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By T.S. Leonard
Kansas City’s historic Westside neighborhood sits atop a steep hill, notable for its colorful nineteenth-century Victorian homes that fan out from the aptly named Summit Street. With restaurants that would be at home in Portland and scenic downtown views worthy of San Francisco, you might barely recognize the district as the Midwest—that is, if it weren’t for the community’s character.
“Midwestern people are so friendly,” says Theresa Robinson. “I’ve had people cross the street just to compliment my coat.”
The neighborhood’s friendly character drew Theresa and her husband Peter to their adopted home atop this hill all the way from the English Channel island of Jersey. They now own and operate the Jefferson House, a European-style bed-and-breakfast in the Westside. The towering Victorian home dates back to the 1890s, and though the Robinsons have filled it with a variety of antiques they brought with them from across the pond, the home has a distinctly modern flavor to its art, as well as its hospitality.
The Jefferson House has become one of the best-reviewed bed-and-breakfasts in the city, with guests that love the up-and-coming neighborhood, the comfortable elegance of the home, and maybe most of all, the cooking. Theresa makes all of the food and likes to mix it up when it comes to the morning meal’s flavor.
“We kind of have all of Europe going on in our kitchen,” she says, “and we underestimated how much that would mean to people. I think a huge chunk of our business is coming from people who just want to come here and eat breakfast.”
It makes sense that the Robinsons have a knack for what makes a memorable stay in the Westside. The idea for the Jefferson House occurred while they were visiting the neighborhood.
Theresa had come to Kansas City in 2006 to do a residency at the ceramics-centric Red Star Studios. When she and Peter came back to visit for three months, they mentioned offhand to a friend that they thought of re turning to the United States to open a bed-and-breakfast. Their friend happened to live next door to a stately Victorian house that was on the market, and she insisted that the Robinsons take a look.
“We wandered through this huge, monster of a house that needed an enormous amount of work,” Theresa says, “but there was something about it where we just looked at each other like, ‘This is it. We can do this.’ ”
The Robinsons soon moved their lives across the Atlantic and began the business of renovating and curating a bed-and-breakfast. It was a major undertaking that could not have been pulled off without the couple’s unwavering enthusiasm for their new neighborhood. They describe it as an English village.
“There’s this community of people sharing stuff and passing things on,” Theresa says.
The importance of a tight-knit community is present throughout the house. The Robinsons opted against offering several dining areas in favor of one family dining table. The dinnerware is primarily comprised of Theresa’s pottery. There’s a sizable garden in the adjoining lot and a porch in the front where guests can enjoy a unique panoramic view of Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. There’s plenty of room to bump into one another, much to the guests’—and the Robinsons’—delight.
“The house has an arty feel so people start to talk about their art, which makes it interesting,” Peter says. “There’s a great deal of pleasure listening to six people who’ve never met each other before sitting around the table and joking and enjoying a good breakfast.”
The community, the art: this is the Kansas City that the Robinsons fell in love with and are excited to share with their guests. Because of the house’s proximity to the Crossroads, Peter encourages visitors to plan their trip around the First Friday gallery events held every month in the district. The couple endorses a wide range of restaurants in the area, including the nearby Westside Local—an acclaimed farm-to-table eatery and watering hole where guests might find Theresa and Peter sharing a drink with the neighbors.
Theresa is unabashed about this scene’s influence on the Jefferson House. Although the couple met and lived in San Francisco before they moved to Peter’s hometown in Jersey more than thirty years ago, they always kind of wanted to move back to the United States, and Kansas City was the tipping point.
“I think it was falling in love with Kansas City and being so surprised by it that did it—being able to be an artist and have a project like this, in a city full of history and architecture,” Theresa says.
Ever since, they have been striving to provide that same sense of home-away-from home for their Jefferson House guests. They’ve opened their doors for everyone from New York artists to local parents seeking sanctuary for a night alone together. Judging from the stories, it seems the guests feel no restraint from making themselves at home.
“We had a pajama party where six lawyers rented all three rooms,” Theresa says, laughing.
However, the house has served as the venue for more important events than an attorney slumber party.
“We host bigger things, like the marriage proposals—and we’ve had two weddings here—and people coming to celebrate anniversaries or births,” Theresa says. “You realize you’re a part of someone’s history. This house already had 120 years of history and stories, and now we’re adding this modern layer to that.”
The Robinsons do not take this responsibility lightly. Their attention to detail, their constant upkeep, and a natural gregariousness helps set the Jefferson House tone.
It’s historic but chic. It’s tucked away, but there’s the city at your feet. It’s a place where it’s easy to get some alone time, but it’s also a place to make a new friend. It takes hard work to make relaxation seem this effortless. And although the Robinsons have devoted all of themselves to creating this happy household, they still manage to be pleasantly surprised when taking stock of what’s brought them here.
“We do try to remember that moment, when we’re folding the towels: ‘When did we have this idea?’ ” Theresa says, laughing. “Why at that one moment did we both think, ‘Yeah, let’s do this!’ ”
Peter agrees with Theresa: “Every so often when we’re changing the beds, we say to each other what we’ve achieved, and it makes it worthwhile. Not many people get the opportunity to do this.”