Photos by: Shaun Ring
Kevin Crouse, homebuilder and owner of Artisan Custom Homes, prides himself on creating unique homes that suit his clients’ lifestyles. But once in a while, a project comes along that is really special. This 10,000 square foot home set on an idyllic pond in Central Kentucky is a perfect example.
The heart of the home is a historic gristmill that was moved from its original location near Maysville and reconstructed onsite. “My clients fell in love with the idea of restoring a gristmill from the early 1800’s,” said Crouse. “Our goal was to showcase the amazing skill and attention to detail that was used by a group of amazing craftsmen almost 200 years ago. Special care was taken to preserve and celebrate the craftsmanship of the past while keeping a refined, warm feeling for the family.”
The gristmill, which was used to grind grain into flour and other products, was a timber frame structure constructed from hand-hewn chestnut. “There wasn’t a single nail securing the structure,” explained Crouse. “You have to stop and think, in 1828 there was no electricity. There were no circular saws or modern tools used today.” Instead, a group of skilled craftsmen used wooden pegs to secure the joinery of the carefully cut timber beams and posts. In spite of the craftsmanship it took to build, it was still a functional mill. For example, the center posts are octagonal because workers were constantly moving around them and wanted to avoid any sharp edges. “Everything was built with a purpose,” said Crouse.
Crouse and his team started working with AMDG Architects of Grand Rapids, Michigan in August 2010. It took almost 9 months to disassemble the mill and make necessary repairs to the timbers. Construction of the home lasted for about two and a half years, and the home was completed in December 2014. During that time, Crouse worked closely with his clients to transform the old mill into a luxurious, rustic family home.
The attention to detail extends to the front of the home as well, where landscape designer Jon Carloftis of Jon Carloftis Fine Gardens has created a beautiful outdoor space with colorful potted plants, climbing vines, and neatly trimmed shrubbery. The home’s exterior utilizes cedar board and batten and cedar shingles, combined with Kentucky limestone surrounding the foundation. Timber-frame brackets and metal shed roofs accent the home along with half round gutters and rain chains (a more attractive option than a downspout). The front porches and sidewalks are bluestone and the timberframe deck is made from cedar. Cobblestone accents break-up the concrete loop around the front of the home.
The idea to use the gristmill evolved during the planning process. “When we started this project, my clients were interested in timber frame construction,” said Crouse. “A traditional home had been designed by our architect that would use timber frame elements on the exterior of the home. Then they came across the gristmill.” Originally the mill was going to be used as a guest house. As the project evolved, Crouse and his clients began talking about restoring the mill as part of their home. “That really took it to a whole different level,” he said. “When we decided to use the mill, the question now became, ‘How do we build around it?’”
The solution was to take the mill’s existing three-story framework and use it as a supporting and decorative structure for the main living area. Upon entering the home, one of the original millstones, a nod to the original working gristmill, has been embedded in the reclaimed hardwood floors. A key in the center of the stone can be removed, creating a tiny window to the lower level. The millstone is just one of many artifacts from the gristmill that have been ingeniously used as décor items.
“Taking something down that has been up for 200 years…it definitely wasn’t a traditional construction project,” said Crouse. Some of the beams needed to be repaired, but they were joined seamlessly to the existing structure. They preserved as much of the original character of the gristmill as possible, including a few etchings and drawings made by the original workers. Crouse gives a great deal of credit to contractor Charles Howell of Howell Timber Frame. “Charles was the one who originally found the gristmill and he played a key role in its restoration. He is a true craftsman, and his skills and knowledge of timber frame construction are unrivaled.”
While the gristmill’s history and craftsmanship is evident at every turn, the project was not without its challenges and limitations. For example, they first had to carefully dismantle the mill, labeling each piece of timber as they went. And before the mill was put back together, it had to be mocked up to make sure everything would fi t just as it did before.
"...it definitely wasn’t a traditional construction project"
The team had to figure out how to incorporate a stairway into the existing timber frame structure that met building code (the newel posts and handrail were also made from reclaimed wood from the mill).
They had to determine where to place the windows in relation to the horizontal and vertical beams. “Installing mechanical systems without traditional stud walls and drywall presented a real challenge. As a custom builder we are used to the detailed planning required on large projects, but the creativity required for this project was at another level,” Crouse explained. Simple tasks such as wiring for uplights in the beams or locating light switches in the structure were just a few of the challenges that his team had to overcome.
The kitchen, located just past the great room, is a bright, spacious area featuring custom built cabinetry, a copper range hood, a hand crafted tile backsplash, and soapstone countertops. Gregory Designs is responsible for all of the kitchen and bathroom cabinetry, as well as the mahogany front door. “This is my favorite spot in the house,” said the homeowner. “It’s a beautiful place to cook and watch herons by the pond from the window. Also, this is where kids do homework aft er school and we share long family meals in the evenings.”
“This home has a style like no other,” he said. “It celebrates a historic structure in a classic, refined way.”
"As a custom builder we are used to the detailed planning required on large projects, but the creativity required for this project was at another level.”
In the left wing of the house is a mud room and office space that looks over the expansive backyard.
The homeowners said, “this home works so well for our family because we have spaces that function in a variety of ways. There is space for solitude and reflection as well as for community, hospitality and togetherness. Also, because we are able to stay so closely connected to nature, it feels like a retreat in our everyday lives.”
In the right wing of the home, a bluestone hallway leads to a handsome study overlooking the pond. All of the home’s fireplaces are handcrafted with field stone and timbers from the mill. Another one of the original millstones is set in the hearth of the fireplace in the study. Here, more wheels, gears and other original elements from the mill have been used as décor.
The master bedroom features an oversized window—perfect for taking in the relaxing scenery. Both the study and the master bedroom feature original chestnut flooring restored from the mill. In the master bedroom, additional mill relics keep the circular theme present, making the design scheme cohesive.
The master bath is a departure from the style of the rest of the home. Here, it’s all about modern, polished style, with bright white paint, custom cabinetry and honed Cararra marble floors and countertops.
The cowhide rug brings the earth tones featured in the rest of the home back to the otherwise modern space.
The home has five bedrooms and six bathrooms total, with two of the bedrooms located on the lower level.
The second floor features the two children’s bedrooms and a unique loft space where they can hang out.
The third floor, which isn’t finished yet, will be a dedicated space to showcase salvaged artifacts from the mill.
No detail was spared throughout the three story interior.
Once Crouse and his team had solidified his plans for the home’s interior, the next challenge was to design an exterior to compliment it. The great room overlooks one of the home’s most picturesque details - a beautiful pond that was created especially for the property. With fire pit area and a dock with fishing poles, the scene is reminiscent of a painting or storybook. The pond, which has a rubber liner and reaches a depth of 14 feet, is fed by two wells and has a float switch to keep the water at a consistent level. Stepping stones lead to a jump rock with underwater steps on both sides, creating a fun spot for the kids to swim. Rock outcroppings and aquatic plants (supplied by Nature’s Expression) create both a beautiful and natural setting for fishing. While the home and the pond were built about five years ago, both look like they’ve existed for over a hundred years. “If you asked my clients what their favorite aspect of the home is, they would probably say the history of the mill, and the views of the pond,” said Crouse.
“If you asked my clients what their favorite aspect of the home is, they would probably say the history of the mill, and the views of the pond”
Ultimately, with such a large and complicated build, said Crouse, having a team of dedicated professionals was critical. “My team of trade partners really stepped up to the challenge of this project,” he said. “When you tackle a unique project like this, it takes a team of skilled individuals working together. I couldn’t have restored the mill without (timber frame contractor) Charles Howell—he was amazing. I really enjoyed leading such a talented group of people. It started with a vision to restore a gristmill and ended with an amazing home for a special family.”