Peeling Back the Layers of the Onion House

    By Julie Tristan

    There’s a house in St. Louis that is getting a lot of attention lately.

    It’s called “The Onion House” and it’s located in Tower Grove South.

    This house was nicknamed “The Onion House” because of an onion shaped dome on top of a turret at the top of the house. If you compare this to an actual onion you might find in a grocery store you’d see, it’s a match!

    However owners Kirsten and Patrick Kohm say there are some other reasons for the name.

    “It was nicknamed the onion house, the previous owner tells us, for 3 reasons…the onion dome, the many layers that it has on every surface of the house & for the ability to make you cry when you see how much money you have to sink into it,” Kirsten says.

    Patrick fell in love with the house first, and was in the process of buying it when he met Kirsten. She did a walk through and thought he was crazy for wanting to buy it because the house was in such bad shape.

    “He grew up in an old home that he fixed up with his family, so I think part of it is nostalgic,” Kirsten says.

    “I fell in love with it right when I found it and the vacant lot next door. As a gardener and chicken farmer and all of the above it made sense to me,” Patrick remembers.

    When he purchased the home, it had been converted into 3 apartments. They were just going to fix up one of the apartments and live there while renting to the other tenants. As their lives together got more serious (they eventually got married and had a son named “Rye”) they decided to make it a house again.  Eventually the other tenants moved on and construction began. 

    “We demoed all of the kitchens and baths out of it.  We are putting in all new electrical, all new plumbing, heating and cooling, drywall etc…We ripped it of its insides and are putting new life into it,” Kirsten says.

    The onion dome is common in other parts of the world.  It’s usually associated with Russian architectural style but it’s also used in churches in European countries like Germany which is where the home’s original builder is from.

    “It was built in 1892 by a German cabinet maker that came here from Bremin, Germany named Gerhard Ludewig & he came with his family,” says Kirsten. “They bought this plot of land and the adjoining lot, which is empty right now, was the lot of his son, Lehnhard.”

    “They took the boat over from Germany and landed, found this lot that was owned by the Russel Coal Mines at the time…It stayed in their family for almost 50 years and then in the 40s and 50s things were rough and then the house started getting split up into three – from a mansion to apartments,” Patrick says.

    The couple admits that although the project is massive and has taken a lot of time, it’s been fun finding hidden treasures like a bunch of old newspapers. Patrick thinks it’s from a time when people would put newspapers in the walls for extra insulation.  

    “There’s a whole newspaper, it’s the German Post basically. It’s from the 1890s. There’s a drawing of the Eads bridge on there, and they are advertising to take the bridge instead of going around,” Patrick says.

    They’ve been doing construction on the home for about a year and half and once the project is complete it will be 7 bedrooms, 4.5 baths and the rear building will be an Air B&B. They say they have a lot of family that is out of town and are excited to have a place for them to stay when they visit. They’ll rent it out the other days of the year.  

    “The layout is extremely odd so it’s hard to figure out how they originally had it because we have three staircases in different locations, a full basement, a full attic third floor. It’s unique because it’s a different style of life that they used to have back in the day,” Kirsten says.

    The Onion House came with its own email address, and the Kohm’s decided to start an Instagram page for the home so people can follow along with their progress. So far the Instagram page has nearly 20,000 followers! 

    “The old [house building] is different, it was just done a little more thoughtful and when you see the fun edges, the details on the carpentry, it’s just something that you don’t see anymore, and when you have it and it’s yours, it’s nice to look at and feel like you are connected with the past,” Patrick says.