Vintage Brookside, KC Home
Words: Samantha Collins
Photos: William and Jill DiMartino
Johnny Starke was born about 20 years too late and it shows. Instead of pining over the new and modern, he would rather dig through dusty, stained movie posters or records at a second-hand store. With his slicked-back dark hair and scruff, Johnny is a wannabe love child of the 1960s British mod culture—think young men in geometric-printed suits riding Italian motor scooters around London stopping to see the latest jazz group. He and wife Marissa, along with their furry felines Desmond and Nico, aren’t afraid to show off their unique, meshed style in their 1920s Brookside home.
“I need everything to be symmetrical to make sense, and for Marissa, chaos means balance,” Johnny said. “We don’t even really know what to call our style. But it’s a perfect mix between the two of us.”
When Marissa bought the house five years ago, she had no idea what she was getting herself into. It was a foreclosure with 10 healthy layers of lead paint on every wall, dingy carpet on every square-foot of the floor, and had a tight, closed-in floor plan. There was barely any room for a couple of chairs in the living room, let alone a couch.
“I was very naïve when I bought this house,” Marissa said. “It needed some serious elbow grease.”
The two are self-proclaimed “passion-workers” with Johnny working in film and music, and Marissa working in art, and they weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. Johnny knocked down walls to expand the living room. They stripped layers of paint to expose beautiful original dark wood molding around the windows, fireplace and stairway. Underneath the carpet lied almost-perfect original hardwood floors with just a few scratches to give them character. The kitchen had four or five layers of flooring to remove. The whole house took a few years to get it to where it is now. And it’s still constantly changing.
“Thank God for Youtube,” Johnny said. “We just had to take it step by step.”
When walking through the house, there’s one—or rather multiple—thing visitors can’t ignore: Almost every inch of their walls is covered in old-time movie memorabilia thanks to Jonny’s avid collecting. Old, framed lobby cards, which are mini-movie posters from the early to mid-1900s, fill most of the space. Johnny said he would always stop at second-hand shops as he traveled to look for pieces to collect. Many of them are scribbled something along the lines of “To Johnny, with love from [insert director’s name here]. Whenever he found a lobby card, he would usually try to find the director or a producer for a signature.
“I fan-boy out when it comes to that kind of thing,” Johnny said. “Each one I find has a different story from the past and it’s fascinating.”
The “green room,” which they lovingly call the dining room because of its green paint by Marissa’s doing, has almost two entire walls covered with custom-built shelves dedicated to hundreds of DVDs ranging from the cult-classics to more modern films that coincide with Johnny’s retro style. Smack dab in the center of one wall is a life-size white plastic deer head that stoically looks over the dining table. Considering that both Johnny and Marissa are vegans, the deer head seems to be quite out of place, but that’s the point. Another conversation-piece worth mentioning is the piece of art called “Duck Farts,” and yes, it is literally a farting cartoon duck. Marissa said she found the charmingly gassy duck during First Fridays in the West Bottoms and just had to have it.
“I originally thought it would go in the bathroom, for obvious reasons,” Marissa said. “But then we thought, no, we need to put it in the dining room. It belongs in the dining room.”
Through the kitchen and out the back door, the backyard used to be home to a few dirt mounds and over-grown weeds. Marissa put her green-thumb to good use and built planter beds for some home-grown veggies. In the back stands a custom-built storage shed made out of material from the local Habitat for Humanity Restore.
Inside Johnny’s so-called “man cave” sits a few more of Johnny’s vintage-inspired collections: mid-century Italian motor-scooters, no, not mopeds, scooters. Johnny started to collect scooters at the age of 18. His love of them stemmed from his endearment of the 1960s “mod” culture, where young men who couldn’t afford Italian sports cars often drove Italian scooters instead. At one time, Johnny owned almost 30 Italian scooters he wanted to refurbish. But, once he met Marissa, a few had to go. He said these scooters were common among Kansas farmers, surprisingly. Sears used to sell them as “American-made” to help boost sales. He said he could find a beaten-down scooter in the middle of nowhere, USA, for about $200, and then essentially flip it for a great profit. He now has just a handful of scooters, and yes, he rides every single one of them.
“None of my scooters are too sacred to ride,” Johnny said. “Because where’s the fun in that?”
Back into the house, through the 1950s-inspired light-blue kitchen and up the stairs, past the hand-painted black and white forest Marissa created on the hallway wall, and to the left resides yet another one of Johnny’s past times—his record collection. He owns thousands upon thousands of records and record labels. He says he has roughly 10,000 45s and about 4,000 LPs. Johnny owns the Teenage Heart Stateside Distro record company and with it he’s trying to introduce the Jamaican jazz sound to Kansas City. He says it’s so much more than Bob Marley like people usually think. He produces the catchy music and works as a DJ to promote his sound. He thanks his late father for turning him onto the sweet sounds of vinyl, noting jazz, British mod, and especially Jamaican. Johnny still owns his father’s original speakers and uses them to listen to his records.
“Finding those records and bringing them back to life is such a big part of what I do with my records,” Johnny said. “They’re a time capsule, a perfect snapshot of the Fifties and Sixties. I feel like I am listening to these records with my dad again.”
Marissa and Johnny plan to stay in the house for some time to come, not only because they hate moving, but because they made this house into something they love. Although Marissa would love to live in a grander, turn-of-the-century home with hundred-year-old trees lining a driveway, there are no plans to move any time soon.
“This house just became us,” Johnny said. “I feel like this house was meant for us.”
Samantha is a freelance writer and editor in Kansas City. She’s a recent University of Kansas journalism graduate (go Jayhawks!) who can be found buried in a good book, travelling around the country or just wandering around Kansas City.