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In Kansas, A Family Shows Appreciation for Unique Mid-Century Design

by Sofia Tuovinen

In Kansas, A Family Shows Appreciation for Unique and Smart Mid-Century Design | Design*Sponge

Mark and Becca Spears clearly remember the first time they came to look at their mid-century ranch house in Prairie Village, KS. With its steel frame, concrete subfloors, corrugated tin chimney, and numerous inventive uses of materials, the three-bedroom house wasn’t like anything you’d commonly find in the Kansas suburbs. Boasting original panoramic sliding glass doors and a Japanese-style garden, the house almost seemed to have been transported from the sloping hills of Southern California to their Mid-Western neck of the woods. The unique architecture and stunning indoor-outdoor sensibility were essentially what made the couple fall in love with the house.

For the past seven years, Becca, a photographer specializing in documenting families, Mark, owner of a construction business, and their children Charlotte, Fiona, and Dean have been busy writing the latest chapter of the unique mid-century house that they now proudly call home. The story of the house began with Bob Wendt, who built the house for his wife Maudell and daughters Kim and Connie in 1958, and lived there for the rest of his life. Since then, the appreciation for great design has filtered down from owner to owner, as Becca explains: “The couple that we bought the home from has a real passion for mid-century design, and their knowledge and excitement for it fueled our curiosity and love for this house early on. […] In a way, being connected by this house makes them feel like extended family.”

Today, the Spears family’s ranch home is all about moments spent together both inside and outside. From playing yard games in the front courtyard to making s’mores around the backyard fire pit and reading books by flashlight, it’s all about appreciating each other and the meaning of home. Since the house has a long and low profile, you can even find the family safely enjoying the occasional rooftop picnic, with a bird’s-eye view of the yard. In terms of decorating, Becca explains it as a purposefully incomplete process. She adds, “There is beauty in having an ongoing conversation with the house and making decisions once you know what your family’s needs are.” The decor is a balance between thrift store finds, side-of-the-road treasures and some new, intentionally selected pieces that have been incorporated into the mix over the last couple of years. What the family most loves about their home is its meaningful history, the openness that it offers, and the backdrop it creates for memorable childhoods. Becca concludes, “I like the fact that I know the story of this house, and that we get to live in someone else’s creative idea come to life. I love that we have met Kim and Connie Wendt who grew up here, and they were able to come over and share stories and memories with us. It feels like this house truly has a life, and I am thankful to be a part of that.” —Sofia

Photography by Jessica Cain / @imjessicacain

Image above: The original sliding glass doors in the open-plan living area create an indoor-outdoor living experience year-round, and are included in many a family memory. “I have memories of the wonder of my kids as toddlers, waking up early in the morning and seeing a panoramic view of snow and running up to the glass doors and pressing their face and hands up to them and just looking for a few minutes to take it all in,” Becca shares. 

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A “moments wall” greets visitors in the family’s entryway, where each frame shows a meaningful family memory. “I wanted it to be an introduction to the house and the happy moments that have happened here,” Becca explains. 

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The indoor-outdoor experience begins right at the family’s front door. The floating walnut shelves were recently built by Mark. “I like the way I can regularly change the art and objects up there based on the seasons, or if I just need a change of scenery,” Becca notes. 

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The open-plan living room offers views of both the front and backyards. The fiddle-leaf fig was one of the first design choices that Becca made when the family moved in. “We just recently saw a picture of the living room from 1959, and there was a fiddle-leaf fig in that exact place in the corner. Sometimes it feels like the house talks to us that way,” she shares. 

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The family painted the house a warm white except for the fireplace wall, which serves as the focal point in the living space. The brass sculpture above the fireplace is an authentic mid-century find, signed J. Amon.

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The armchair is a roadside find that Becca and Mark reupholstered in hot pink Knoll fabric originally introduced in 1961 (Cato hot pink H80052). The painting in the back is a commissioned piece by the family’s friend John McClain. “He asked for an everyday object that had meaning to us, and we gave him some sea shells that reminded me of a beautiful sea cave that I visited on a vacation,” Becca tells us. “I love the way he simplified the organic form into something more like pop art.”

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The office and TV room features a gallery wall of female portraits that Becca collected one summer. The sofa faces a wall-mounted TV. Not having a TV in the living room encourages the family to spend time together in the living area in other ways, which they appreciate.

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The print above a mid-century credenza in the office was a wedding gift from Matt McNaryMark updated the credenza by removing the middle door and painting the drawers white.

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“We surprised Charlotte with this mid-century Craigslist piano for her seventh birthday. I can still remember her coming into the house and sitting down to play it the first time after we secretly delivered it. I have all of our kids’ play instruments in baskets nearby to encourage family jam sessions,” Becca shares.

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The dining area is part of the larger open-plan living space. The table and chairs are Heywood Wakefield that Mark got in college. He and Becca decided to reupholster the seats in a durable, washable white for a clean combination with the warm wood tone. The artwork is by family friend Matt McNary

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Mark and Becca in front of their mid-century ranch home with their children Fiona, Dean and Charlotte.

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The main bedroom is an oasis of calming tones and natural materials. “I like adding interest to an all-white room by mixing in cream with stark white, and having all sorts of textures,” Becca says. The large burl wood nightstands were a lucky Craigslist find. 

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The sliding glass door in the main bedroom leads directly out to the back patio. Mark and Becca installed a hanging garden to add a pretty view from their bed. “The gorgeous painting was commissioned from our friend Christine Cover, and it is mostly the only color in this peaceful white space. I love having a bright clean white space to end and begin each day,” Becca shares. 

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“What I love most about our home is living inside a house that was someone’s dream meticulously brought to life.” — Becca

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The wall on the right side separates Dean’s room from the girls’ room. It was originally an accordion wall, so that Bob Wendt’s daughters who grew up in the house could open it when they wanted to play together and close it when they wished for privacy. “When the girls got older, the family transitioned it into a solid wall, but made it architecturally reminiscent of the accordion wall,” Becca explains. The painting above the bed is Becca’s handiwork. 

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Fiona and Charlotte’s room on the other side of the wall includes bunk beds and various tones of pink and peach. The chalkboard from Golden and Pine is ideal for Charlotte’s many lists, like “Things to do this winter.”

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Becca originally picked out the Ferm Living wall paper for Fiona’s nursery. “I love how it perfectly matches her delight and whimsy. We used this unique wood rack and globe lights purchased at Golden and Pine as a makeshift house for the girls’ dolls,” Becca explains. 

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When the family’s basement flooded a few years ago, they decided to forget about recarpeting and instead chose to polish the concrete floor underneath. They also took out a guest bedroom to open the space up entirely. Now the basement is an ideal playroom for the kids and their friends.

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A mid-century-inspired vanity that Mark recently built transformed the basement bathroom.
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The daybed in the basement is an estate sale find that acts as a place for guests to sleep. 

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The back patio at twilight is one of our favorite places to be in summer or winter.

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The backyard fire pit is often lit in the wintertime. The fire pit is a repurposed propane tank, made by Rhett Johnson.

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The Spears family have been fortunate to hear about their home’s history from sisters Kim and Connie Wendt. They grew up in the house, built and designed by their father Bob Wendt. A similar picture of the sisters appeared in an edition of the The Kansas City Star in 1959. Photo by Becca Spears.

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A story about the modern home designed and built by Bob Wendt appeared in the Kansas City Star in April 1959, soon after the house was completed. Republished by permission of The Kansas City Star.

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Kim and Connie Wendt posing on both sides of the accordion wall in feature published in The Kansas City Star in 1959. Republished by permission of The Kansas City Star.

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The original floor plan of the house, displayed in a 1959 article by The Kansas City Star. Republished by permission of The Kansas City Star.

SOURCE LIST

Exterior and Outdoor Spaces
Firepit – Rhett Johnson
Patio Chairs and Love Seat – vintage Craigslist finds
White end table – Target
Patio Cushions and Throws – Target
Patio Hurricane candleholders – Target
Front patio concrete planter – Family Tree Nursery

Entryway

Custom picture frames
Lamp – Golden & Pine
Modern planter used for mail – Golden & Pine
Geode bronze box – Anthropologie
Parsons Table – West Elm

Living Room

L-Shaped Sectional – Golden & Pine
Hot Pink upholstery fabric – Knoll Cato hot pink
Brass sculpture – vintage J.Amon
Pink Shell Painting – John McClain
Brass lamp – vintage, River Market Antiques
Pillows – Golden & Pine
faux sheepskin – IKEA
Moroccan Rug – Fossik (now Breuckelen Berber)
White Jute Rug – Rugs USA
Paint colors – Sherwin Williams “Shoji White” and Benjamin Moore “Twilight Zone”
Fiddle Leaf Fig – Family Tree Nursery

Office
Large black and white print- Matt McNary
Portraits – Susy Keely Keely art (on Etsy) and various unsigned flea market pieces

Dining Area
Table and Chairs – Heywood Wakefield
Chandelier – West Elm
Ceramic dishes – Golden & Pine
Large speckled bowl – Target
Art – Matt McNary

Main Bedroom
Large abstract painting – Christine Cover
Bedside dressers – vintage Henredon
Larger dressers – vintage American of Martinsville
Wool pillows – Golden & Pine
Sheepskin lumbar pillow – Anthropologie
Faux Moroccan wedding blanket – Anthropologie

Dean’s Room
Painting – Becca Spears
Vintage Bedroom Furniture – Rway Wisconsin
Painted wood blocks – Golden & Pine
Blue wool pillows – Golden & Pine
Gold Table lamp – Target

Girls’ Room
Paint Color – Sherwin Williams “Jovial”
Wallpaper – Ferm Living
Dolls and accessories – American Girl
Chalkboard – Golden & Pine
Abstract Print – Brittany Bass Brittbass.com
Pink Cactus Art – Hobby Lobby
Painted Antler – Made By Cassandra Smith (Etsy)
Bedding – Land of Nod (now Crate&Kids)
Black and White Pillow – Land of Nod (now Crate&Kids)
Flower Pillow – Target

Basement
Sectional – IKEA
Small art table – IKEA
White metal chairs – Target
African baskets (hanging) – Golden & Pine
Storage basket – Land of Nod (Now Crate&Kids)
Pillows – Target and Golden & Pine
Side tables – Target

Bathroom
Custom-built vanity and sconces – Mark Spears
Round mirror- IKEA
Jute runner – Golden & Pine
White clay hanging sculpture – Golden & Pine
Paint – Benjamin Moore “Twilight Zone”

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Comments

  • How great to know the history of your house! Thanks for sharing this beautiful home. I love it all, but wow, that basement–next level!

    • Thank you so much Amanda!
      Janette Yost helped us conceptualize the design layout and fabrics and furniture for the basement. You can follow her on Instagram @janette.

  • What fun! I was acquainted with Kim in elementary school. Since I lived in a house built in 1917, I was always intrigued by her modern home and longed to see the inside. Now, 60 years later, I have. There are number of mid-century homes here in Overland Park and Prairie Village that are now being properly restored, thank goodness.

    • Cynthia! That is so fun! Thank you for this comment! I love any connection that broadens the story of the house for me. ❤️

  • This home took my breath away. I love that they shared the history and had the sisters come back for photos.

    • Thank you so much Cynnie! I’m so glad you liked the story aspect of this house! It’s one of the things I love the most.

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