The Little Green Acre is a Rental and Retail Business in the Heart of Our Community
Imagine waking up in the morning, hearing the day break in creaking boards when your feet hit the floor, and pulling back bedroom curtains to see sunrise streaming through downtown Martin City. Just beyond your picket fence is the legendary brick landmark, Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse. A little further, you see the angular shape of Martin City Animal Hospital. The famous Martin City Brewing Company, Gilded Lily, and the classy old church building housing The Martin Event Space are just down the street. And through shade trees, you also notice a slow train passing through, hauling more than a century of prairie pride near 135th and Cherry.
“This is what it’s like to stay in the heart of Martin City, one of the most charming neighborhoods you’ll ever visit,” says Doris Graves, standing inside her new business in its prime location on the corner lot. “It’s simply the best view and the best lodging opportunity in Martin City.”
Graves has transformed the old Rooms That Bloom property into The Little Green Acre, a temporary rental built on the enduring character of the house and the community surrounding it. You can rent it for a night, a weekend, or even longer for a chance to call the historic center of Martin City home for a while. Do your remote work, anchor your vacation, plan a special weekend, or just escape your regular routine to relax and explore the good life in our neighborhood.
“There’s really no other place like it,” says Graves proudly as she puts finishing touches on The Little Green Acre on a golden August morning. “Martin City is right outside your door, and staying in this house makes the neighborhood feel especially intimate.”
Graves has poured months of love, money, and muscle into reconfiguring the property into a comfortable place to stay. But make no mistake, the house hasn’t been gutted and turned into a sleek and sterile hotel environment. Graves has focused on preserving the structure’s original charm, while adding key rental amenities for easy, modern living.
“I think it’s important to modernize in a good way. I’ve seen situations where people come into an historic house and completely modernize the interior from top to bottom, and I think that’s a shame. It’s really missing the point.”
Originally a railroad house where crews stayed as they worked over a century ago, The Little Green Acre now stands as a residential monument to local nostalgia, from its unique architecture to its shutters and stained glass accents. The house remained in caring hands over three decades while it was filled with Rooms That Bloom antiques. It then sold to Jess and Jim’s Steakhouse owners Mike and Debbie Van Noy, well-known pioneers in our neighborhood’s evolution. The Van Noys immediately went to work on renewing flooring and other basics before leasing it to Graves in 2022.
“It’s a valuable, important piece of Martin City,” Mike Van Noy recently told us, sitting at a window table inside Jess and Jim’s with a perfect view of the house. ”We snatched it up because we didn’t want someone to just come in and tear it down. We couldn’t let that happen. It looks great from the outside, and there’s so much more to enjoy inside.”
Walk through the front door and discover what makes The Little Green Acre a hometown treasure as soon as you glimpse sunlight pouring over polished wood and rich colors. There’s nothing typical about what you find here, from the shape of the rooms to the eclectic decor reflecting Graves’ special attention. Don’t expect crowded collages of folksy farm trinkets. Graves has done her research to make sure details are right for a new era that also pays tribute to the past. So much thought has been put into the selection and placement of each object that you might fall in love with something and want to buy it.
“When you stay here, you’re going to feel how unique this space is, and that has a lot to do with how it’s staged from top to bottom,” says Graves, adjusting a Duncan Phyfe table along the wall. “You’ll likely find yourself wondering what some of these pieces could do for your own space in your own home. And that’s why much of what you see will be available for sale.”
And there’s a lot to see, starting with the rooms devoted to lounging, dining, cooking, and office work on the main floor, to the two wonderfully adapted bathrooms and three bedrooms upstairs. Graves has spent most of 2022 restoring infrastructure, connecting appliances, peeling back decades of wallpaper, and weaving together a sense of place that continues the story of an historic home in an historic part of town.
Even now, with the house already built up so much, Graves still considers it a work in progress. And it’s work she’s doing with her own two hands. There’s more going on here than remodeling and decorating. It’s a personal mission that may never end. “The Little Green Acre is my dream,” says Graves. “It’s the ultimate sacrifice for me. I’m giving it all I’ve got, and getting it just right is going to take time.”
And what about that name, The Little Green Acre? Yes, Graves is a fan of the old 1960s TV show, but the idea she took from it runs deeper. “The show was about the marriage of a city woman to her husband from the country. Well, I was born and raised in urban Kansas City and my husband is from rural Kansas. Plus, Martin City itself is sort of that same idea. It’s a union of city and country life. That’s what I want you to feel when you’re inside the house and walking around the neighborhood.”
A Master of Place, Space, and Objects.
Doris Graves has traveled an unpredictable path leading to her new business in Martin City. As a former Army medic and blood phlebotomy specialist, you’d think she would wind up in a very different direction. But she felt a deeper calling to set her creativity free.
“At first, I just wanted to clean houses to earn a living. It was that simple, but really, that’s how I started. I just wanted to use my hands to make things better. And it was a feeling that goes back to the 1960s when I used to clean barracks at Richards-Gebaur to help my father, a World War II Air Force veteran, when he worked there. But then I began noticing opportunities in these homes I was cleaning, and I offered creative suggestions to the owners about how to stage rooms differently to improve them.”
That’s when Graves’ deeper talent was revealed and her mission was born. She discovered she’s good at staging — extremely good. She’s a natural at shaping purpose and appeal targeting specific people, and fitting it perfectly into their world. Just turn her loose in a space and watch her explore, reimagine, and nail it, down to the details. “I’m not formally educated in this kind of work. I don’t really know where it comes from. It’s just a blessing, I think. Passion and a lot of hard work too.”
Word spread quickly in those early days and Graves found herself in high demand among homeowners wanting to hire her, stand back, and let her do her magic. “I identify the right idea and then edit obsessively; choosing items, rearranging them, adding, taking away, researching and snapping photos for inspiration. I have strong instincts around discernment. It’s a labor of love and I do love it.”
Experimenting inside small homes soon led to million dollar homes. She’s staged hundreds of residences over the past two decades, from Mission Hills and Brookside to Leawood. You’ve likely seen the results of her work showcased in the high profile Parade of Homes. Many owners rely on her to simply help them make the most of their living spaces. Others come to her for help with selling their properties fast.
“I remember working on a mansion for a wealthy insurance entrepreneur who struggled to sell it. He had filled it with high value art and furniture, but no one was making an offer. I helped him understand that photos of the property on the Internet depicted more of a museum that was rather intimidating. So I shifted the space to appeal more to families, and it sold right away. Staging is particularly important when you’re trying to sell. You’ve got to appeal to a wide audience of potential buyers and make sure that the space isn’t too taste specific.”
You could say she’s gifted, but it seems to be more than that. Graves’ ability to examine a dining room, play room, basement, or whole house, and then cast it in the best possible light is beyond a ‘knack’ for what works. She’s a master of place, space, and objects, with a deep understanding of relationships that tie everything together.
She’s won creativity awards at antique shows and commercial venues, taking seemingly low potential spaces and making them stunning. She’s also a military veteran, an ordained minister, and has even volunteered long-term in disaster relief zones where sweat, exhaustion, and unconditional love became a way of life. Somehow, she funnels so much life experience into an understanding of what’s important and what’s not, to the eye and to the heart.
“Everything is related. A space is about the people in it and what they want from it, not just the objects and the paint color. I don’t just help people with decorating. I need to know who they are, how they live, and what’s meaningful to them. That’s critical for sharpening my judgment and informing my decisions.”
Graves is passionate about repurposing and pushes the envelope. Discovering new things takes a back seat to her interest in giving new context to old treasures. “You can take so many things and reinvent them by giving them new roles. You can mix and match furniture to make a space look bigger, smaller, or more intimate. You can stir emotion and memories with the right combination of objects. It’s about evoking a certain feeling and telling a story. My main story now is about a special house in Martin City.”
A Monumental Move to Martin City.
Decades of staging have included securing a warehouse in Kansas City’s West Bottoms area to store all the items she’s collected. Graves also had a retail shop there, once described as a “big score” in the New York Times, and she supplied several other shops too. She then moved to Midtown for a time, but still longed for something more personally satisfying, and that’s when Martin City started making sense.
“I’ve watched Martin City evolve for years because I had clients nearby and passed through the neighborhood all the time,” says Graves, eyes turned to a window looking out over 135th Street. “When this property came on the market, I decided to jump in with both feet and devote myself to a fantastic old house filled with my own ideas. I had been a fan of Rooms That Bloom for years, so I knew exactly what I was getting into. I just kept passing by the property and it just kept speaking to me. This is where I’m supposed to be, doing what I’m supposed to be doing.”
With a warm personality, a gentle soul, and a smile that disarms you, Graves easily makes friends. And that makes her right at home in Martin City. “I’ve connected with neighbors up and down Cherry Street. I’ve talked to people and listened closely. I’m interested in touching real people who are living authentic lives right where they are. I embrace this area as my community. I fit in here and the neighborhood fits me.”
Graves credits her husband Jeff Graves Sr., her son Jeff Jr., her daughter Shalaun, and her sister Jaqueline with pitching in to help make The Little Green Acre a big achievement. She’s especially thankful for Habitat ReStore in Martin City and Equip Bid Online Auctions, and still relies on longtime partner, the Troost 39 Thrift Store, for many of the interesting, unique, and valuable things that highlight her work. She now strolls our streets, loves the music next door at Jess and Jim’s on weekends, and has reached out to neighborhood churches.
“Martin City has it all. Just look around, the veterinarian, the restaurants, the post office up the street. We’re a community. We touch each other’s lives. We share resources, thinking, and a desire to help each other. I truly believe Martin City is special, and its heritage has a lot to do with that. This community has endured for so long. It’s on the rise again and I really feel like it’s the next big thing in South Kansas City. I’m so happy to be a part of it.”