The farmhouse pops into view from a low hill near Smithville, Mo. This is not your typical country home. Forget those romantic paintings depicting rural life and 100-year-old houses with weathered paint. This place is different.
Through the cornfields that border the winding road, you see its strong shapes: rectangles of red, blue and yellow. Together they form the home of Franz and Annelies Leuthardt.
The Leuthardts moved in 1979 from a village near Basel, Switzerland, to farm these 265 acres in Platte County, Mo. They brought with them a European sensibility, a love of art and literature -- and color -- and they incorporated all of that into their home.
The contemporary-style structure is the couple's dream home. They hired an architect to design a home that gave them ample space to display their collection of paintings and sculptures. They figured they already knew old, coming from the Old Country. They wanted something new and different.
Owning open land in their native country was not an option because it was -- and still is -- scarce and expensive, much like the rest of Europe.
"Where can you find a view like this?" asks Franz, motioning out through the windows of the living room. Blades of green grass blow in the wind under a blue sky dotted by a few clouds. A five-acre pond -- the couple's natural swimming pool -- glitters in the afternoon sun.
For years the Leuthardts lived in pre-existing structures on the property and operated a pick-it-yourself farm of beans and berries. Then they grew ornamental crops of pumpkins, miniature gourds and Indian corn. These days they farm corn and soybeans. They raise a few chickens in a coop just outside the kitchen for their own use. Their pets, Midnight the dog and Sandy the cat, make up the rest of the farm's animals.
Inside, the home employs the same palette as the exterior, with bursts of primary colors: a blue metal central staircase, yellow kitchen cabinets and red leather furniture. "We actually found these colors on the site," says Kirk Gastinger, the Leuthardts' Kansas City, Mo., architect. "We saw them in the flowers and the bark on the land."
The house was built nearly eight years ago, but it feels both fresh and timeless.
"It's breathtaking inside and out," says Carolyn Major, a friend of the couple's since they moved to America. "They're both so artistic and well-read. Their home reflects their personalities much more than their previous houses."
The Leuthardts and their son, Tobi (now an adult living in Kansas City), lived in two houses that were already on the farm. Although they remodeled one of them, a ranch, it was close to the road and a far cry from their dream house. They sought an architect who could build a space where they would be more comfortable surrounded by the countryside.
At first Gastinger envisioned using sages and purples for the house, but the Leuthardts preferred bolder colors. He also observed how Annelies constantly was rearranging the furniture because she enjoys changing a room's perspective. So he drew a floor plan where the living room, dining room and kitchen are open, giving her flexibility. The home's entrance is in the back, which welcomes you into that open space.
The kitchen, which features shiny, yellow cabinets, just might be the star of the house. Here, Annelies uses vegetables and eggs fresh from the farm to prepare gourmet dishes, which she artfully presents to grateful guests. These dinners are as good as any chic urban restaurant, Major says.
The adjoining mudroom, which has blue walls and red cabinets, includes an extra oven. On the island in the mudroom, Annelies cuts lilies from her garden and wildflowers from the property, skillfully arranging them in vases. A screened porch, which Franz built, is off the dining room, and it is just big enough for two cozy chairs.
The living room, with its expansive views, is the couple's favorite. It's where they most often read books and the three newspapers to which they subscribe, including a Swiss publication. It's also a place to display art. A metal sculpture by Kansas City artist Anne Lindberg arches more than 12 feet, greeting guests and framing the side of the living room.
"It's like boughs of wheat," says Franz. "I like how it hangs down like you're holding a handful."
The Leuthardts' love of art and literature is apparent throughout the home. The two often drive the half-hour to Kansas City so they can visit the galleries. They enjoy buying locally so they can talk to the artists. The paintings and sculptures also give their home a sense of place. The pieces by Midwest artists far outnumber what they brought from Switzerland.
Also on the ground floor is the library. The couple keeps up with current American fiction, and many books are in German, their native language. Farming and legal topics also take up shelf space. Annelies earned a law degree in Switzerland but doesn't practice in the United States. The Leuthardts maintain dual citizenships in the United States and Switzerland.
The floor also includes two guest bedrooms (one they call Tobi's room), a bathroom and an office with perforated-metal bulletin boards that dominate two walls where they display snapshots and postcards.
Near the staircase, Gastinger designed four glass blocks that are imbedded vertically into the wall. They light up at night to illuminate the blue metal staircase. "They're also art," Annelies says of the red, blue, yellow and white squares. "They tell the story of our house."
Upstairs is the couple's bedroom, just big enough for a queen-size bed and two nightstands. Closets are situated near the bathroom and exercise room to accommodate sleeping patterns. (Franz typically gets up long before sunrise to work on the farm.) A 12-foot Alpine horn that Franz has played in Swiss festivals hangs above the closet doors.
Annelies uses the exercise room for yoga, Pilates and aerobics. A mirrored wall with a balance barre takes up one side, and artful blue blocks of storage cabinets and drawers are on the other.
The couple routinely exercises outdoors as well. Franz mows the grass and maintains a walking trail that winds down to the Little Platte River, which borders the property. Annelies takes an hour each day to walk the path. The plot of Platte County land is quiet; the jarring sounds of planes departing and arriving from the nearby airport somehow bypass the farm.
On hot days, the couple swims in the pond. They don't use chemicals in the water, or anywhere else, to control pests, and their environmentally friendly practices were featured in Natural Home & Garden magazine earlier this year.
Annelies sums up their philosophy: "We'd rather have a few ants from time to time than spray poison."
Some of the Leuthardt's particular touches include kitchen cabinets that are almost a form of art: canary-yellow cabinets are made of high-density fiberboard coated with a car-finish lacquer. They were designed by the Italian company Snaidero (www.snaidero-usa.com) with a background in styling Ferraris.
Visitors rave about the couple, their lifestyle and their home's features. "Young people seem to like it best," says Annelies. "A group of high-schoolers was utterly taken with it." Maybe they like the home because it looks sleek and feels state-of-the-art, unlike other farmhouses they have seen or imagined.