Architect: Robert W. Hess
Builder: Byron C. Sneegas
Year built: 1955
Original Owners: Mr. & Mrs. Richard S. Howey
Current ranking: 9 (view details)
Dick Howey, a distinguished KU economics professor, was writing his Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Chicago in the summer of 1955 when he agreed to let a young architect he’d never met named Bob Hess design the family home in a newly developed Hillcrest subdivision. He left the details to his wife, Marion, who collaborated with Hess right from the site selection process and worked closely with the builder, Byron Sneegas, to realize her vision. It was a smart decision.
Nestled into a lush, sloping third-acre above Avalon Road, this split-level house was originally sited to maximize views of the Kaw River Valley. While the view has given way to tree growth and other vegetation, the result has been a gain in privacy that is near total in every room. The sense of seclusion is heightened in the elevated public spaces, which are enveloped in a dense camouflage of evergreens, native deciduous trees, and ivy ground covers. In the living room, oversized double hung windows frame the greenery outside as if viewed through translucent Japanese shoji screens, abstracting nature. Pecky cypress paneling, vaulted wood-beamed ceiling and a massive reclaimed brick fireplace imbue a rustic cabin ambiance. Artfully fusing vernacular and modern, this architecture is rooted in its landscape, and as a reflection of culture it is emblematic.
In addition to its secluded siting, the house exhibits outstanding originality and architectural integrity. Except for minor alterations to the bathrooms, the house is unchanged. The kitchen, in particular, is a time capsule of mid-1950s contemporary living, showcasing Formica countertops, knotty pine cabinetry, a built-in barbecue, vintage gas stove and authentic Armstrong Embossed Inlaid Linoleum No. 5352. All hand-selected and preserved by Marion Howey, a former government documents librarian at the Spencer Research Library who knew what she wanted and usually found a way to get it.