A Custom Home for a Renaissance Woman and Her Family


The Richard Stahl-designed Freeman House (above) has been owned by three generations of the same family.

Nobody who knew her, or of her, would deny it: Leila Bennett-Freeman (1891 — 1978) was the living embodiment of the term “renaissance woman.” In an era of America when women were encouraged to adhere to strict social norms, Leila went her own way. A lifelong artist, she traveled the world learning how countless other cultures painted, sculpted, drew, and tiled. And when the opportunity came in the late 1950s for renowned architect Richard Stahl to build a thoroughly modern home for her family, Leila missed no chance to leave her own artistic mark on it.

Nestled in the heart of Springfield, Mo., the Freeman House has been home for three generations of the Freeman family. After Leila’s death in 1978, her children took over ownership of it. And some years after that, it passed to its current resident, Leila’s grandson, Sam. A lifelong champion for the preservation of Springfield’s most beloved historic buildings, Sam made it clear that it isn’t just design and craftsmanship that makes a building unique: it’s the stories it holds.

The Living Spaces

When visitors walk through the front door of the Freeman House, they step into a long entryway that beckons them inward toward the main entertaining areas. In this grand space, craftsmanship and attention to detail is everywhere: in the immaculate slate floors, the richly paneled walls, and even the closet door pulls. The entryway is also home to a 26-year-old fiddle leaf fig tree that has spent its life flourishing underneath the entryway skylight.

The main entertaining area is made up of a den and a formal living space. In both rooms, more of Leila’s art presents itself. Her sculptures, pottery, tapestries, paintings, and stained glass mosaics line the walls and shelves.

The living space has undergone just one major change in the past 60 years. The second generation of the Freeman family to own the home, Sam’s parents, removed an original curved stone wall flanking Leila’s then-art studio. The studio was then transformed into the den as it exists today. The original pendant lamps hanging from the ceiling over Leila’s studio have a new home lighting the dining room table in the kitchen.

Leila’s original art studio left) was deconstructed to create the more open-concept den as it exists today (right).

The Backyard

In the backyard, finding all of Leila’s artwork might require a dedicated game of “I Spy.” Lichen-coated masks hiding in ivy, a weathered sundial, and a statue in her likeness are all quietly stationed on the patio and in sun-dappled corners.

A high stone wall running the perimeter of most of the property makes the backyard feel serenely private. If backyard visitors follow the wall, they’ll find an ancient-looking iron gate that leads to a shady alley. Just tall enough for a person with average height to stroll through, this gate wasn’t brand new when it was installed at the Freeman House. In fact, Leila brought it from her former home, another historic estate on the corner of Jefferson and Division.

The Kitchen

The kitchen has changed little over the decades. Leila’s talents live on in this room, too—her bright tile mosaic serves as a backsplash for the stove. When Sam took over residency of the house, he installed new granite counters and tile floors that have the same red and burnt sienna hues as the mosaic. The palette compliments the original blonde cabinetry and makes the kitchen feel warm and welcoming—yet still undeniably mid century.

The First Bathroom

Perhaps the most eye-catching is the one off the first bedroom. The vanity, walls, commode, and floor are all the same classic shade of mid century modern pink. Leila herself chose an unapologetically floral wallpaper to compliment the room’s dominant hue, and the same pattern lives on in the attached bedroom’s curtains and bedspread.