When George and Julie Sells first walked in to the living room of their 1920-built Kirkwood Colonial in 2008, they knew it was the house for them. With its original crown moldings, wainscoting, fireplace, built-in bookshelves and window seat, it had all of the cozy charm they were looking for.
“We’ve always liked old houses,” Julie says of the period details.
The couple had been living and working in New York at the time — both formerly had careers in media and first met in Louisville where she worked at the local newspaper and he worked at a local television station. Their son, Quinn, was just a toddler and having no family nearby made things challenging. The Sellses decided to move to St. Louis, Julie’s hometown, to be nearer to her family and continue growing theirs.
They looked all over St. Louis for a home, but loved Kirkwood for its charming downtown, easy walkability, great schools and close proximity to the city, where they spend a great deal of time.
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The house, once part of a larger farm, was in good shape and only had two previous owners. The Sellses did some basic renovations such as replacing the front door and the hardwood floors throughout the first floor. Then, in late 2021, they embarked on their first major renovation project — a two-story addition to the back of the house including a new kitchen, breakfast room, mud room/pantry and second-floor primary suite.
“We didn’t really need the square footage, it was about the way it was configured,” George says about the project, for which they enlisted the team from Kirkwood-based Agape Construction.
The kitchen was small and closed off. Previous owners had dropped the ceiling from its original height, making it feel even more cramped. Upstairs, the primary bedroom had no en suite bathroom.
“We gave them a list of everything we’d complained about for years,” George says of the Agape team, led by owner Kevin O’Brien, who has a reputation for preserving older homes. They worked with the firm’s architect, Ed Heine, on the overall design, which supported the elegant original staircase and honored the home’s history and architecture.
“They really took the time to match all of the baseboards and moldings,” Julie says. “You don’t feel like you’re walking into the addition portion of the house.”
The living room the Sellses first fell in love with now leads seamlessly into the sunny new breakfast room, which is lined with large windows overlooking the lush, green yard and mature trees. The breakfast room opens to the expanded and reconfigured kitchen, built around a large center island with seating for the whole family. Agape’s in-house designer, Edie Rice, was instrumental in helping select the finishes.
Julie shared inspirations from Houzz and HGTV, pulling her favorite elements to guide the design. The kitchen is done in clean black and white with brass accents and stainless steel appliances.
For the large center island, they swapped the color scheme using black cabinetry topped with an extra thick slab of veined white quartz. StoneTrends in Chesterfield fabricated all of the countertops. Lantern-style brass pendants from locally owned Wilson Lighting complete the look.
“We used all local, which is cool,” Julie says. “It’s nice when you have a local showroom where you can go in and look at things and touch them.”
The Sellses enlisted another local business, the Closet Factory, and their designer Jesse Chall to create a highly organized new pantry and mudroom off the kitchen with a place for everything. The pantry has plugs for small appliances so they can be kept off the main counter space and hidden from view. Chall also worked with the couple to design the new walk-in closet off the primary bedroom to the exact specifications of the types and number of clothes and shoes it would hold.
The second-floor addition expanded what was previously daughter Samantha’s room to create a new primary suite with a Juliet balcony overlooking the backyard and a spacious, light-filled bath featuring an elegant freestanding tub and separate glass-enclosed shower. They designed the bathroom around the intricately patterned black-and-white floor tile that had a very personal inspiration.
“For our 20th anniversary, we went to France and we stayed in this little loft in a town called Dijon, and they had tile almost exactly like this in the bathroom,” remembers Julie. “I told George, someday we’ll find that tile.”
The reconfigured second floor leaves the previous primary bedroom open as a new guest room. Teens Quinn and Samantha each have their own spacious rooms and separate bathrooms as well.
With the addition just completed in July, the Sellses are settling back in and enjoying how well the new and old spaces of the home complement each other. Next, they plan to build a large deck surrounding the new breakfast room, now one of their favorite spots in the house.