A Second Chance

A Midtown Alley loft is reborn into an extraordinary space where modern, city style and family-friendly, traditional touches exist in harmony

Text: Katie Underhill
Photos: Ashley Gieseking
May 2011

Once nothing more than a timeworn, abandoned structure, the Beck Building, located along the historic “Automotive Row” on Locust Street, has undergone a tremendous transformation. Now a hip mix of modern private residences and sleek commercial spaces, the place that Jassen Johnson, his wife, Sarah Kramer, and their new baby, Hartman, call home has been given a new look — and a new life.

Daring to uncover the treasure buried deep beneath boarded-up windows, architect Jassen Johnson, founder and partner of Renaissance Development Associates, found inspiration (and his new home) below the unsightly surface.

Through his discovery, he’s given the area of Midtown Alley, which encompasses Olive and Locust streets between Leffingwell and Theresa avenues, a priceless gift — a second chance. With the help of his incredible talent and vision, the character-rich neighborhood has been saved from the all-too-familiar fate of dilapidation and disrepair.

Movers and shakers who believe in the beauty of the city, Jassen and Sarah, the director of community outreach at Peabody Energy, are the kind of people St. Louis is lucky to have. Together, they have created an intimate network of friends and clients in their beloved community, as well as a welcoming home that overflows with energy, personality, and the warmth of family.

Jassen and Sarah’s dynamic custom home is more transitional than the average city loft — a complex compilation of both of their design preferences. When the couple married, they merged their styles, too, inventing a fashionable fusion of her penchant for modern and his taste for eclectic. In doing so, the couple has proved that loft living doesn’t have to mean embracing the archetypical utilitarian look. On the contrary, they have incorporated beautiful upholstery, chandeliers and deep, dark woods into their style-savvy space, all of which provide striking contrast with the modern architecture.

“People think of lofts as being somewhat cold and edgy, but it’s good to feel comfortable in the city,” says Sarah of the home’s unique style. And comfortable they are. According to Jassen, almost every piece of furniture that decorates their thoughtfully planned spaces came from each of their previous homes.

“I wanted to showcase how you could use traditional pieces in a contemporary loft setting, so we designed our loft around our furniture,” explains Jassen.

To tie together such a mélange of design elements, Jassen knew that he first had to select the perfect neutral palette. After extensive searching, he found Weathered Stone by Benjamin Moore, a shade of gray that now serves as the loft’s primary wall color. Other neutrals with similar robust saturations, such as brown and tan, are intermixed, but this particular paint color is key to maintaining balance within the spaces.

“I chose neutrals because I wanted the art to pop,” he says, adding that the simplicity of the color keeps the loft from feeling too cluttered, which is a necessity with the homeowners’ more eclectic furnishings.

The end result is an unexpected mix of modern and traditional décor that creates an inviting ambience, beckoning guests to sit down and stay awhile. However, it wasn’t just their own comfort the couple considered when designing their new home from the ground up. Jassen and Sarah enjoy hosting get-togethers, so future parties played a role in the layout of their space.

“The concept was designed around the kitchen,” says Jassen. “I love to entertain, but I also love to cook. With this setup, guests can gather around the bar instead of in the kitchen, which gives the cook plenty of space.”

But when the cook isn’t hard at work, the kitchen functions as an ideal gathering spot. Flanked by two tissue box fireplaces and an island that seats six, it’s one of the most attention-grabbing “rooms.” Stainless steel appliances and glossy, post-modern cabinets convey contemporary chic, while three petite, ornate chandeliers impart elegance. Durable black PaperStone countertops, which are constructed using up to 100-percent post-consumer recycled paper, add eco-friendly flair.

Flowing effortlessly from the kitchen, the living room offers a cozy seating area and a posh bar, perfect for relaxing by the fire or entertaining friends. Just beyond the living room is the master suite. Hints of glamour, such as the creamy off-white tufted leather bed and mirrored nightstands, mix playfully with the clean lines of two modern white table lamps, setting a decidedly transitional tone.

Located on the opposite side of the kitchen, the dining room is also a triumphant combination of several styles. An oversized library infuses classic sophistication, and when paired with more transitional furnishings, such as two avant-garde chrome and crystal chandeliers with drum shade housings and parsons chairs upholstered in a traditional damask fabric, the contrast is genuinely captivating.

Adjacent to the dining room, the gracious guest suite is full of international flavor, marrying different countries and textures to achieve a unique, almost whimsical flavor. Global décor, including a Parisian lamp and French-inspired linens; an oversized Eiffel Tower objet d’art; a painting depicting Venice; posters of Cuba, Egypt and India; a map of Versailles; and a framed collection of international currencies, no doubt makes guests feel as though they are vacationing in a faraway land.

 “I love traveling overseas. If you’re that kind of person, your home should feel like it, too,” says Jassen. “I think that’s what makes this loft soft — fun accents and personality.”

Much-loved and full of heart, this young and talented family’s loft is leading a new life of luxury. Defined by its owners’ deep appreciation for all things design-minded, it showcases a brilliant blend of styles, carefully achieved yet effortlessly chic. A far cry from the rundown building that used to stand in its place, Jassen, Sarah and Hartman’s home exudes the energy and promise of a beautiful new beginning. And after all, isn’t that what second chances are all about?

Reniassance Development Associates, partner/founder Jassen Johnson (also the homeowner), 314-652-0800, www.renaissancedevelopmentassociates.com
Select furnishings and accessories: Gringo Jones; Z Gallerie, www.zgallerie.com; Restoration Hardware, www.restorationhardware.com

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