Asha White stands atop a long, elegant staircase that dates back to the pre-Civil War era. The crystal chandelier sparkles in the background as the blue wallpaper finds its way into history.
White is a senior marking major at UMKC and an intern for the Kansas City Symphony Alliance, which recently announced its selection for the 44th annual Symphony Designers’ Showhouse. The antebellum Showhouse, 1032 West 55th St., is undergoing a complete remodeling.
According to house historian Beverly Shaw, the property was purchased by Mormons in the early 1830s. It later went to a Clay County lawyer named Alexander Doniphan. It was then sold to a Westport farmer named William Matney.
Owner William W. Bent, a well-known fort builder, trader and frontiersman, purchased the home in 1858.
Shaw explained how a trapper-trader’s wife named Mrs. Seth Ward bought the property from Bent’s wife. Different allies of the Wards, including the Ward Investment Company, were in possession of the property until 1940.
Mr. and Mrs. Leland W. Browne were granted the house in 1942. Dr. and Mrs. Frederick B. Campbell then purchased and continued renovations until 1949, and in 1983, Mr. and Mrs. J. Nelson Happy began extensive repairs on mechanical and structural components.
Currently, the Bent-Ward home is getting its makeover for its current owners, Robert and Sandra Gaines.
White currently is the chairman of the Private Parties committee for the alliance.
“I update the databases and invite new companies and residents to our events in order to enhance more awareness about this year’s Showhouse,” White said. “I think I called over 200 people to invite them to our open house that was about a month ago.”
Among White’s duties lie the task of coordinating events within the Showhouse.
“I figure out the details with private parties,” White said. “Sometimes with 20 people all the way up to hundreds, I help with renting out the home for our events.”
The Kansas City Symphony held an open house at the Showhouse in order to allow visitors to learn more about the selection and renovation process.
In order to complete the renovations, the home is rented by the symphony for six months. The owners vacate the premises along with all personal belongings.
“Different designers will pick a room to bid on,” UMKC alumna and co-chair Stacey Johnson Cosby said. “Then, if they get selected, then they are responsible for the cost of the room and redesigning everything.”
The total renovations cost an estimated $100,000-$165,000 according to Tracy Hawkins, President of the Kansas City Symphony Alliance.
“That includes labor and skills, actual physical improvements that the Homeowners will enjoy once the SH closes and we are gone,” Hawkins said. “The Designers pay these costs from their own budgets. KCSA makes some improvements, as well.”
This home, known as the Bent-Ward House, was first featured in 1985 in the 16th Designers’ Showhouse.
“We’ve done a lot [so far],” Cosby said. “And there are still some touches from the designers from the first event.”
For instance, blue wallpaper featured in the entrance walkway was added during the first Showhouse.
Companies like Sherwin-Williams and Wilson Lighting donate to the cause through decor and designing efforts, as well as independent designers, universities, and more recently, high school students.
According to Cosby, the home has been coming together satisfyingly, thanks to dedicated designers and volunteers, but could not be as successful without the alliance’s members, such as White.
“Everyone thinks what she [White] is doing is so valuable,” Cosby said. “She has been able to use the information she has learned in class to put to use with us… How much better can it be?”
“UMKC definitely prepared me for this internship. As a Marketing student, I have learned how to apply market research and critical thinking into my decisions,” she said.