The Vincent family is giving a 1939 mansion some modern design love
Matt and Sara Vincent love a challenge. For the Topeka, Kansas couple, the latest is bringing an iconic depression-era castle house into the 21st Century — with five kids in tow.
The Vincents are on a mission to honor the house’s history while infusing it with their warm approach to modern design. They’re documenting the journey on a blog, Our Modern Manor, and via Instagram (@ourmodernmanor).
“It’s such a unique house. Especially here locally, it’s a very recognized house,” Sara Vincent said. “People want to know the history of it. The architecture and the design part is fascinating for people to get inside and watch as it evolves and changes.”
Tackling Topeka’s “Castle House”
The Vincents, who have been married for 21 years and have five daughters, are serial renovators who just can’t say no to the right project. This is their fifth remodel, and they’d just put the finishing touches on their latest home when they got an opportunity they couldn’t pass up to tackle a Topeka landmark.
When a price drop put the iconic home, known in the city as “the Castle House,” on their radar screen, they couldn’t resist.
“We went and looked at it, honestly, just for kicks and giggles as an iconic home in the city. We fell in love with it as soon as we were able to spend some time there,” Matt said.
The 1939 house was in relatively good condition, Matt says, full of unique woodworking features and fascinating touches. But it also had some dated early-80s updates that the Vincents wanted to scrap. They knew the 80s-era kitchen needed to go, and Matt says a full kitchen redo is one of their biggest upcoming projects, as they work to bring their modern design aesthetic to one of the most important rooms in the house.
There are definitely some challenges to updating and running a 9,200-square-foot house. Matt says tackling the home’s utilities was daunting. They had to replace air conditioning and electrical services shortly after closing on the house in the spring. The couple recently featured an impressive shot of the utility room on their Instagram to keep things real — the renovation game is about way more than choosing paint colors.
Matt said, “When you walk down there, you feel like you’re in a commercial building.”
Honoring an icon
The remodeling project is an indirect showcase for Matt’s business, Topeka-based Golden Rule Remodeling. But the Vincents say their main focus is on creating a home for their family while preserving an architectural icon for the community.
“More than anything, we just want to curate the home for the community and get it into this century in terms of amenities and honor its history at the same time,” Matt said.
Before the Vincents bought the property, the “Castle House” had been in the hands of one family since it was built in 1939. The family patriarch sold it to a son in the late ’90s. When that owner died a few years ago, his family put the house on the market. The Vincents have done walk-throughs with the past owner’s children and heard stories, including tales of parties and gambling in the ’40s when the house became a de facto speakeasy during prohibition (which didn’t end in Kansas until 1948).
When the Vincents stepped in, the home had been on the market for several years and was in good shape but in need of some love. The family closed on the property this past spring and moved during the city’s COVID shutdown. For Sara, who works as a school counselor, the timing made the move easier. She was working remotely and the girls were doing online school, which gave them some extra flexibility during a big move.
“We’ve learned what works for us”
Sara is the writer in the family and takes time to thoughtfully document the family’s new journey on the Our Modern Manor blog as they work to make a palace into a home.
“It is large and grand, so to make it cozy and welcoming does present some challenges,” Sara said. “Trying to find furniture pieces or decor that will make it feel like us and also inviting and a place that our girls want to hang out and bring their friends to.”
The cozy, contemporary family room showcases the family’s warm, modern design style and at the same time fits right in with the house.
“I would say that is our style. We like a lot of color and more of a contemporary look but also something that works with the house and isn’t over-the-top modern,” Matt said.
Another owner would ramp up the palatial vibe but, the Vincents have enough remodels under their belt to know what works.
“We’ve learned what works for us and what doesn’t…I like open airy space. There’s some pull sometimes in a house like that to fill it with antiques and furnishings and art that fits a certain era. But I’m a little bit stubborn and I won’t do that,” Sara said. “I don’t really want to live in a museum.”
The castle house, “Seeing the potential in a place”
The Vincents are also raising five daughters, Grace, Emma, Chandler, Ellie and Amania, who range in age from 13 to 20. Their oldest is out of the house, and Emma headed to basic training for the military this month, so they’ll have three at home full time.
Matt says the girls loved their previous home and weren’t initially thrilled about taking on another fixer-upper.
“They were over the projects,” he said. “But now that we’re there, I think they like it.”
This summer, the family focused on taking advantage of the home’s stunning outdoor spaces, including a gorgeous pool and plenty of room for soccer nets and volleyball courts. As cooler weather sets in, they’re thinking about indoor spaces — a dreamy fireplace and a stunning library, full of windows and natural wood. Next up: The exciting but daunting challenge of decorating for Christmas.
For the Vincents, it’s all about possibilities, and the possibilities are endless.
“For a lot of people, they walk into a house that needs work and they have a hard time seeing what can be,” Sara said. “I think that’s just something Matt and I have always been pretty good at doing: walking in and seeing the potential in a place.”
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Jan Mercker is a freelance journalist, wine lover and arts enthusiast. A former public relations pro and lifelong Francophile, she helped French Champagne houses navigate the U.S. media landscape leading up to Y2K and ran the wine and spirits department at the French Embassy Trade Office in New York before moving into a writing career. She’s an underachieving but enthusiastic tennis player and parent of teens.