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"Renovating a Modern House in a Historic District"

Janssen Place is considered to be one of the most historic streets in Kansas City, Missouri. In 1896, Arthur Stilwell, founder of the Kansas City Southern Railroad, established the private lane as a place for the upper echelons of society to reside. The years 1897 to 1917 saw the most development and stately mansions built in all manner of styles—Georgian, Shingle, Italianate Revival, Queen Anne, and Jacobethan—line the street. It was eventually nicknamed "Lumberman's Road" after the wood- and construction-industry tycoons who settled in. As history played out—the Great Depression, flight to the suburbs—the character of the street shifted. A few vacant lots remained on the two-block stretch and in the 1950s and '60s a few modest single-family homes and duplexes joined the grande dames. In 1976, the street became part of the National Register of Historic Places.

So when residents Ethan and Heidi Whitehill purchased their 1960s Janssen Place duplex, they knew about the extra considerations that would need to go into converting it into a single-family home. The architects at local firm Kem Studio were up to the challenge and viewed the project as an opportunity to spark a larger conversation about redesigning a modern home in a historic district. Because it was the first of the newer structures to be renovated, the Whitehills' house faced extra scrutiny. "The Landmarks association and neighbors viewed this as a precedent-setting project and raised passionate questions about what was considered to be appropriate and respectful of the historic homes, the neighborhood, and reflecting 2012," states the studio.