‘Right-sized’ house is ideal for creative family of 3 in Lawrence; ‘we’ve made it our own’

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Tessa Vancil, 12, right and her parents Brian and Sara Vancil, and their Boston terrier Quinn, live at 3116 W. 23rd Terrace.

Tessa Vancil is intrigued by design. The 12-year-old Lawrence resident likes to consider how furniture should be arranged, how colors should be used and how to achieve clean lines in a room. That’s why Tessa, who aspires to be an architect, jumped on the opportunity to arrange her own bedroom as well as help her parents with color and tile selection for a recent bathroom renovation.

At the launch of the COVID lockdown, Brian and Sara Vancil had asked Tessa to exchange her bedroom for a different room in the house so they could use her old room as an office. Tessa initially balked, but the idea of redesigning her own environment was too compelling to pass up. The aqua-colored walls, the textured accent lamp, the bed with drawers, the slender tan couch — each item in Tessa’s room was thoughtfully curated.

“I love my room,” Tessa says. “I just really enjoy being in it.”

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Tessa Vancil, 12, sits in her room at 3116 W. 23rd Terrace. Tessa aspires to be an architect and had a lot to do with creating her bedroom environment as well as creating the design and concept of the first-floor bathroom tile work in the shower during a renovation.

When the Vancils bought their three-bedroom home at 3116 W. 23rd Terrace in 2008, Tessa was not born yet, but the Vancils knew they wanted to have kids in the home.

“We planned to have children and definitely considered that when buying,” Sara says. “We decided to just have one child and the house ended up being the perfect size for three of us.”

The house is a smidge more than 1,300 square feet, a size that matches the Vancils’ minimalist mindset.

“I have slight hoarding tendencies, so not having unlimited space to expand means that piles of junk annoy us earlier than they would if we lived in a larger house,” Brian says. “For instance, I love board games, but not having space for all of them led me to subscribe to the Bring-RPG-Home game subscription program from RPG (Restaurant, Pub & Games) downtown.”

Buying an appropriately sized house, rather than one loaded with spare rooms that might have sat empty, or worse, filled up with unused junk, was important to Sara, too.

“(Our) house is big enough to meet all our needs but not so big that we have empty spaces that need to be furnished or cleaned but are never used,” she says.

When the Vancils first moved into the home, they concentrated their energies on improving the yard. The original raised beds in the backyard were overgrown but seemed like a promising place to start a garden. Now the Vancils have a 200-square-foot garden flush with fruits, vegetables, flowers and native plants for pollinators.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Raised bed gardens run from fence to fence across the back of the Vancil family’s yard with over 200-square-feet of gardening space.

During the COVID lockdown, the Vancils started working from home full-time. Both work at the University of Kansas, Brian as a statistician and Sara in the financial aid office.

Being at home more inspired the Vancils to make improvements.

In addition to creating a multipurpose office, they installed Marmoleum flooring, a brand of linoleum made with natural raw materials, in the living and dining rooms, and remodeled both bathrooms, one of which Tessa helped design.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

The open floor-plan of the first floor includes a raised ceiling and sight lines from the front entrance door through the living room and dining room.

Chris Powers of Meadowlark Construction did the structural work for the renovations.

“He’s a consummate professional, and we’ve been so happy working with him,” Sara says. “The final project on the house is to update the kitchen, and we’ll use him when the time comes.”

One feature both Vancils love is the bay window, which provides space for their many house plants.

“Noticing (the plants) always boosts my mood,” Brian says.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

The living room of the Vancil home features this bay window area, which makes a good spot for plants and a comfortable seat with a view to the outdoors. The front garden that features many native plants.

Though the Vancils like to think of ways to enhance their home, they are also happy with it as it is.

“Brian and I wanted a home that was right-sized and functional with the opportunity to make improvements, both inside and outside, to make it work for us,” Sara says. “It has everything we need. And we’ve made it our own through dedicated and intentional improvements to the garden and living spaces.”

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

A large garden space in the Vancil family’s front yard contains many native plants.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

The Vancil home features a stone-coated steel roof seen here above Stars and Stripes decorative bunting at 3116 W. 23rd Terrace.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

The Vancil family enjoys gardening and has around 200-square-feet of raised beds for vegetables, flowers and fruits.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Hangings of plastic bottle tops and a string of pieces of driftwood and shells decorate a post in the Vancil family’s large backyard garden.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

A unique decoration in Sara and Brian Vancil’s bedroom is a large metal plate displaying all the travel patches and magnets they picked up during family vacations.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

Both Sara and Brian Vancil worked at home during the COVID-19 pandemic and combined their work spaces into one of the home’s bedrooms. Their daughter Tessa also used the room when school was being held online.

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

A collection of loose-leaf tea containers and tea service has a spot in the Vancil family dining room .

photo by: Mike Yoder/Journal-World

The Vancil family did a renovation of the first-floor bathroom with Tessa Vancil, 12, contributing to the design and concept of the shower tile work.


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