Tour of Homes: Artisan Architecture

Donna Ison


For Nancy and J. Carey Smith, former owners of Big Ass Fans, it all began with finding the perfect property. Nancy specified to their real estate agent, “We would like fewer than ten acres to mow, within the city limits, and in a neighborhood since we have a child. And, we would also like trees and water.”

The agent came through with seven acres of wooded grounds overlooking South Elkhorn Creek and teeming with a variety of flora and fauna, including ash, walnut, tulip poplar, peach, plum, redbud, koosa dogwood, shaggy bark hickory, paw- paw, persimmon, pines, weeping cherry, Japanese maple, and gingko. And, though located a mere mile from Keeneland, the property affords total privacy making window treatments unnecessary.

Carey fell in love at first sight. Nancy explains, “This is the kind of lot that, if you have a husband who is still a little boy at heart, he sees and says, ‘Oh boy! Animals, trees, rocks, deer, a creek.’ And, the price was right, so we purchased the lot in 1995, and in 2000, we started to build.”

Through collaboration with architect Shari Mullin of Pillar3 Design and builder Doug Farmer, the result is a 4,800-square- foot, arts-and-crafts structure that fits seamlessly into the landscape.

Upon stepping into the foyer with its sliding Woodharbor Japanese- style cherry and glass rolling doors and Kalwall translucent glass ceiling, Nancy’s vision of “Frank Lloyd Wright meets the Far East” becomes evident, and continues throughout the entirety of the home with a harmonious balance of artisan architecture, respect for the natural surroundings, and local flavor. “I was adamant that I wanted it to resonate with things that were indigenous to Kentucky. That’s why I insisted on having dry laid stone on the outside of the house. Also, the incorporation of cedar was important. We originally even had a cedar shake roof.”

The exterior dry laid stone was designed and installed by Renner & Sons Stone. Nancy says, “They’re fun to work with because they always leave a calling card on a house. They left a heart in the front of the house and a map of Kentucky in stone in the back of the house.” Other stone elements, from Richard McAlister of McAlister Stone, are showcased in nativist rock walls, fences, steps and outcroppings. During a recent renovation, the couple replaced the cedar roof with copper, and upgraded many other facets of the house while maintaining the integrity of the original design.

The interior of the home proves that contemporary and cozy are not mutually exclusive. Clean lines, modern lighting and high- tech appliances are counterbalanced by custom cabinetry, folk art and warm woods. “We knew we wanted bamboo for the floors because we had such a long line and felt anything else might get busy,” states Nancy.

Once they’d decided on bamboo, they sought out complimentary woods for cabinetry, accents, and trim. “Once we hit on the cherry, maple, and bamboo silhouette it became fairly easy to design the decorative elements.” This trio of timber is incorporated into the flooring and ceilings, as well as custom cabinetry, bookshelves and built-ins by BC Woodworking. Another unifying element is the expanse of windows, sans blinds or curtains, throughout, which includes operable clerestory windows in living room and master bedroom.

The couple not only wanted windows for the view, but also to utilize nature’s cooling and warming breezes. Nancy says, “We knew we wanted a lot of windows for the air circulation. We try to open the house up as much as possible. Being a fan company, you want to use natural ventilation.” To let the sunlight in, as well, both the master bath and hall are equipped with Copper Velux operable skylights with screens.

In the lofty great room, a maple ceiling and cherry beams hangs over a state-of-the-art kitchen with walk-in pantry that flows into a dining area that flows into a living space replete with asymmetrical stone fireplace and curved built-in window seat. The dining area’s focal point is a pair of Moooi Heracleum II chandeliers.

Nancy claims a centrally situated leather chair with footrest as her favorite spot. “There is nothing better than sitting in this particular place. I can get up and get to the refrigerator, I can watch TV, enjoy the fireplace. It’s a great place to read. It’s central to everything.” The traditional wood burning fireplace by Renner & Sons makes perfect sense, considering the abundance of firewood on the property.

Of the great room, Nancy says, “It is a fabulous space for entertaining, My son was married last April. We had forty-five people in this living room and they all had a place to sit.”

The kitchen’s flat-front cabinetry combines a rustic Shaker-feel with convenience, housing drawers for dishes, utensils, recycling and trash; a dish towel rack; and roll out shelves for appliance storage. The stunning oceanside multi-color glass tile backsplash; silver Niche Modern Pod pendant lights, and Blue Australe granite countertops add sheen and interest. The top-of-the- line appliances include Miele five-burner gas stove top and raised dishwasher, a pair of Thermador 27” wall ovens, and two sub-Zero refrigerator drawers. And, an L-shaped bar supplies ample seating for a casual meal. In the pantry, you’ll find a KitchenAid 25.8 cu ft full depth French door refrigerator and copious amounts of storage with delightful details like a hidden stepstool.

The owner’s suite lies down a hallway lined with floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, and contains a maple and cherry trimmed TV cabinet with additional shelving and a matching custom-made platform bed with built-in side tables and storage drawers, all custom constructed by BC Woodworking. There are also bookshelves on the staircase leading to the finished basement. With the couple being avid readers, Nancy states, “That was a terrific requirement for us. We needed enough shelves for the books we brought with us, and knowing, of course, that we would buy more books.”

The capacious bedroom’s large windows, on two-exposures, grant spectacular views.

A luxurious, fully renovated master bath provides an ideal refuge for relaxation where you can destress after a long day with a Mr. Steam steam shower or long soak in the MTI Casacara stone oval bathtub. Open the skylights to let in the sunlight or see the stars. The bath connects to a walk-through closet with built-in chests of drawers, a bench seat for easy dressing, and closets with frosted glass doors.