Of Boards & Beams, Love & Dreams

When it comes to homebuilding, there are some builders who build by blueprints. And then there are some builders who work by more abstract creative forces. While the latter may not be the most conventional way to build, it certainly makes for one of the most interesting.

To experience inspired building at its best, look no further than the home of Dennis and Roxy Watts. Dennis, a fourth-generation homebuilder, constructs anything but ordinary homes.

In fact, throughout his four decades as a builder, Dennis has been widely known for his architecturally-unique projects, whether residential or commercial in scope.

But always his passion for inspired building, incorporation of environmentally-friendly elements and aesthetic functionality are hallmarks of his work, from restaurants and homes in Johnson County to industrial spaces and other eateries all over the greater Kansas City metro.

Today, Dennis and Roxy hang their hats in Jackson County’s private community of Lake Lotawana, where they have resided for roughly 10 years.

While Dennis heads his building company, Earthtone, and Roxy is employed by the Lee’s Summit School District, this couple has made lake living the standard by which they enjoy each day, and the environment suits them well.

Consummately gracious and easy-going, the couple has enjoyed various lake homes at Lake Lotawana, waiting for the right opportunity to come along to build the lake home they envisioned.

That vision materialized two years ago when a first-tier lake home surfaced for sale. Perhaps most attractive was the fact that the home was situated on three lots.

“It was a mid-century contemporary home, but we just couldn’t save it,” says Dennis, a point on which both Roxy and Dennis agree.

That said, Dennis did manage to salvage about 30 percent of the home as he literally deconstructed the single-story home, board by painstaking board.

What to do with all those boards and beams? Re-use them, of course, in the new house!

And so something old became new again, in a most exquisite way.

Pieces of the original home were granted new life amid the evolution of the new 4,000-square-foot home, which spans one-and-a-half stories and a walk-out basement. Old-growth timbers and beams from the original home were fused with state-of-the-art materials and appliances to mesh a vintage feel with a modern flair in the visually striking residence.

With an exterior showcasing earthy wood shingles, stone accents, deep crimson sides and a green asphalt roof, the new abode authentically resembles a fishing camp cabin that might be nestled away among the 10,000 lakes of Minnesota.

Thanks to extensive travel via motorcycle through the back roads of Western states such as Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Montana, Dennis and Roxy are well-versed in the quintessential colors and characteristics of the iconic fishing cabins that dot the riverfront and lakeshore camps of the American West.

For the Watts, the new home offered a chance to enjoy life by the lake in a fully functional but sublimely tank-tops-and-barefoot kind of way.

Dennis has gained numerous accolades and recognition – locally and nationally – for his many construction projects for large and small clients, so it’s of little surprise that he committed the same artistic energy to this home.

The amazing thing is that he somehow magically, almost effortlessly, works as he goes. 

When it came to his own home, he sketched out a rough plan and proceeded to build with his crew, driven by innate insight and a desire to accommodate his family.

This, of course, includes Roxy but also their two grown sons, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren, as well.

It’s no surprise that Hannah, 7, and Max, 4, are eager to spend any days and nights they can at Poppy and Mimi’s lake house. 

Why? For starters, the house is just plain fun. 

From the expansive back deck that provides a bird’s eye view of Lake Lotawana to the stylish, kid-friendly lodge-themed bunk rooms on the main floor and lower level, time is well spent whether grilling on the deck, fishing off the dock or catching some zzzs in any of the home’s four cozy bedrooms where heavy four-point wool blankets and quilts complement the rooms’ rustic auras.

Sunlight streams into the log and timber home’s main floor through an ample set of windows by day, while antique light fixtures cast a soft amber glow by night.

And now that the days are warmer, the home’s windows and doors are often open, allowing the fresh lake breezes to meander through this welcoming home, a sanctuary to a constant flow of friends–new and old–as well as family.

The couple contends that the main floor offers all the space they really need with its centrally located open kitchen, breakfast nook and living room flanked on one side by the master bedroom suite and spacious weathered-sage laundry area, and a bedroom and bath on the other side.

Beyond the main floor, a flight of sturdy post-and-timber open stairs climb past a grand elk painting done by Roxy to the top floor–a decidedly intimate attic space. 

Topped off with a sloping ceiling over a quiet, simply dressed bedroom, an ornately tiled angled bath and a discreet office, the upstairs is at once a private retreat and functional workspace.

Throughout the home, wood such as knotty alder, Brazilian mahogany and aromatic cedar, in all shapes, sizes and forms, reigns supreme.

Dennis’ masterful use of door jambs, posts and beams, base boards, quarter rounds and split logs is truly fascinating, while Roxy has complemented the architecture with a thoughtfully selected color palette and harmonious interior design essentials.

Dennis modestly stresses that “things don’t have to be perfect,” but somehow in this house, everything is perfect.

“The way the various wood elements fit seamlessly together; the way reclaimed light fixtures gleaned from the original Union Station illuminate the main floor; the way an exhaust pipe from a tractor and old iron fence were morphed into a rugged stair railing; the way an Oriental rug serves artfully as the door to the master bath; the way small copper tubing glides unobtrusively across the living room ceiling and heavy hardware hinges gleam in the kitchen–everything in this home has its place and its reason.”

It seems there is a story behind everything,
including the living room’s fireplace, which
features a sandstone surround that abstractly hints at a Southwestern mountain scene complete with a moon and howling coyote.

As equally appealing as Dennis’ poetic methods of construction are his commitments to “working with what he’s got,” recycling materials and employing “green” fundamentals whenever possible.

The Watts’ home, for example, has radiant heating that warms the entire floor of the lowest level and subsequently the rest of the house–an efficient cooling system and foam insulation, which is considered to be one of the most effective types of insulation.

Above all, perhaps Dennis’ most overriding building principle is to make a home not only aesthetic and energy-efficient, but livable as well.

“A house is meant to be enjoyed,” explains Dennis. “It’s a big investment, so a homeowner should do what they like and what they think they need.”

For Dennis and Roxy, that meant designing a home largely around the needs of their family – two adoring grandkids, in particular.

Dennis adds that a home should be relaxed and secure – a quality that a heavy timber home like the Watts’ home delivers with ease.

Regarding the Lake Lotawana community, the couple says they savor all the water-skiing, sailing, fishing, swimming and boating they want…minus the two-hour drive. They also enjoy strolling the short distance to Lake Lotawana’s Marina Grog & Galley where delectable dining and outdoor fire pits summon lake-goers to airy lakeside leisure.

They love the community so much, in fact, that Dennis is building a new house. It’s a nautically-inspired, 4,000-square-foot home that is shaping up to be another captivating work of art full of soaring ceilings, stunning arches and creatively executed design elements. And it’s just next door.

Always captivated by the homes she and Dennis collaborate on, Roxy laughs, “You never know, we might have to move over there when it’s finished.”