American Beauty

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By Dwell and Brooke McGrath
A Kansas architect unlocks the potential in an outdated 1950s home.

On a busy corner in Prairie Village, Kansas, sits a 1950s house with curb appeal unlike any other on the block. The myrtle- and ivy-covered grounds are bisected by a footbridge, once unstable, that now features a restored Gino Sarfatti street lamp. In summer’s full bloom, the yard sets a scene that’s peacefully reminiscent of the time when the house was built.

American Beauty - Photo 1 of 8 - Architect Chris Fein’s family home in Kansas is a showcase for modern design pieces, including a Le Corbusier LC6 dining table, chairs by Maarten Van Severen for Vitra, and a Louis Poulsen pendant. The sideboard is a Florence Knoll design from 1952, about the time the house was built. 

Architect Chris Fein’s family home in Kansas is a showcase for modern design pieces, including a Le Corbusier LC6 dining table, chairs by Maarten Van Severen for Vitra, and a Louis Poulsen pendant. The sideboard is a Florence Knoll design from 1952, about the time the house was built. 


American Beauty - Photo 2 of 8 - In the living room, a vintage Paul McCobb sofa, a Gio Ponti side table, and an Eames lounge echo the home’s midcentury architecture—as does the thrifted red Florence Knoll Parallel Bar sofa that lends the room a shot of color.

In the living room, a vintage Paul McCobb sofa, a Gio Ponti side table, and an Eames lounge echo the home’s midcentury architecture—as does the thrifted red Florence Knoll Parallel Bar sofa that lends the room a shot of color.

The structure had been left nearly untouched when architect Chris Fein and his wife, Christy, discovered it, but the couple were won over by its potential. Now, after a six-month renovation, when neighbors saunter by, and many do, they see a starkly modern kitchen peeking through the new long window at the front of the house. As a precursor to what’s inside, the entrance combines styles and eras in a physical manifestation of Chris’s approach to design as an architect, art collector, and self-proclaimed minimalist.


American Beauty - Photo 3 of 8 -  

 

American Beauty - Photo 4 of 8 - <span style="line-height: 1.8;">A 1980s renovation dated the kitchen,&nbsp;</span>so Chris integrated a modern white design with a custom island. The oven is by IKEA; other major appliances were purchased from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore.&nbsp;

A 1980s renovation dated the kitchen, so Chris integrated a modern white design with a custom island. The oven is by IKEA; other major appliances were purchased from the Habitat for Humanity ReStore. 

When Chris set out to rework the house, he had more than its vintage condition to think about. While the Fein home needs to function as family space for Chris, Christy, and their sons, Lawrence and Liam (as well as Milo, a Pekingese-Pomeranian mix), it also doubles as a showroom for Chris’s business, Forward Design | Architecture. From his backyard studio, Chris works on a range of projects, from small, creative spaces to whole houses.

When refurbishing his own home, Chris wanted to salvage what he could. He decided to work mostly within the dwelling’s original floor plan—1,600 square feet on the main level—and basic structure. But in addition to the aesthetic blunder of mustard and magenta walls, the existing house lacked a master bedroom and suffered from prolonged neglect. Wasting no time, Chris jumped in, turning the maid’s quarters into a master suite, updating the kitchen and bathroom, and reworking the east elevation.


American Beauty - Photo 5 of 8 - Lawrence, seven, shows off his toy collection on a vintage Cado wall unit in his bedroom.&nbsp;

Lawrence, seven, shows off his toy collection on a vintage Cado wall unit in his bedroom. 

"The style of our home is a combination of minimalist and collector, although those things are technically opposites." —Chris Fein, architect and resident


American Beauty - Photo 6 of 8 - The walls are painted in Borrowed Light by Farrow and Ball. His bed is a George Nelson design for Herman Miller.&nbsp;

The walls are painted in Borrowed Light by Farrow and Ball. His bed is a George Nelson design for Herman Miller. 

"We tried to create distinct rooms that are spatially connected," Chris says. "I wanted more defined rooms, rather than one big, open space." Some aspects of the house, however, like a 1980s kitchen remodel, had to go. Its sleek, all-white replacement is now the showpiece of the remodel, with floor-to-ceiling cabinets and drawers and a custom island, all designed by Chris and crafted by Studio Build, a Kansas City design-build company. That left space for a three-tiered shelving unit that houses his collection of vintage pepper mills.


American Beauty - Photo 7 of 8 - Chris kept interventions to the exterior to a minimum, while celebrating the indoor/outdoor connection typical of homes of the era.

Chris kept interventions to the exterior to a minimum, while celebrating the indoor/outdoor connection typical of homes of the era.

"I like to be surrounded by objects that inspire and create a drive to design at an equal level," Chris says. "It’s my belief that surrounding myself with good design will, if only through osmosis, make me a better designer."  

American Beauty - Photo 8 of 8 -