Jennifer Lutz has lived in her Old West Lawrence home for 20 years.
It hasn’t always looked this good.
“It was a mess,” she says of the home’s condition two decades ago. “The downstairs and upstairs were broken up into apartments. There was a lot of water damage. It was definitely a fixer-upper. I like to call it my money pit, and the love of my life, all wrapped into one. In fact, it is still a work in progress for sure. When I moved in, in 1989, I stripped almost everything down.”
Lutz has stumbled upon the old deed to the home that dates all the way back to the 1860s, when an American Indian gentleman named Robert Robitaile owned the property before Quantrill’s Raid, when the neighborhood was burned. This is no surprise that these old documents have piqued her interest. When you look around her home, almost everything seems to have a history and tale to tell. The rebuilt structure that we see today was completed somewhere in the proximity of 1905 to 1908 in a Prairie Victorian style, boasting a handsome and spacious front porch with enormous pillars that are like strong legs holding up the notable three-storied home.
The impressive entry is roomy with loads of incredible architectural details. There is intricate woodwork and a massive wooden staircase in a lush, deep, dark wood. Sitting at the base of the ornate stairs is an equally fancifully carved wooden bench.
“I got this from The Flea on New Hampshire Street,” Lutz beams.
A strong pull of excitement lingers as it becomes abundantly clear that many of the furnishings, paintings and other accouterments that adorn the home are embedded with a history.
Lutz mulls over why she might be attracted to worn-in items: “I love finding the bargains at estate sales, garage sales and auctions. Growing up, I wanted to be an archeologist. I think I love to find the beauty of old things and art. I really like buying pieces that have meanings and stories behind them. I guess my mother taught me that. She started taking me to auctions when I was little.”
Lutz’s love of original pieces and mixing the old with the new is obvious when we walk into the living room. The fireplace has been remodeled with glass shards carpeting the bottom as flames burst through.
Friday the cat sits nearby, warming himself on one of the eclectic chairs. Above the mantle is a colorful pastel drawing depicting Canyon de Chelly in Arizona.
“I love art,” Lutz says. “I’ve gotten a bug for original art. Ironically, I bought this pastel before I’d visited and then later decided to see the canyon in person. Art, travel and working on my house are my main interests.”
We advance to the dining room, which once again is a fluid display, juxtaposing modern lines with antiques. Her dining table is a solid, ornately carved wood piece with contemporarily flared Eames chairs surrounding it. On the wall hangs a handmade rug from Turkey. Above the ceiling is a crisscross pattern with deep, heavy, oak wood that brings incredible architectural interest to the space.
“I’m just very eclectic,” Lutz says. “I don’t know if all this goes together, but that’s why I put in the crown molding and ceiling details to tie it all together.”
A colorful pastel drawing of kumquats, kiwis, passion fruit and other savories from Playa Del Carmen, Mexico, light up the corner.
As we move into the “TV room,” the decor takes a 180-degree turn. The room has a bit of a masculine feel with hunting scenes and large game animals throughout the artwork, such as a tapestry that hangs on the wall of deer grazing.
“I’m a big lover of Indian art,” Lutz says. “I’ve also always wanted a hunter’s room or game room for some reason. So I’ve tried to put all of my Western and Indian art together. I go to the Indian Market every year and try to find something great.”
A brightly colored pastel showing bison grazing was a piece Lutz discovered on display at the public library. She paid the artist in $25 installments a month until it was paid off.
Off of the TV room, a petite bathroom dons a fabulous claw-footed bathtub, which Lutz found at an estate sale for $10.
Buddy, a Whippet dog, follows us into the kitchen, which is ultra modern and clean, and like most everything in this house has been torn down and built anew.
“I put in this butler’s pantry,” Lutz says. “It was originally walled in, and we knocked the wall out and built new cabinets that are this deep cherry wood tone. Well, then I had to redo the kitchen in the same cherry cabinetry.”
The varying sizes of ceramic tile on the kitchen floor look more like stone pieces adding to the textural aesthetic of the kitchen and playing nicely off the granite countertops.
Another great find Lutz discovered is in her guest bedroom — a gorgeous art deco bed, table and dresser.
“I saw this advertised in the garage sale section,” she says. “I arrived a day early because I wanted it so badly.”
Lutz has big plans for future remodeling ventures. She’d like to add a balcony on to the master bedroom and then install a rooftop hot tub, but she’s not entirely sure that is doable.
When asked what she likes about taking on home projects, she says: “It’s very personal and intimate. I like to feel that it shows my creative side. That has always interested me. I love this house, I love the space and light. But what I really love is the neighborhood. I think Old West Lawrence people are unique. You have to be prepared to spend money and time on these old houses.”
Lutz certainly has enriched this old home, and it sounds like she’s only just begun.
— Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.