The Campbell Dome House rises out of a sea of shingled roofs in Overland Park. Glass panels gleam on one side of the white half-sphere, which appears as if a spacecraft landed between the houses.
“People ask all the time, ‘What is it?’” says Jeff Rhodes. “Just the way the roof has that white monolith, it doesn’t look like a house at all.”
Jeff lives in the dome house along with his wife, Keli Campbell. They’re the third generation to enjoy the unusual lodging in the South Lakes neighborhood just south of downtown Overland Park.
Keli’s father, Mark Campbell, spent his teenage years beneath that orb. His parents were originally from south Texas, where they missed the year-round weather.
“My parents wanted to, instead of moving back down to the Rio Grande Valley, move some of the Rio Grande Valley up here,” Campbell says. “So they wanted a house that they could live in normally but had a courtyard.”
Bob Campbell was a structural engineer with a passion for the modern. He had a hand in the design of the Truman Sports Complex, MCI Airport and the Kemper Arena reconstruction.
He was also fascinated by domes. With architect John Shaver, Bob built schools throughout the ‘50s and ‘60s in Kansas, Colorado and Michigan using that and other non-traditional shapes.
In 1968, when Bob built himself a dome house to live in, it was as much of a practical exercise as anything.
“It was, number one, for a sales point, but, number two, this is how your welds should look,” Mark Campbell says.
Bob told his neighbors about the project before he started, and no one objected — in fact, they seemed to revel in having the oddity on their street.
Campbell says he and his father would assemble the pieces in the yard, bolt them together and weld them into place to demonstrate for the contractors.
Scott Lane grew up in the ’60s in the burgeoning suburb of Overland Park, and would occasionally pass by the dome. As a teen, he remembers connecting the house with a Popular Mechanics article showing people flying in and out of domes with their personal aircraft.
“Domes were kind of a funny thing,” he says. “You know you’re supposed to own a helicopter, personal helicopter. This is very futuristic.”
Nearly 50 years later, as a realtor and president of KC Modern — an organization dedicated to promoting modern architecture — Lane finally got his glimpse inside. At the beginning of November, KC Modern held the Campbell residence’s first-ever open house.
“I was fascinated by the fact that it’s a house within a dome,” Lane says. “You’ve got a mid-century house within a dome structure.”
Beneath its futuristic shell is a galley kitchen, three bedrooms, two-and-a half baths, a dining room and family room, adjacent to a courtyard and swimming pool.
The home’s interior screams ‘60s modern, from its cedar beams and wood paneling to indoor planters and brickwork that extends outside.
“There’s an aesthetic, and it’s kind of an architectural idea there that, although it is really quirky and somewhat strange, is also really fun and well done,” says Chris Fein, a professor of architecture at Kansas State University and fellow KC Modern board member.
Fein says that, despite Bob Campbell’s ambitions, the concept of domes as the future of housing was simply impractical.
“At the end of the day, there isn’t much that’s cheaper than building a stick frame house like we’ve been building houses forever,” Fein says. “They don’t really solve any of the larger problems and they create other problems.”
Bob Campbell died in 2011, and his wife, Lolly, died in 2013. After that, the home sat empty for the next few years. The family used it for occasional get-togethers, and even Keli and Jeff’s wedding.
That’s what gave them the idea to finally share the space with the public.
“I don’t remember it being super weird,” says Keli, who actually grew up living in the house next door. “It was always just my grandparents’ house. So I don’t think I knew as a child exactly how special it was.”
Keli and Jeff decided that, in order to honor the legacy of the dome house, they needed to restore it to its full mid-century aesthetic, with a bit of modern polish. Most of the work is cosmetic, but the leaking roof requires a lot of attention.
“Since living here, I’ve also learned that this house takes more maintenance than a normal house,” she says.
In November, the Campbell Dome House was officially added to the list of Kansas Historic Sites, a state designation that gives the homeowners access to tax credits and incentives to help with their restoration. And their application for the National Register of Historic Places is currently pending.
Meanwhile, the family has already started renting out the home for events and gatherings, and hope to someday offer it as an Airbnb — income they hope will allow them to afford maintenance of the now-53-year-old structure.
“People wanted to do something different back then,” Jeff says. “And this is very much that. We’re excited to carry it into the future, for sure.”
KCUR 89.3 is Kansas City’s NPR affiliate public radio station. You can read and listen to more of their reporting at kcur.org.