Building a rural Lecompton home was solution for artistic couple who wanted in-house art studio

photo by: Mike Yoder

A large studio area in the home of Phyllis and Louis Copt serves as a space for both artists and has window views over the rural landscape to the north of their home. Pictured here is Louis's studio area.

It was Mother Nature who called Louis and Phyllis Copt to the plot of land that would later hold their home.

Phyllis remembers the day well. She described it with the grace one would expect of any 27-year English teacher. It was “one of those winter days with a beautiful snowfall,” and when the sun came out, the landscape shined with “glistening snow.”

So Phyllis and her husband, Louis, a well-known painter, did what one would expect any artistic couple would do. They drove through the back roads of Douglas County — Louis knows them all, Phyllis said — to find good spots for photographs.

That’s when they saw the for sale sign at 1935 E. 850th Road, in Lecompton.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Louis and Phyllis Copt moved into their rural Douglas County home in June 2002.

It was 2001. The Copts had been looking to move for years. Louis wanted a home where he could live and work on his art, and they couldn’t find anything in Lawrence that suited. So the architect they were working with, Jim Williams, suggested they build.

When the Copts came across the snow-covered property only a short 15 minutes from Lawrence, they called the number on the sign. Then, the day after 9/11, they signed the papers. Now, 20 years later, Louis and Phyllis have been enjoying their “vertical prairie” style home since it was completed in 2002.

Inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the home has big eaves and an open floor plan. But whereas Wright’s homes are generally long and horizontal, with low ceilings, the Copts built up and have high ceilings.

“When tall people walked into (Wright’s) houses he made them sit down, because he said that they ruined the scale,” Phyllis said. “So tall people come in our house and they love it.”

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Copts designed their house at 1935 E 850th Road with the close consultation of local architect Jim Williams. The chains on either side of the entrance are rain chains that function as gutters.

Two rain chains hang from the outside eaves of the house, an alternative to downspouts that originated in Japan. The Copts collect rainwater in a bucket at the end of one of the chains, and use it to water their plants. But Louis sometimes likes to joke about the chains’ purpose.

“When people from out of state come and ask what those are for I say, ‘Well, we get so many tornadoes here we have to chain the house to the ground.'”

The home opens to the living room, an open space with about 20-foot ceilings. The living room, like the whole of the Copt house, features some of the couple’s art, as well as numerous pieces from other Kansas artists and friends.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Copt’s living room has high ceilings and is open to the adjacent dining room and kitchen.

Central to the living room is a fireplace, which backs up to a wood-fired pizza oven in the kitchen.

“We kind of designed the house around the pizza oven,” Louis said.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The focal point of the kitchen and dining room is a wood-fired pizza oven imported from Italy. It heats up to around 800 degrees and will cook a pizza in less than two minutes. The Copts use the oven for roasting vegetables and baking bread as well.

That was because the couple liked their pizza, yes, but also because it’s incredibly heavy and needed to be reinforced. After the oven — which can heat up to around 800 degrees and cook a pizza in less than two minutes — was installed, a black pole remained in the kitchen alongside it. The Copts asked the builders if it could be removed, but they said it was part of the structure supporting the oven. So the Copts improvised.

“Our friend, another local artist…Barry Fitzgerald, he came out and painted that pole and traded — what did we trade?” Phyllis asked Louis.

“A barbed wire ball,” Louis responded. Phyllis laughed.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence artist and illustrator Barry Fitzgerald created this piece of artwork on a structural support beam in the kitchen and dining room area.

When ranchers in the Flint Hills restring barbed wire, they roll up the old barbed wire into a ball, Louis explained. They normally throw it out, but to Louis, it was sculpture. Though he traded one to Fitzgerald, others decorate their yard.

Louis and Phyllis grew up in Emporia and went to the same high school. But it wasn’t until they were in the same poetry class at Kansas State Teachers College (now called Emporia State University) that they started dating. The couple’s rural roots are part of the reason they enjoy their house. They are used to the open spaces of the Flint Hills, and Phyllis said she wanted an open floor plan “so I can breathe.” The only doors on the first floor are the bathroom door and a closet door.

Off of the kitchen is the couple’s art studio. Louis is known for his paintings of Kansas, especially the Flint Hills and the annual prairie burning. More recently, he has gotten into non objective landscapes and figurative paintings. Sitting on his easel Wednesday were two paintings of burning prairies, bright flames dancing up to Kansas skies.

The studio has incandescent and fluorescent lighting as well as natural lighting from skylights and north-facing windows.

“If I’m working on a painting that’s going to be under incandescent or fluorescent or natural I can change the lighting to change my colors,” Louis said.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Phyllis and Louis have a shared, spacious studio space in the home. Pictured here is Phyllis’s studio area.

Phyllis started sharing the studio space in early 2020. She does monoprinting and photography with a focus on native botanicals. The studio space includes a garage door for easy transfer of the pieces.

“I didn’t want to be the guy who built the airplane in the basement and couldn’t get it out,” Louis said.

In the basement, the couple has a guest bedroom and bathroom, a two-door garage and an art storage space with another garage door for easy art removal. For a couple with only two cars, the Copts have four garages.

On the third floor of the home is the Copts’ master bedroom and bathroom, which are also open. The bedroom has two sets of doors that, when opened, show a view of the living room below. The bathroom, which Phyllis referred to as their “treehouse bathroom,” has a lot of natural light from windows. From the upstairs bathroom, one can also see into the art studio below, and even into the stairs leading to the basement.

The couple said their favorite aspects of their house are its location, which allows for peace and solitude, its open floor plan and the ability to have an art studio at home. Building their own home gave Phyllis and Louis Copt the home they always dreamed of, and a beautiful, snowy day led them to where they needed to be.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The home’s open design creates unique views from the second floor bedroom and bathroom to the floors below.

photo by: Mike Yoder

The Copt’s kitchen features an open floor plan and large dining counter.

photo by: Mike Yoder

At the entry to the home is a stained glass window by Shana Wagner and a front door custom made in Arizona by Phyllis’s brother-in-law. The door is made of Alder wood.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Large corner windows in the living room offer a view of the rural landscape. A large watercolor by Lawrence artist Martin Cheng hangs at right, with adjacent photographs by Phyllis, part of a series of seed images.

photo by: Mike Yoder

Lawrence blacksmith Kate Dinneen created the metal work on the entry stairs. Lawrence sculptor Jim Brothers created the bronze piece at lower right.

photo by: Louis Copt

The Copt’s home at 1935 E 850th Road is pictured in April 2019 by a drone. Pictured just north of the home is five acres of land that the Copts hope to turn into a natural prairie.


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