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At home with Jonathan and Katie Wirth

Kirkwood architects reconfigure 1928 home for modern family living

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It often takes a strong vision to see the potential in an older home with an imperfect layout. For Jonathan and Katie Wirth, holding degrees in architecture allowed them to imagine what their 1928 Kirkwood home could be. Katie had noticed the house, in the Corona Park neighborhood, listed online in early 2015, but it quickly went off the market. It was relisted in April of that year, and she quickly contacted her real-estate agent.

Katie and Jonathan Wirth reworked the first floor of their old Kirkwood home to reflect a more modern use of space. Video by Hillary Levin

“What I liked about this neighborhood was that it was so close to the high school and the park. I was very much taken with it because the original houses in this neighborhood all have this storybook charm,” Katie says.

What wasn’t charming was the home’s dated and confining layout. The kitchen was tiny and closed off, tucked away in the back of the house. When Katie went to look at it with her two young daughters, their agent just shook her head and said it would never work for them.

“I said, ‘Well it has to work because I want to live in this location; this house is the right price, and it’s the right square footage for us.’ I went home and started drawing. ... That night is when I had the idea of taking apart the biggest bedroom and turning it into a kitchen,” Katie remembers.

After Jonathan went back with her to look at the house, he said, “OK, show me those drawings.” With his architect’s eye, he was able to see how it could work and told Katie they should go for it.

At Home in Kirkwood with the Wirths

The home of Katie and Jonathan Wirth, in Kirkwood, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

“We bought the house with the intention of doing this project,” Katie says. “We had the vision of opening this wall between the dining room and what used to be the master bedroom and reclaiming that space to turn it into a large kitchen.”

The Wirths moved in later that year, and since they knew they would eventually turn the master bedroom into the kitchen, they never lived in it, purposely moving into the smaller of the first floor’s two bedrooms. Two additional bedrooms for the girls are located on the second floor, which remained mostly unchanged aside from updating the bathroom.

They began getting the financials in order for their renovation in the fall of 2019, and by February 2020, they were solidifying drawings and getting serious, working as a team. Because he’s a working architect, Jonathan had the professional tools to do the drafting himself. Katie was drawing out plans by hand and he was putting them into the computer. They met with their contractor, Kirkwood-based Tower Group, in March 2020 right before the pandemic hit.

Facing new challenges, the construction happened while the Wirths’ daughters were in remote school, and Jonathan was working from home full-time. COVID-related supply chain issues meant that nearly all of the finishes they used were a second choice. This forced them to explore different materials they hadn’t initially considered, and in the end, they love how it all came out.

At Home in Kirkwood with the Wirths

The dining area was pushed off to the side from the new kitchen to keep the main traffic area open. The wood dining table from AllModern nestles up to a new, built-in window bench with additional cabinetry on either side. Katie's favorite thing in the house is the gold-tone Sputnik chandelier from Lumens.

Hillary Levin, Post-Dispatch

“We were aligned on all of the design choices — we have similar tastes and like clean lines,” Jonathan says. “We let the art and furniture do their thing.”

The renovation was completed by early summer 2021 with the brand new, modern and open kitchen and dining area becoming the focal point of their busy family life. During the process, they expanded the renovation to accommodate an originally unplanned addition.

“We started with a vision of the project, but then living with it over time, we also expanded it to include a deck outdoors,” says Jonathan. “The backyard wasn’t very accessible. There was only a rickety stair leading down from where the original kitchen was at the back of the house.”

“I really like how the space works for us now,” Katie says. “The circulation is so much better and it’s nice to be able to have everybody in the kitchen, because that’s how you live.”

In addition to reconfiguring the kitchen and dining area, the Wirths made some general updates to the existing areas of the home, including restoring the original hardwood floors and recovering a pair of small, stained glass windows in the living room that had been walled in. Katie’s dad made new stained glass panels for them in the same tulip pattern that is in the master bedroom and neighboring homes. They removed the nonworking fireplace that once stood in between the windows to allow for more space for furnishings, including a new sectional from Crate & Barrel.

“Because the previous owners had already made a lot of changes, there wasn’t a lot we felt like we had to preserve from 1928,” Katie says. “We kept all we could of the original woodwork and doorframes, but we did this language where everything is white but the trim is dark. We kind of flipped it, where people normally do dark on the walls with white trim.”

Now that their renovation is complete, the Wirth family is enjoying their home as they once envisioned it could be — particularly the spacious new kitchen and deck.

“What’s nice about having an old house and transforming it is it’s a part of the neighborhood already, and we’re doing something in our own language and putting a modern twist on it,” Jonathan says.

At Home in Kirkwood with the Wirths

Jonathan and Katie Wirth, in their home in Kirkwood, Tuesday, Nov. 23, 2021. Photo by Hillary Levin, hlevin@post-dispatch.com

Jonathan and Katie Wirth

Ages • Both are 42

Occupations • Jonathan is an architect with HOK; Katie is a freelance illustrator who also has a degree in architecture.

Home • Kirkwood

Family • The Wirths have two daughters, Sharon, 15, and Mallory, 13.

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