A Hid­den Gem Comes to Light

A QUAINT KEN­TUCKY SUB­URB KEEPS AN AR­CHI­TEC­TURAL SE­CRET SAFE UN­TIL IT FINDS THE OWNER IT DE­SERVES.

Victorian Homes - - Contents - By Han­nah Roberts

A quaint Ken­tucky sub­urb keeps an ar­chi­tec­tural se­cret safe un­til it finds the owner it de­serves.

Seven miles east of down­town Louisville, Ken­tucky, lies the sub­urb of St. Matthews, named for the Epis­co­pal church built there in 1850.

These days, the area is home to two of the state’s largest malls, along with a wealth of smaller shops and restau­rants. And on a quiet street right near its Mu­seum Row, St. Matthews also houses one of the richest lo­cal rem­nants of the Vic­to­rian era—a grand for­mer home now known as the Inn at Wood­haven.

This is the abode and opus of innkeeper Mar­sha Burton, who runs a wel­com­ing ship with a lit­tle help from her friendly 15-year-old Mal­tese, Phoebe. She found the match­ing set of main house and car­riage house nearly a quar­ter of a cen­tury ago, and has been steadily ren­o­vat­ing and re­fin­ing them ever since.

The 1853 Gothic Revival build­ings that now com­prise the inn were de­signed by An­drew Jack­son (or A.J.) Down­ing, com­monly con­sid­ered America’s first great land­scape ar­chi­tect. The main house is a text­book ex­am­ple of Down­ing’s work—quite lit­er­ally, as Mar­sha has ac­tu­ally seen one of the home’s ceil­ings in a Down­ing tome. She de­scribes the ac­com­pa­ny­ing car­riage house as “much fancier” than was typ­i­cal of the era, which dove­tailed per­fectly with her plan to turn it into a gor­geous place for guests.

When Mar­sha pur­chased the two build­ings in 1993, they had been con­demned be­cause they had no heat­ing or elec­tric­ity. She rec­og­nized their won­der­ful bones in time to sal­vage them, how­ever, and still finds her­self mar­veling at how much of the his­tor­i­cal de­tail—even down to the orig­i­nal door­knobs—had sur­vived when she found them. “I’m very lucky, be­cause the house pretty much sat va­cant,” she says. “All I did was carve out bath­rooms and paint.”

ORI­GIN STO­RIES

It’s quite easy for Mar­sha to run out of breath re­lay­ing all the pieces that re­main from A.J. Down­ing’s orig­i­nal de­sign—the Gothic trim on the ex­te­rior fa­cade and its twin porches, can­tilever stair­case in the hall­way, sec­ond-floor bay win­dow and 14-foot ceil­ings. “The doors, the wood­work, the ceil­ing plas­ter, all orig­i­nal,” she says. “Plus all of the shut­ters on the win­dows, which I love be­cause they look like pan­el­ing when folded back.”

Many of the full rooms are orig­i­nal as well, in­clud­ing the or­nate din­ing room and the master bed­room on the sec­ond floor. The Rose Room boasts an orig­i­nal wa­ter closet area, as well as a pocket door that leads out to the hall­way. Pre­serv­ing his­tory doesn’t have to mean sac­ri­fic­ing luxury, of course, and the rooms are out­fit­ted with var­ied ameni­ties such as king beds, steam show­ers, cof­fee/tea and snack sta­tions and even a mod­ern pro­grammed tub in the Gar­den Room.

“I’m lucky be­cause the house pretty much sat va­cant— all I did was carve out bath­rooms and paint.”

CHARM­ING CON­VERTS

While Mar­sha has done her ut­most to pre­serve the rooms’ orig­i­nal con­fig­u­ra­tions, a few ad­just­ments were—un­der­stand­ably—made to ac­com­mo­date mod­ern and guest-friendly life. “What is now the kitchen used to be the but­ler’s pantry,” she says, “and the orig­i­nal kitchen has been con­verted to be a com­bi­na­tion liv­ing and of­fice space for me.”

Mar­sha out­fit­ted the mod­ern kitchen with floor-to-ceil­ing cab­i­nets with glass doors, a touch that makes the space feel more open and adds the per­fect place for Mar­sha to dis­play more of her trea­sures. As an added bonus and credit to her at­ten­tion to de­tail, she says that “ev­ery­one thinks the cab­i­nets are orig­i­nal.” The orig­i­nal kitchen, which was lo­cated in the back room of the main house, is now a charm­ing hide­away for the inn’s bene­fac­tor.

The orig­i­nal out­door cook­ing kitchen in the car­riage house now boasts a lovely hearth, and Mar­sha ob­tained tax cred­its to ren­o­vate the room and re­store it to its orig­i­nal glory. “The teal color now on the walls was on ev­ery­thing ex­cept the floor,” she says. “There was no floor, be­cause the floor had dis­in­te­grated!”

RAISED STAN­DARDS

The largest task Mar­sha faced was ren­o­vat­ing the at­tic. A work-stop or­der over a fire es­cape (“It couldn’t be by a win­dow, but there are win­dows every­where!” she says) led to slower-thanex­pected progress, but she per­sisted, fi­nally achiev­ing her vi­sion in 2003. Now en­dowed to its full po­ten­tial, the gen­er­ous space holds an 1820s rope bed with a func­tional trun­dle un­der­neath, a sit­ting area with a sleigh bed, a bath­room big enough to hold a chaise lounge, two pedestal sinks and a pocket door to complement the one in the Rose Room.

Mar­sha’s abun­dance of work to­wards the preser­va­tion of this his­tor­i­cal jewel didn’t go un­no­ticed, and she re­ceived the Home Builder’s Award in 1998 for her restora­tion and preser­va­tion ef­forts on the main house. She wasn’t sat­is­fied with just restora­tion, how­ever. As we will de­tail in a fu­ture is­sue, she also added an­other build­ing to the mix, based on A.J. Down­ing’s plans—the cap­ti­vat­ing space that would be­come known to guests as Rose Cot­tage.

Right. Con­trary to the be­lief that antiques make rooms dark and stuffy, the Gar­den Room seems al­ways awash in light. Robin’s-egg blue sets off the warm wood head­board—just one ex­am­ple of the or­nate bed­frames Mar­sha has cu­rated through­out the inn. Above. The oval mir­ror on the Gar­den Room van­ity com­ple­ments the nearby vin­tage set­tee in both color and com­po­si­tion. Mar­sha de­scribes her dec­o­rat­ing ap­proach for the inn as “a mix of antiques and an­tique-look­ing.”

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