s own idea. It is the perfect size, off the beaten path, and offers a quiet, private personal space just for her.
“My goal was to make each room in this house cozy and inviting while retaining character and harmony throughout,” says Jennifer. “I wanted a polished, welcoming home with the perfect blend of comfort, beauty, and tranquility—a soothing palette that draws you in and provides a pleasant suggestion of relaxation. It is a well-dressed transitional home filled with a well-edited assembly of accessories, wall décor, and furniture pieces that are scale perfect. My mantra is, you can have the coolest things but if they are not properly scaled in relationship to where they are placed, they lose their coolness,” she adds.
To infuse the home with timeless appeal, Jennifer implemented a traditional look complemented with youthful and updated accents. She created several custom art pieces that are intense yet comforting and arresting. She also designed custom furniture pieces to fit perfectly in larger spaces and accentuated each room with captivating light fixtures that create a magical, romantic glow from above. Architecturally, the home features spectacular bones with exceptional millwork detailing and large windows offering breathtaking views. The rich and classic color scheme is a calculated layering of serene hues embellished with a neutral palette of natural materials.
“The elevator seems to be the most popular conversation piece,” says Jennifer. “They thought it would be useful for aging parents, but their dogs have actually used it more following various surgeries, and Brinklee loves to play ‘hotel’ in it,” she laughs.
“Although we have worked alongside one another through our volunteer efforts, it wasn’t until I was actively by her side that I realized my mom is a machine,” jokes Holly. “Throughout the process, there was a lot of laughter between us as we watched it all come to fruition without a single snafu. Together, we successfully made our new house a home. In addition to all the admirable things she has instilled in me throughout my life, I learned something new about her from this experience. I felt like an intern watching her turn a blank canvas into a beautiful home. I saw her working diligently as a she orchestrated dozens of artisans with respect, appreciation, and admiration. As I watched the huge transformation take place, I was in awe,” she adds.
“In their beautiful home on the hill, Holly and John live to celebrate the things they’ve accomplished through hard work, ethics, and perseverance,” says Jennifer. “I am honored to be a part of making this spectacular environment a home that showcases their success. And getting to work alongside my daughter is always a dream come true no matter what we are doing. I made so many memories and had so much fun. Don’t tell John, but we aren’t quite finished yet,” she laughs. “I have new ideas every day.”
- Development: The National
- Contractor: Surface to Surface Interior Design and Construction
- Designer: Surface to Surface Interior Design and Construction
- Painting: Mario Salinas Painting
- Custom Furniture: Couth KC Custom Furniture
- Flooring: Flooring Direct
- Furniture & Accessories: Seville Home
- Furniture & Fabric: Nell Hills
- Furniture & Accessories: Nebraska Furniture Mart Design Gallery
- Furniture & Lighting: Restoration Hardware
- Lighting: Wilson Lighting
- Custom Cabinetry: Superior Wood Products
- Furniture & Mirrors: Arhaus
- Children’s Furniture & Accessories: Not Too Shabby Boutique
- Exterior Accessories & Mirrors: The Warehouse by Fresh Picked