Ambling down a back road in Smithville, Missouri, along endless rows of corn, your eye catches a splash of color on the hillside. You see a house—or is it a house?—constructed of yellow, blue, white and red blocks. You blink a few times and think, whoa, Toto, we’re not anywhere near Kansas anymore.
This modern farmhouse—for it is a house on a working farm—belongs to Franz and Annelies Leuthardt. The couple left their native Switzerland twenty-five years ago to farm these 265 acres along the Platte River about half an hour from downtown Kansas City. They eventually developed a successful business in decorative fall crops—mini-pumpkins, ornamental gourds, and Indian corn—bringing a bit of the harvest season into people’s homes.
Seven years ago the Leuthardts decided to build a new house a bit farther from the road with a better view up the hill. They hired architect Kirk Gastinger of the Kansas City-based firm Gastinger Harden Walker and told him in no uncertain terms what they wanted in a house on their working farm. “Franz told me, ‘I know old; I come from the Old Country. We want something new and different,’” says Gastinger.
The result is quite surreal, as if a contemporary art museum had dropped from the sky into a field. The house’s elemental shapes, painted in bright primary colors, pop out from the green hillside. Against a white winter backdrop, the colors are even more vibrant. The Leuthardts’ home is also contemporary in another sense: It uses modern technology to keep the freezing winters—and blazing summers—at bay.
Earth-friendly climate control
Gastinger Harden Walker is best known for its “green” historic preservation of Kansas City’s first skyscraper, the 1888 New York Life building. It updated the city landmark with environmentally sensitive features including recyclable carpet, thermal ice storage for air conditioners, low-VOC paints and finishes, recycled-content steel and hardware, low-energy lighting, a recycling chute, and bicycle racks for commuters. The firm also designed the first speculative office building to obtain the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
Gastinger designed the Leuthardt house with three geothermal heating/cooling systems with built-in humidifiers, one of the most energy- efficient HVAC systems available. “It works well,” says Franz. “It’s very quiet, and because the system is in the basement, it’s not exposed to the elements.”
The house’s large windows—which provide expansive views and abundant natural light—are sheltered from direct sun and icy wind by rolling shutters. Popular in Europe, these external, electrically operated shutters remain hidden until they’re needed. Additionally, the casement windows open in, allowing the shutters to be partially open for ventilation and shade at the same time.
Art and color
Inside the house, you could just as easily be in a hip art gallery in some downtown metropolis. Arching across the living area is a fifteen-foot-tall sculpture with metal cables—artist Anne Lindberg’s interpretation of a sheaf of prairie grass. Most of the wall space is filled with contemporary paintings combining abstract patterns with urgent colors.
The living and dining areas are one big room. “I could tell that Annelies liked to modify her environment,” says Gastinger. “Every time I visited them in their old house, she had changed all the furniture around, so I wanted to give her a space that wasn’t a regular shape and had a lot of possible arrangements.”
Gastinger calls the kitchen the house’s “art piece.” An ode to yellow, the kitchen is outfitted with sleek Snaidero cabinetry in the hue of a fresh banana. Over the work areas where there would typically be cabinets, large windows provide light and views. “I feel like I’m in a cockpit, with windows on three sides,” says Annelies.
Room for fitness, inside and out
Upstairs, the Leuthardts consciously bucked the trend toward ever-larger master suites. “We wanted a small bedroom, because in our old house we never used the sitting area—we were always in the living room where other people were,” says Annelies. Their bedroom is fourteen by eleven feet—room enough for a queen-size bed and nightstands, but little else.
The bathroom is separate, without a connecting door—a simple way to accommodate different schedules. Before Franz went into semi-retirement, he got up very early, sometimes as early as 2 a.m., to make produce deliveries. In this way, the person who’s sleeping won’t be disturbed by the other one walking back and forth across the bedroom.
Much of the upstairs space is devoted to a large exercise area, which has a view of the pasture, although in summer the Leuthardts get most of their exercise outside, swimming in the nearly five-acre pond just down the hill. “I walk the trail that runs along the border of the farm for about an hour and get all hot, then I go for a swim,” says Annelies.
The pond is also home to fish, turtles, snakes, and frogs. On the edge of the pond, a tiny boathouse stores a rowboat and a paddleboat for young visitors. Franz built it, then painted it to match the rest of the house—bright purple.