As you approach the Nicol House, you might not realize those are Italian glass ashtrays embedded in the front door or tiny hobby-store mirrors glinting among the shingles. But you would know you were in for something out of the ordinary.
Strikingly unlike its colonial-style neighbors, the octagonal house has a zigzag of triangular windows and a pyramid crowning its flat roof, with an asterisk of steel balls and rebars on top.
“What an amazing house — wow!” is what its current owner, Rod Parks, remembers thinking when he first crossed the threshold and took in the central conversation pit covered in electric-green carpet. That was in 1997, and Betty Nicol, who had commissioned the Kansas City, Mo., home with her husband, James, a banker, had put it up for sale. Then nearly 80 and widowed, she was downsizing from the 4,200 square feet where they had raised their three children.
Parks, who is now 56, was navigating his own transition: from Ph.D. candidate in psychology to dealer of midcentury furniture. And though he was curious to see this house by the legendary architect Bruce Goff, he was not looking to buy.
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At the time, Parks was focused on opening Retro Inferno, his furniture emporium in downtown Kansas City. But he lived nearby and occasionally attended parties given by the new owners. And he began learning about Goff.
Affectionately called BG by the Nicol children, the self-taught architect died in 1982 at 78. He began his architectural apprenticeship at 12 and within three years had broken ground on his first building; eventually, he headed the University of Oklahoma’s architecture program.
And although he was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright’s work, Goff developed his own exuberant style, often integrating unconventional elements like cellophane strips, turkey feathers and airplane parts.
The Nicols met Goff in 1964, when he lectured at the Kansas City Art Institute. Their daughter, Kathy Nicol, who was 12 at the time, said her parents “got sore ribs from poking one another in the sides, they so shared his modern and eccentric sensibility.” The couple hired him on the spot.
Goff’s idea, she continued, was to design a home for their “family of individuals.” So his unifying honeycomb plan centered on an octagonal living area ringed by octagonal rooms in various colors, from purple to tangerine, reflecting each family member’s particular taste.
The home’s geometry is as bold as its colors. Besides the octagonal rooms, there are hexagonal cladding shingles and a hexagonal swimming pool. And triangles everywhere: in the windows, kitchen cabinets, bathroom sinks and even toilet tanks.
Skylights cap every space, echoing the geometry, most dramatically over the conversation pit. There, Goff created a fire-and-water fountain made from a sawed-off boiler, an inverted showerhead and a copper ring pierced with flame jets. Overhead, he strung a veil of mirrors.
Hovering above the fountain, there is now also a Soviet satellite, which the new owners bought online and installed, before putting the house on the market in 2009.
That is when Parks re-entered the scene. He borrowed the owners’ keys for a quick solo visit and ended up staying nearly three hours.
“The house grabbed me like never before,” he said. “It got me — and I got it.” He paid $650,000 for the one-acre property.
Parks had no misgivings about how he and his poodle, Ettore, would fill the four-bedroom home, but he had another concern: “Here I was, the furniture guy,” he said, “moving to a house with so many built-ins.”
In his previous homes he had showcased his favorite merchandise, but here, platform beds, desks, vanities with baking tins as drawers and fixed-in-place dining and kitchen tables were integral to the design.
Soon, however, he realized he would not have to “always be robbing the best stuff from the store,” he said. “I can have good things, just not so many.”
His choice possessions include a clear-acrylic Sonor drum set in its own room (he’s an amateur drummer); a pair of early George Nelson seats; and a vintage set of Erwine and Estelle Laverne chairs, like the ones the Nicols had here.
On eBay, he found a fragment of Shin’en Kan, the well-known Goff house in Bartlesville, Okla., that burned in 1996. And once the gray carpeting Parks’ predecessors installed wears out, he plans to go back to the original eye-popping chartreuse.
“When I first bought this house, I wondered, am I being nostalgic, moving backward?” he said. “Then it dawned on me: Goff was always ahead of the curve.”