Kristin Whittle Parke’s lifelong dream was to take a commercial space and turn it into her residence. In the 1980s, she was inspired by movies like “Big” and “Flashdance” that featured big, open, loft-style homes and knew she would eventually live in one. In her teens and early 20s, she began collecting brightly colored Fiestaware dishes and vintage pink toy appliances.
“I always knew someday I’d have a big space to display them,” she says. “I envisioned it.”
Parke’s vision finally became a reality in 2019 when she moved into a renovated brick commercial building in Overland that she painstakingly transformed into an adult playground where every space has a unique vibe that comes straight out of her imagination. It was an extremely long and often painful road to get there, however.
The journey began in 2004 when she was living in Creve Coeur with her then husband. She happened to be driving through Overland, a north St. Louis County suburb, when she spotted an old brick building with a for-sale sign in front. She was immediately struck by its 10 enormous sunburst arch windows.
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Though she explained her dream to her husband, he simply wasn’t on board and told her he didn’t want any part of it — if she wanted it, she was on her own.
“I called the number, and I got it for a steal,” Parke remembers. “It was a mess. I brought in a demolition crew and took it down to the brick.”
Built in 1924 for Southwestern Bell Telephone Co., the building had been used for several different commercial purposes throughout the years, including a stint as a technical school for Ritenour School District in the 1970s. When Parke purchased it, the building was divided into 18 offices with dropped ceilings that covered up half of the arched windows, and it was full of asbestos. She had the walls and drop ceilings pulled down and the asbestos removed. The debris filled 12 30-foot dumpsters.
Then it sat empty for 13 years. Uncertain how to move forward, Parke hit pause, though she continued to hold on to the building and her dream.
“It was like, how do you eat an elephant?” she says.
By 2012, rain was starting to pour through the holes in the roof. A friend told her that if she didn’t replace it, she was going to lose the building. So she replaced the entire roof, a tremendous expense and undertaking. Little, by little, she would make improvements. The next major one was replacing all of the windows and their casements on the front of the building, carefully re-creating those sunburst arches she initially fell in love with.
Then, in 2017, she says she had an epiphany. “I wasn’t happy in my marriage and I wanted to follow my dream.” She divorced her husband, hired a contractor and gave him her life savings to build out the space — now just an empty shell — into the home she always imagined.
Unfortunately, she hit another roadblock when the contractor ended up leaving the project unfinished, with her money in hand. That is when, she says, it became a labor of love and possibly divine intervention.
“By the grace of God, this came together. People and artists started coming out of the woodwork to help me — they did stuff for me for free when they heard my story. It just all came together,” Parke says.
Though she had help executing the plans, the vision is all hers, and each space is carefully designed with a specific purpose and idea.
“I was inspired by the Cheshire when it was a boutique hotel, where each room was a different theme, so I tried to kind of re-create that,” she says. “I want everything to be fun and interactive. I love decorating.”
It starts in the enclosed foyer, which is draped from the ceiling in a wide black-and-white stripe fabric to resemble a cabana. With the image in her mind, she went to Anatol’s Fabric Outlet in Brentwood and explained her goal. They recommended seamstress Nancy McClary to make it a reality. Honoring her love of portholes, Parke found a salvaged door with three porthole windows in Illinois and hung it as the front door.
Entering the open living space feels like stepping into one of the lofts in those 1980s movies Parke loved to watch. Different vignettes of various furniture and art divide the room into zones with a patchwork of oriental rugs found at estate sales and auction houses connecting them. A long wood dining table, surrounded by vintage chairs, is the heart of the home.
“Part of my vision was always that I would have a big harvest table, and I could imagine people sitting around it,” she says. “This seats 12, and I have had hundreds of dinner parties around this table.”
The table sits just outside of the open kitchen, where she now proudly displays all of her Fiestaware and vintage collectibles on shelves that line the original brick wall. The kitchen is designed around a baby pink 1947 Western Holly stove with portholes in the doors. Parke got a vintage reproduction Big Chill refrigerator range hood in pink to match. A close friend from high school, Guido Gedamke with CastleTech Inc., fabricated custom concrete countertops and a half-circle center island with a copper patina finish to complete the eclectic space.
The real, fun, however, lies behind each of the closed doors along the main building’s perimeter. An all-white guest room features rounded doorways and windows and a circular cutout “star dome” in the ceiling with fiber-optic lights. Through the bedroom, behind another door is a large bathroom that looks like a Moroccan spa with side-by-side claw-foot tubs, a separate cobalt blue tiled shower and a ceiling painted like the night sky by local artist Jeff May.
In Parke’s home, there is always a project. The house is a constantly evolving work of art — all from the heart and mind of one woman who decided to live her dream.
Occupation • Contracted employment discrimination mediator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission
At home with Kristin Whittle Parke