A well-known historic home at the corner of 13th and Fort has seen a flurry of activity, as a local couple works to breathe new life into the old Victorian home, which dates back to 1909.
Larissa Parker purchased the home in 2015 and has been working with her boyfriend, Kris Munsch, to make their vision for the house a reality. Munsch is a skilled contractor who has renovated many homes and also is an assistant professor of applied technology at Fort Hays State University.
Parker, who grew up in a historic Kansas City neighborhood, has been restoring old homes as a hobby for several years. Her passion for preserving the character and authenticity of historic houses likely dates back to her childhood, she said, noting newer houses “never felt like home.”
“I’ve just always loved old houses,” Parker said. “I always say my parents ruined me from living in old, northeast Kansas City — just the wide, wood staircases and the creaky floors. (New construction) just doesn’t have that warmth and that comfort.”
Formerly a bed and breakfast called Tea Rose Inn, the local icon once again is opening its doors to guests. The large house doubles as the couple’s residence and an Airbnb rental, offering three updated bedrooms with private baths.
Business has been steady, leading the couple to work quickly to update all three rooms. Their living quarters are kept private, but guests often take comfort in having a host nearby, Parker said.
While each room offers coffee and granola bars, guests are encouraged to explore nearby downtown Hays and visit local restaurants.
Each room is a nod to the home’s history, with names including Tea Rose Suite and the Bissing Suite; the home was built by Justus Bissing in 1909. A framed photo of the original house is prominently displayed in the front parlor, and each room offers a binder of historical information about the iconic home and Ellis County.
“You get to meet a lot of cool people,” Munsch said. “If they’re looking at Airbnb, they’re not always looking just at price. They’re also looking at, ‘Wow, that’s an old, historical house.’ ”
And history is a deep passion for Parker, who admits to spending hours reading books and studying blogs about historic homes. She also runs the Instagram account @oldhouselove and has more than 70,000 followers — including some prominent designers such as Bob Vila of “This Old House.”
She pays attention to every detail, from historically accurate nails to light fixtures — some of which are antiques ordered online from France. The couple is continuing work to fill the house with antiques and time-accurate details, including new paint and shingles on the outside.
When searching for a way to replicate the home’s original exterior molding skirt, which had fallen into disrepair, they realized Bissing also founded Hays Planing Mill. The couple was shocked to learn the local business still had the original cutter head from the early 20th century that was used to create the trim.
“That is like, that’s crazy,” Munsch said. “To think from 1909, or 1908 when they were building this, dirt roads. Hays Planing Mill still had those, so he made us the replacement pieces.”
The two say they make a great team, as Munsch is a skilled contractor and also has renovated several homes. Before meeting Parker, however, Munsch said he focused mostly on resale value and didn’t always appreciate the building’s story.
“She’s a beautiful soul,” Munsch said. “She’s a lot deeper than just research. She puts a lot of heart and soul into what she wants people to feel when they stay here.”
But Parker is quick to point out preserving a home’s character also can be a good investment to help ensure a home maintains its value.
“If not, you’re going to be redoing it every 10 years because you’re chasing the latest trend,” Parker said. “You’re always going to be gutting your kitchen. You’re always going to be gutting your bathroom out, unless you try and stay with that character and time period.”
She prefers to add trendy details that are more frugal and can be changed easily, such as bedding and decor.
The two are working simultaneously on other home renovation projects they have begun and say a shared passion for giving new life to old homes is actually how they met. Parker contacted Munsch for input when visiting Hays to pursue a possible renovation of a mid-century modern home that caught her eye.
The hobby has become a big part of both their professional endeavors and their relationship, they said. The couple also provides home inspection services.
“We go back roading, looking at old abandoned houses. That’s what we do for our dates,” Parker said with a laugh. “It’s very romantic.”