Text by Charles D. Linn, FAIA
Unless you are a rock climber, you won’t be entering the Shelton Marshall Residence from the street: That western end of this Kansas City, Mo., site is an outcrop of sedimentary rock peppered with fragments of an old foundation and dry-laid stone retaining walls. The geology is seemingly kept from bursting by a lattice of trees, shrubs, and vines so overgrown that the house’s deeply set front porch, which cantilevers out more than 20 feet above the curb, is barely visible.
Josh Shelton, AIA, a principal at Kansas City firm El Dorado, and Destiny—his wife, design collaborator, and horticultural muse—bought the land in 2010 when they moved into a house across the alley at the east end of the site, and it served as a backyard—complete with tire swing and chickens—for their family until construction began in 2012. “The experience informed our decisions, seeing the seasonal transition of the plants, and the way the air flows, and the light,” Shelton says. “It makes you think of how you shape your house, and can create outdoor rooms in an urban context.”
That’s because, despite the raw cliff at one end, this house is not in rural Missouri, but rather in the north end of Westside, a century-old urban neighborhood that retains a bucolic feel. Overlooking downtown Kansas City to the east and a freight yard to the west, tightly packed, narrow lots contain a bit of everything: Victorians, brick row houses, wood bungalows, new bistros in old corner stores, light-industrial buildings, and overscaled shelter-magazine-cover wannabes.
Entering from the alley at the east end of the site, one could be forgiven for thinking the house isn’t built yet. As you walk past a black-stained cedar-clad garage and studio, you find yourself in a meadow of wildflowers and native grasses. But as the eyes focus, you realize that what you’re looking at is actually the green roof of a three-bedroom, 2,000-square-foot house a story down, its sleeping and kitchen–dining wings bridged by the living room.
The house’s U-shaped form embraces a 15-by-15-foot terraced entry courtyard, which is bound on three sides by oversized sliding glass doors. The interior is finished in light-colored beech with white walls, and every room in the remarkably open house has abundant access to daylight. Fresh air, carried by convection up the west slope of the site, is filtered by the trees and flows in through a second wall of sliding glass doors to the cantilevered porch.
“We’re next to one of the smallest houses on the block, and that guided our decision to keep the house low and to expand our house using outdoor rooms instead of building up,” Shelton says. “Studying the way your house will affect theirs is so important. These are the people you are going to be living with.”
Project: Shelton Marshall Residence, Kansas City, Mo.
Client: Josh and Destiny Shelton
Design Architect: El Dorado, Kansas City, Mo. . Josh Shelton, AIA (principal-in-charge); Steve Salzer, AIA (project architect)
Structural Engineer: Bob D Campbell & Co.
Mechanical/Electrical Engineer: PKMR Engineers
General Contractor: Josh Shelton
Landscape Designer: Destiny Shelton
Lighting Designer: El Dorado
Custom Carpentry: Kelley Construction
Size: 2,000 square feet (main structure), 500 square feet (detached structure)