The first letter came by surprise.
“Dear Bonura Family, … We were so disappointed to see your choice of paint color for your beautiful home.”
Cloaked in anonymity and arriving on April 19, the letter advised Kimberlee Bonura and her family to start a GoFundMe campaign so they could paint their house a different color.
The Bonuras have received four more letters critiquing the color of their West Hills home since they finished painting the house almost two weeks ago. Letters have called the paint job “tacky,” “inharmonious with the rest of the neighborhood,” and “garish.”
The first time, Kimberlee cried. “Do we have to move again?”
A military family, the Bonuras are used to departures, but they’d hope to establish a long-term home in Lawrence. They moved into their home in September, eager to be situated near KU’s campus and close to downtown.
Now they check their mail every morning with trepidation.
“We’re checking our mail every day with a stomach ache, going, ‘Is there another letter?’” Kimberlee said. “Every morning before coffee, we’re like, ‘Did we get one?’”
The house at 1140 West Hills Parkway is purple — a color called English Hyacinth, with Charmed Violet trim. And the Bonuras had no idea the paint color would incite such controversy in a town they’d been drawn to for its portrayal of inclusivity. When they drove through Lawrence, the town’s quirkiness, complete with the city’s “Embrace Inclusion” banners, made this feel like the right place to make a home.
Kimberlee said she has two neurodivergent children, ages 11 and 13, and she selected Lawrence partly because of its reputation as an accepting community. Her 13-year-old picked the color based on a house they’d seen in a movie called “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry.”
“We saw it in a movie, and were like ‘Wow, that’s amazing,’” the child said. “I’m the artist in the family, so I did color theory on which colors to pick. I matched up the colors on the color options to the ones in the movie. It’s not perfect, but we like it anyway.”
At least one person in the neighborhood does not like the color, however.
Kimberlee wonders if one person is sending the letters, or if multiple people are engaged in the practice. Her mother, who also lives in the home, was an investigator for the military for 30 years. She compared the handwriting on the envelope, and saw some similarities in the number formation. But unless the letter writer (or writers) comes forward, there’s no way to know who or how many people have decided to voice their concerns to the Bonuras this way.
“There are really just like … some guidelines that, like, when you’re in a historic neighborhood that should be followed,” said one neighbor, who declined to provide their name.
An Architectural Control Committee within the West Hills Homes Association dictates what structural changes can be made in the neighborhood, neighbors said. Paula Martin, president of the association, said the HOA does not regulate colors.
Across the street and two houses down, Nadya Benson’s house is on the historic registry for the state of Kansas, she said.
“I don’t like it, personally, but I’m not controversial about it because it’s their house,” she said. “They can do whatever they want.”
Benson believes the Bonuras have followed the HOA rules in their neighborhood, but said in West Lawrence, the color might not have been permitted.
“If you compare our neighborhoods to neighborhoods in the west, gated communities that are more strict than our neighborhood, it’s all about like, oh, you can’t even mow grass in the front without matching the height of your neighbors. So this is extreme, you know?”
Anne-Marie Leiszler remembers the house as being a pleasing gray color with black trim and a perfectly manicured lawn. Leiszler acknowledged that she doesn’t love the new color, but said “they bought it, they can do whatever they want.”
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The barrage of letters range in tone from polite to condescending.West-Hills-letters
The one the Bonuras received Monday includes a printoff of an article from 2009 about a lawsuit against a homeowner in Washington, with the headline “Neighbors say ‘Barney’ the purple house lowers property values.”
The article has a handwritten sticky note attached: “This could all be so much easier if you would just get rid of the purple and avoid becoming a headline. Being a good neighbor is much more enjoyable than being a despised neighbor. You are the talk of the neighborhood right now. I don’t think you will enjoy being the talk of the town. You are hurting our property values. It is irresponsible and selfish.”
The use of the word “selfish” stung Kimberlee.
“My husband spent 25 years in the military. … He’s a nuclear counterproliferation officer. … And we lived with the awareness that if he got a call, he would go to post, deploy to an undisclosed location for an undetermined amount of time and not be able to let us know where he was,” she said. “And all we would know is that clearly there had been a nuclear incident that he was responding to, so to tell my husband that he is irresponsible and selfish …”
Though the Bonuras feel disheartened at the responses they’ve received about the color of their home, they have no intentions of changing it.
“What kind of message does it send to my kids that the anonymous opinions of other people matter more than theirs?” Kimberlee said.
Her kids were also upset by the suggestion to start a GoFundMe to repaint, which the family will not do.
“If I’m going to start a GoFundMe, it’s going to be for homeless people — not to repaint my home because people don’t like the colors,” Kimberlee said.
Note: This post was updated to add information from HOA leadership.
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Chansi Long (she/her) reported for The Lawrence Times from July 2022 through August 2023. Read more of her work for the Times here.