Hallmark Illustrator Rie Egawa-Zbryk has a reputation for wowing co-workers with her extraordinary talent. What many of us didn’t know is that her keen aesthetic extends far beyond works on paper. Rie and her husband enjoy working in an area that blurs art and design boundaries, and they’ve certainly created just that with the building they call home in downtown Kansas City.
From Rie: We bought this rundown 110+ year-old building in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District 20 years ago and have been slowly—very slowly—renovating it. Because we never have any money to hire anyone, my husband, Burgess, who is also an artist, has been mostly DIYing the updates. It’s still an on-going project. When we bought it, the building had sat empty for a long time. There was termite damage, a leaky roof, rotten floors, and busted plastic windows. It even had some fire damage from decades ago. Looking back, we realize how young and naive we were to think we could fix it with our very limited resources.
Because I grew up in Tokyo and lived in New York over a decade, I had always dreamt of living in a loft space with high ceilings. So when we saw this building for sale we had to buy it even though it was considered a blighted neighborhood then. The neighborhood has come a long way since, and we are excited about the transformation.
The building originally housed a cheap hotel for Union Station travelers. According to an old barber who had a business across the street for decades, it even was a brothel at one time. Later it was a Kosher sausage factory whose signage you can still see painted on our store front steel beam.
We were just newly married when we moved in and didn’t have many furnishings, so we began looking for mid-century pieces…which led us to becoming mid-century dealers, buying and selling vintage clothes and furnishings at Boomerang. All the mid-century finds we own are from those days. We even bought Eames Eiffle chairs at a Hallmark auction for cheap! Then we decided to design and create our own home furnishing line and exhibited in a various trade shows in different countries. Our Puzzle Screens are still sold in Japan through Idee, a subsidiary of Muji.
Photos by Jane Kortright.
What can help others to create a similar artistic loft?
- Industrial, raw and open spaces that are conducive to art-making in general.
- No decorations, other than some mid-century designs.
- Tools and machines for renovation work. We could use more, but we are working on it.
- A lot of table surfaces to make art on.
- A bulldog or two. (We have had two French Bulldogs and now live with an English Bulldog named Bacon.)