Contemporary art is a big business these days, with pieces by prominent artists such as Cindy Sherman and Jeff Koons fetching millions of dollars. But the contemporary art these homeowners collect is big in another way. After years of displaying large-format pieces in their beautiful old traditional home, they were running out of staging areas. The philanthropic couple also hosts large events several times a year, and some events were so big that the couple would shut down the block and put up a tent.
Several years ago they decided to commission an even larger work of modern art: a three-level house designed by Hufft. The firm happens to be local, but it has done quite a bit of cultural and curatorial work for New York City galleries, as well as designing the Exposition Exhibition Expedition Pavilion (Ex3) at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was simply icing on the cake that principal Matthew Hufft also had a personal connection with the clients, having grown up with the wife.
The couple requested a house and art gallery—specifically both. Situated on a 1-acre corner lot, the house’s dedicated art space is subterranean. Its cast-in-place concrete entrance is cut into a hill on the side street so that visitors can walk in at grade. “We knew that to make the gallery successful, it couldn’t feel like a basement, and we needed on-grade access to the street so we could get large sculpture in and out,” Matthew says. The main level is entered from the street in front, which allows the couple to entertain in the art gallery below without bringing visitors into the house.
Of course, they also rotate the collection through the main level and second story, and they wanted to be able to see down into the art galley, and vice versa. By cutting holes in the floor plates, the design team developed three distinct atriums or “arteries” that permeate three levels. “It doesn’t matter what level you’re on, you always have a visual connection to the art from the private residence to the gallery below,” Matthew says. “Like the heart that pumps blood through the body, these holes pump art through the house.”
The east-west-oriented main living level is essentially a limestone-clad rectangular box bisected by a finger-like gallery hall extending south into the landscape. A long run of open-tread stairs—one of those arteries—connects this hallway vertically to the 4,000-square-foot subterranean gallery. On the cedar-wrapped second-story volumes, three family bedrooms with en suite baths overhang both sides of the main living space, while two guest suites straddle the gallery hall in a rather dramatic way, cantilevering roughly 20 feet in both directions. One guest room faces the street, the other the pool. “They sit on a 10-foot center point, so it’s really a teeter-totter and has glass wrapping two facades,” Matthew says. “To do that we had to create a metal truss on one of the back walls and build it piece by piece like a highway bridge.”
In designing the home, Hufft architects had to not only create three-dimensional studies but also think through clearances for moving large pieces of art. “We built lots of models—a lot of double- and triple-height spaces and large walls over a staircase, for instance, thinking about the size of art that could go on a wall and the vantage point of where you could see it from,” Matthew says. “The last model we did was huge, 6 feet by 6 feet.”
This porosity is apparent immediately on entering the house. The foyer crosses a bridge over the open stairwell, long staircases with exaggerated openings connect all three levels, and a glass floor off the main stair meets a large bookshelf that continues through the floor to the gallery below. “At a party you can look up and see the young girls running upstairs, and look down and see the art gallery,” Matthew says. “To me that’s what makes it really special; views are captured in a lot of different ways.” Outside-in it’s a different story. Deep overhangs all the way around the house were calculated to keep out direct light that could damage the artwork. Although the lot is large, there are neighbors all around and the overhangs, with screening and vegetation between them, make the house feel unusually private.
Intimate, open, and casual, the rooms of this 10,600-square-foot house are dimensionally similar to those of smaller homes. A kitchen and sitting area with a fireplace forms the center of the home where family members spend most of their time. Double-pane wood storefront windows overlook the backyard, which contains a sculpture garden and swimming pool.
A simple color and material palette creates a blank surface on which the art can pop. Radiant-heated flooring is walnut in the circulation areas and stone in the dining room, kitchen/living area, and his-and-hers offices. The architects used as much indirect lighting as possible, and the 2-inch recessed ceiling fixtures are mudded in so they almost disappear.
“Everything we did was analyzed through the lens of an art collector,” Matthew says. His firm’s 40,000-square-foot fabrication facility produced the house’s walnut cabinetry and printed 3D prototypes for the metal hardware. “They wanted everything to have significant meaning; it was important that even the hardware play into the concept of the house.” Matthew says. “It took customization to a new level.”
That customization continued on the home’s exterior, where the firm wrote software to make the undulating steel panels that hang like stylized curtains on the upper bedroom volumes. “Imagine having a flat piece of metal and opening it as you would a curtain, how it would bunch up to the side; the panels do the same thing,” Matthew says. With its embossed dots, the steel’s texture is similar to a paper towel and diffuses the light. “We worked with local manufacturer Zahner, famous in the sheet-metal world,” Matthew says. “It was a great thrill to work with them on a local project.”
Not surprisingly, the biggest challenges were structural. A rigorous building envelope is always important, and when you have aggressive cantilevers on a 10-foot primary structure, zero-tolerance trimless interiors, and casework and windows that go floor to ceiling and wall to wall, there is little margin for error. The building is wood-framed but the superstructure is steel, which inherently moves, says Hufft principal Greg Vielhauer, operations manager for the construction and fabrication divisions. “The finishes are not conducive to the movement you typically are allowed in superstructures like this. What it took to accomplish that is hidden and underappreciated but probably one of most impressive things about the house. You have to try to accommodate expansion and contraction, whether it’s with expansion points in the drywall or bulking up flooring assemblies so they add rigidity to the structure.” Plywood installed behind the drywall also provides solid blocking for heavy installations.
With such robust bones, installing the plumbing, audiovisual equipment, and HVAC was a puzzle too. “We had to get very creative in supplying the rooms with warm and cold air and water and waste,” Greg says. “It was related to the amount of structure it took to achieve the clean lines and windows that went all the way to the bottom of the ceiling. We were locked in, running mechanicals through different areas of the home.”
Despite its size, the residence aims to live lightly on the land. The overhangs are just deep enough to keep out the summer sun and allow the lower winter sun to heat the thermal mass of the stone floors. Windows were strategically placed for cross-ventilation, and operable skylights atop the atriums cool the house from the bottom up. Other environmental measures include a geothermal system, solar panels, and green roof terraces, while gravel drives, pervious courtyards, and drought-tolerant native plants keep rainwater on the site and irrigation at a minimum.
This home’s success can be measured in many ways, but Matthew is most gratified that the building is fulfilling its intended purpose. “We tried to get the owner to give us a list of art that would go in specific places, but he insisted that we not design that way. He wanted the ability to move things around,” Matthew says. “I’m amazed at how much they rotate their artwork—probably three or four times a year. That makes me very happy. The moment you move a big painting, it changes the space. I can tell they’re looking, staring at works on the wall. It feels like a great success, using the house to that level.”—Cheryl Weber
Kansas City, MO.
ARCHITECT: Matthew Hufft, AIA, and Dan Brown, AIA, principals in charge, Hufft, Kansas City, Mo.
BUILDER: Greg Vielhauer, Hufft
FABRICATION MANAGER: Scott Beattie, Hufft
STRUCTURAL ENGINEER: Bob D. Campbell, Kansas City
LIGHTING DESIGNER: Derek Porter Studio, Kansas City
FAÇADE CONSULTANT: Zahner, Kansas City
LANDSCAPE ARCHITECT: 40North, Weston, Mo.
PROJECT SIZE: 10,650 square feet
SITE SIZE: 1 acre
CONSTRUCTION COST: Withheld
PHOTOGRAPHY: Michael Robinson
KITCHEN COUNTERTOPS: Caesarstone
VANITIES AND PEDESTAL LAVS: ADM Bathroom Design
GARBAGE DISPOSAL: InSinkErator
OUTDOOR APPLIANCES: Kalamazoo
KITCHEN FAUCETS: KWC, Kohler, Blanco
SHOWER FAUCETS: Blu Bathworks
TOILETS: Duravit, Toto
LIGHTING: Foscarini, Leucos ArtiStar, B-K
HOME AUTOMATION: Omni
PAINT: Benjamin Moore
Plans and Drawings