Interiorssneak peeks

A Little Cottage on the Prairie

by Bethany Joy Foss

Laura Berman & Chris Akers' Home on Design*Sponge

Prairieside Cottage is located in the rolling Flint Hills of Kansas, surrounded by seven acres of open land in the northwest corner of a small town called Matfield Green. Owned by a creative family who loves exploring nature, collecting and playing together, the cottage is a home away from home and vacation rental property. Laura Berman is an artist and professor at the Kansas City Art Institute, and Chris Akers is a former architect and owner of an artisanal bread bakery who focuses on projects within their various businesses and cares for their home and two sons, Jovian and Alex. Their primary residence is a quick two-and-a-half-hour drive to Kansas City, which makes the cottage a great weekend getaway to unplug and connect as a family, as well as a space to host dear friends and international travelers. Laura and Chris also offer a family-friendly artist residency called the Prairieside Cottage Outpost that provides guests with a private and peaceful retreat for creative discovery. The program supports 2-4 artist residencies each year and has recently hosted; Hilary Lorenz, James Woodfill, April Flanders, Blake and Hannah March Sanders, Yoonmi Nam and Warren Rosser.

Laura and Chris spent a few years looking for a second home that would provide a unique and natural setting for their kids to roam free without the constraints of the city and allow them to unwind from their busy lives. They started their search in Spain, where Laura was born, and went on to look in the Appalachian Mountains, North Carolina coast, eastern Oregon, and Colorado, until they landed on Chase County, located in the center of the Flint Hills region in Kansas. Laura and Chris were married in the Chase County Courthouse and the middle names of their two boys are Chase and Flint, so this part of the country holds a very special place in their hearts and has been a big part of their story as a growing family. Their love for the area has inspired great friendships and participation in the local emerging arts community. Laura co-curated The Bank Artspace last year and was a juror for the Tallgrass Artist Residency and Chris serves on the board of a local nonprofit group, The Center for Living Education.

The 800-square-foot farmhouse was originally located just outside Matfield Green on a neighboring ranch property. The typical Midwestern build with a unique, barn-style ceiling (that Laura and Chris believe originated around 1915) was in poor shape due to itinerant cattle roaming in and around the house. When the previous owner, Emily Hunter Connell found out it was going to be burned down as an exercise by the local fire department, she protested and the rancher offered her the house if she moved it off the property. Laura and Chris share, “He must have been happy for it to have a new life as well, since he personally built the stone foundation at its new location.” She then restored the space, adding a sunroom and two smaller, separate buildings outside. After their purchase in July 2013, Laura and Chris spent a few months fully renovating the interior and opened Prairieside Cottage for visitors and guests in June 2014.

Their very first decision was to paint the floor Sherwin Williams “Bosporus Blue.” Laura and Chris see it as a symbol of the ocean that evokes a deep-sea serenity and enjoy how it ties to the local landscape. “Being in the Flint Hills, where nothing mediates the horizon between sky and land (there are no trees, no power lines, no buildings) it is easy to feel like you are out at sea from a coastal beach instead of within a landlocked Kansas landscape.” Moreover, the home is full of quirky, custom designed trim created by artist and craftsman, Ross MacTaggart that, “flows in waves and scrolls in its own rhythm.” In addition to the blue floor, they painted the whole interior and reimagined the layout of the space, transforming the sunroom den into a dining room and built a staircase to the loft. Laura and Chris hope to renovate the carport next and expand an adjacent storage building into a studio or patio for outdoor gatherings, workshops, presentations and potlucks.

Laura and Chris’ goal was to craft a peaceful space that was airy, bright and cozy and believe the cottage meets all their needs without the clutter of everyday life. “We have original art throughout the cottage, many made by friends or Laura, and hundreds of books. We adore things that are well-designed and previously owned, like this cottage.” The outpost is their dream space for family and friends to create, rest and breathe more deeply together. —Bethany

Photography by Chris Akers

Image Above: The cottage was purchased with the existing toilet, bidet, and an antique tub. The wood siding was reclaimed from the original farmhouse and an exterior door leads onto a small deck that overlooks a beautiful, open field. Laura shares that they enjoy filling the big soaker tub, kicking back and letting the prairie breeze drift through the open door. The walls are painted Sherwin Williams “Marshmallow” and the prints on wood were made by Laura. A vintage pitcher and dish sit beside towels from The Company Store and the water droplet shower curtain is from Target. 

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The bedroom is intentionally kept simple to create a quiet refuge and has two closets that keep the space free of extra clutter. The bed and bedding are from West Elm, the lamps on the vintage side tables are from IKEA, and a tiny bud vase made by Alex Watson is placed on the wall shelf.

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The vintage, uncut panoramic illustration is from the Smithsonian and saved from Chris’ childhood, kept in a paper tube until finding its home here above the bed. It is titled, “A Sweeping View of the Environment Entrusted to Man” and depicts the earth’s diverse landscapes from an evolutionary viewpoint. Laura handmade the soft white curtains from vintage fabric.

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Above the bench in the bedroom hangs an editioned lithographic print by Laura titled, “Longevity” that contains 113 individual colors and gold leaf. It was inspired by the timeless and graceful landscape of the Flint Hills and was published by invitation at Bedrock Art Editions in Kansas City. A stacked washer and dryer are conveniently located in the alcove that leads into the bathroom.

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The dining room is a former sun porch, added onto the original farmhouse when it was moved from the ranch property. Laura and Chris converted it from a sleeping porch/media room to a bright, customizable space, taking full advantage of the natural light with three sides of windows that overlook their private prairie acreage. The chairs surrounding the table are all vintage, including a few that are solid oak from an old library, and sit on an outdoor rug from IKEA with cushions from World Market.

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As the family’s favorite room in the house, the dining room is used for, “sharing meals, long conversations with friends, epic family drawing sessions, reading, brainstorming and daydreaming.” With an abundant wildlife population right outside, they often encounter deer, foxes, rabbits, turkeys and other birds from these windows.

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This hand-carved bowl was a gift from the previous owner of the house. They share, “Alex likes to sit in it and pretend he is in a boat, while paddling with a long wooden spoon.” This view shows the detached studio building across the grass revealing their ongoing outdoor project. “In the Flint Hills region, land is regularly burned about every three years to preserve the prairie and native grasses.” Laura and Chris are planning their first burn next year as well as adding paths and platforms throughout the property for nature walks, hikes and sky watching.

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Nestled between the bedroom, staircase and main room, is the small entry area that is just big enough to pull off boots and store keys. The red broom is from Laura and Chris’ wedding ceremony. “We jumped over it together! Chris claims he jumped higher, but all of our photos are shot at an angle so it’s not easy to tell,” Laura jokes.

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The family enjoys how cozy the entryway is with the pretty white trim painted Sherwin Williams “City Loft” against the white Sherwin Williams “Marshmallow” walls along with the soft rugs and large hooks for hanging personal items from World Market. Hanging on the wall is artwork from friends including; Yoonmi Nam, a hand stitched piece made by Chris’ grandmother Daisy that reads, “Travel East, Travel West, After All, Home is Best,” and a print by Lart C. Berliner for Little Otsu.

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This creative bunch can be found reading, drawing, writing, building, listening to music and playing together. They love to relax in the little cottage away from the city and spend time collecting books, rocks, art, ceramics and packaging, “especially the baby, who [predictably] prefers the bag or box instead of the gift itself.”

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The open floor plan makes the kitchen easy to access and allows whoever is cooking to be a part of the conversations that happen in the larger living space. Laura and Chris share, “Cooking here feels easier than cooking at our house in Kansas City and we are inspired to keep things pure and simple in this space.” This double-sided shelf is home to their favorite picture books about the prairie, a handmade wooden train toy, and a watercolor painting that Laura made on their honeymoon in La Palma, Spain. The family also collects vintage postcards depicting trains and love how they seem to echo the sound of nearby trains that regularly run through Matfield Green. A print by Yoonmi Nam hangs above the bookcase.

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The previous owner was tall and installed the counters higher than typical measurements, but that doesn’t keep their baby from splashing in the farmhouse sink. Vintage ceramics are scattered throughout the house including the Frankoma Pottery on the counter and pitcher on top of the refrigerator. As a native of Oklahoma, Chris grew up using Frankoma pottery at home, which adds a hint of nostalgia to the space.

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The narrow staircase leading up to the loft is Laura and Chris’ biggest renovation to date. Designed by Chris and fabricated by their friend and neighbor, Mike Boyts, the stair has shaped the cottage into a safe, family-friendly home and maintains the personality of the house. Although only a ladder stood here before, the compact design with alternating-tread and built-in shelves for storage feels timeless, as if it had always been there.

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This view from the top perch shows the open floor plan below. Laura confides that this is Chris’ favorite spot for “contemplating the deep currents beneath reality or for launching paper airplane attacks on the unsuspecting passersby below!”

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The loft is a unique space for quiet time or gaming and is dubbed, “Sky Loft” by the family. Laura and Chris share that this room is a work in progress as they just added the staircase and repainted it this past year to match the Sherwin Williams “Marshmallow” walls and added a soft green, Sherwin Williams “Haven” to the floor. “It does contain a fold-out single futon which our kids will probably use when they are older and want more space to themselves.” The screen print on the wall was made by Nicole Kita.

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The cottage is full of character with the open vaulted ceiling and quirky tree in the center of the space that gives it a cozy, whimsical feeling. It has two “12 light” windows near the roof peaks above the kitchen and sunroom that fill the whole space with natural light. The assorted pillows are from West Elm and World Market and the area rug is from IKEA.

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“The tree, along with a row of the same trees on our front porch, came from our neighbor and local artist Bill McBride’s land. We love how it connects us to what is outside, even from inside the house on a rainy day.” The previous owner incorporated the trees during the initial cottage renovations. Above the couch hangs a monoprint made by Laura, published by Pele Prints in St. Louis.

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This cozy reading nook is a warm and comfortable space adjacent to the office. Guests often compliment Laura and Chris’ curated library that is full of a variety of reading material including; classic and contemporary fiction, philosophy, religious studies, art theory, art making and history books about the surrounding region. “We like to rotate different books and items of interest on the wooden table and this rug has often hosted our wooden block-castle building projects.” The IKEA cabinet shows the part of the space that is always changing, where the family rearranges their nature and vintage ceramic collections. Currently, it houses a Japanese tea set from Chandra Debuse and Tommy Frank collaborative work from Kansas City potters. The ceramic vase on the vintage side table was made by Alex Watson and a monoprint by Laura hangs overhead. The black and white rug is from IKEA and the blue chevron is from World Market.

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“Often, the coffee table can be found with piles of Legos, stacks of picture books and bowls of pretzels. This is Jovi’s favorite spot for lounging with epic reading sessions,” Laura shares lovingly about the vintage piece that belonged to her grandmother. The ceramic tray on the table was made by Erica Iman and the vase is from Paul Donnelly and Rain Harris.

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The open room makes it easy to reconfigure the furniture. They can keep it expanded and spacious or pull the vintage, velvet chairs around the couch to accommodate a more intimate setting.

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Some guests prefer to use the office space as a den to watch movies on their computers since the cottage has no television, but excellent wifi. The room also doubles as a semi-private second bedroom with a pull-out queen sofa bed from IKEA and pillows from Target and World Market. The lithograph drawing on the wall was made by Laura and Chris’ friend, Jessica Owings.

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The other side of the office houses a built-in desk with shelves full of more books, toys, board games, office supplies and media-related items. “We like to keep it an open-ended space so anyone can set up whatever they need to work on, as it does feel somewhat separate from the main part of the cottage,” Laura says. The desk chair, postcards, and horse clock are all vintage finds and the bell is a Soleri Windbell from Arcosanti. The print resting on the shelf was made by Laura Baisden of Camp Nevernice.

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This 10’x 12’ studio is in a separate building near the main cottage. Laura and Chris converted the space from a former bedroom, built for a teenage son that was moved onto the property from a completely different home, into a studio for artists and writers. The room is purposefully kept simple and unadorned, so the artist using it can control how it feels. The window above the worktable ushers in an uninterrupted view of the open field of prairie grass and the only decoration is a commissioned paper piece by Grace D. Chin, featuring wildflowers and the text, “As the Grass Grows.”

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The 800-square-foot cottage is kept open and airy for relaxation and inspiration.

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The toddler, Alex, is shown here playing with blocks on the family’s bold floor along with native grasses from the yard and rocks from the surrounding Flint Hills region in Kansas. The wagon wheel salt shaker is from the family’s collection of vintage Frankoma Pottery and the tiny banner was purchased from their favorite nearby shop, Cottonwood Falls Collectibles.

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Comments

  • i stayed at this house last year and it’s one of the loveliest places in the beautiful flint hills – i am tickled to see it featured here!

  • I saw the image in the header of D*S and I IMMEDIATELY knew it was Prairieside Cottage. I love this so much. Everything from the floor color to the stairs is beautiful and feels quirky yet quiet and subtle. Nothing glaringly trendy or obvious happening here. Loving seeing all of the Kansas City art and artists represented here. Congratulations Laura! This slice of heaven you’ve created makes me very jealous.

  • I lived for a brief time in Manhattan, KS, which is also in the flint hills. I have such a warm spot in my heart for the area, and was so happy to see this tour!

  • I really love the interior of the house. It’s very clean and simple that I’d love to relax in. I find the furniture very comfy and genuine too.

  • Amazing tour of the Prairieside Cottage. I love the calmness and coziness that floats from all the rooms in the cottage.
    The decoration of the house is simple yet elegant and practical. I’d love to stay there even if it’s just for a weekend getaway. Thanks for sharing it with us Bethany!

  • Wow, I just love this place. Although I tend to lean more modern cottage for my own home, I would love to spend time in this charming cottage. I think my favorite part is the blue floors! Congrats.

  • I just looked at this tour five times. Love the vibe in here, so rustic but comfortable, and full of art! The views alone are wonderful. What a sweet special place this is.

  • Wow, this is probably my favorite tour to-date. What a happy place :) The color choices are wonderful – so cheery and restful at the same time, somehow…

  • My husband and I were privileged to have stayed at this home on the prairie and I am so excited to see it featured here. The breezy cozy vibe that the owners have created coupled with the magic of the flint hills are firmly imprinted to my memory! They did have quite the extensive book shelf and picked up some great recs. Thanks again for sharing with all of us!

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