HOME & DESIGN — A PRAISEWORTHY PAINTED LADY

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Shades of green, burgundy, teal and pink accent the elaborate trim on this creamy Queen Anne in <?xml:namespace prefix = st1 />Clifton. Built in 1896 by the police-detective father of former U.S. Rep. (1957-1963) and Louisville Mayor (1969-1973) Frank W. Burke, the home needed some tender loving care when attorney Ken Bader and interior designer Kelli Milligan purchased it shortly after their marriage in 1983.

 

Playing all the angles: Bader, Milligan and pals in the paisley-ceilinged second-floor family room (left); a floor-to-ceiling mirror in the upstairs bathroom (below) reflects the faux-painted clawfoot tub.

“It had been turned into apartments at one time,” Bader recalls, “and the person we bought it from had changed it back into a single-family home, but the workmanship was a problem.”  What sealed the deal were the location — close to the shops and restaurants on Baxter and Frankfort avenues and a half-mile from their offices — the view of downtown Louisville from the third floor, and, most of all, the price. “It offered the most square-footage for the money,” says Bader.

Twenty-four years later, Milligan and he have made significant headway in restoring the home to its former glory, but still talk of projects one, two, even five years down the road: completing the third-floor renovations; adding a breakfast room, butler’s pantry and pool room on the back; and widening the porch just enough for a table and chairs. They’re on the pay-as-you-go plan and do much of the work themselves. “It’s not just a home; it’s a hobby,” Bader proclaims. “I work with my brain all day and it’s nice to go home at night and swing a hammer.”

There have been some unpleasant surprises along the way — projects that started out as cosmetic and mushroomed into major structural changes. An insect invasion in the kitchen, for instance, led to the discovery that the particleboard sub-floor was badly water-damaged and needed to go. That spurred a complete kitchen renovation in 1985 with new oak cabinets, mosaic tile countertops and backsplashes, and walls splatter-painted 11 different colors to match the tile. The washer and dryer were also banished from the kitchen to a new second-floor bath directly above whose plumbing is hidden in a kitchen-ceiling soffit. “The plumber wanted to drop the entire ceiling a foot, but I didn’t want to lose the height,” Milligan says. “By keeping the plumbing on the perimeter, we were able to put an angled tray in the center.”

Finishing that angled tray ceiling was Bader’s first experience with hanging drywall — “the worst way to learn,” he observes ruefully — but certainly not his last. After stripping layers of wallpaper and paint on the home’s first two floors, the couple discovered the paper was the only thing holding the plaster to the walls. Repairs weren’t cost-effective, so they decided to drywall instead. That led to taking the walls down to the studs, updating the plumbing and electrical, adding insulation and placing fire stops between the floors — an important precaution in a balloon-frame house, Milligan explains. “Some of the studs are 40 feet long, so if a fire started, without the stops,” she says, “the whole house would go up very quickly.”

Griffins R’ Us: the
dining room (above), with its specially fabricated mantelpiece; faux and real bookcases in the entertainment room (below); the Alphonse Mucha fireplace surround designs in the foyer (left); and (opposite page) the Art Nouveau newel post light fixture in the front hall.
During the process, the interior trim was removed and sent out to be professionally stripped — the previous owner had painted over the old oil with latex and it was peeling. All six coal-burning fireplaces were relined and upgraded to hold gas-burner logs. Another major project involved stripping blackened lacquer off the ornate oak staircase newel, banister and spindles.

The best way to describe the decor is period with panache. Wallcoverings, ceilings, mantels, flooring and stained-glass windows respect the home’s Victorian heritage without making it feel like a museum. One of the most striking features is the flooring. A visit to Old Louisville’s Conrad-Caldwell?House?prompted Milligan to use a different type of flooring in each of the first-floor rooms. For the foyer, she chose a marble-look ceramic tile, but the rest came from Kentucky Wood Floors: walnut herringbone in the parlor, diagonally laid oak with an octagonal medallion in the hall, an oak and walnut basket weave called Haddon Hall in the dining room, a scaled-down version of Haddon Hall in the powder room and oak butcher block in the kitchen.

All the stained-glass windows in the home are new, designed by Milligan and fabricated by Rod Kleinhelter and Arnold Reis of Art Glass Mosaic. The windows are not only beautiful; they provide privacy in an area where houses are closely packed together. “We couldn’t expand the house on the sides without being in our neighbors’ bedroom,” Bader jokes. While Milligan hopes to eventually add a stained-glass window to the hall, she came up with an attractive temporary solution, using white paint and doilies as templates to hide the view of the house next door. 

The mantels in the foyer, parlor, dining room and second-floor family room are a combination of vintage and new. The couple purchased the foyer mantel at Architectural Salvage and refinished it. “It had been in a bar and was covered with cigarette burns,” Bader recalls. Art Nouveau-style tiles with Alphonse Mucha designs on the surround add to its vintage appeal.

The parlor mantel is new, designed to match the antique mirror above it by Bader’s father, who owned a woodworking shop before he retired. Father and son also created the mantels in the dining room and family room.  In the dining room, the original mantel’s slate top was paired with tall plaster griffins and the whole thing was faux-painted in white, black and gray. The three-part mirror above it adds depth to the room. Made out of pine, the family room mantel matches the built-in bookcases and the second level’s original pine flooring.

Milligan also lavished attention on the ceilings. The family room’s is papered in Schumacher’s Grand Paisley pattern. Real plaster medallions, hand-painted by Milligan, adorn the ceilings in the foyer and dining room. But it was the parlor that received the most

Bader’s brother carved the mantel in the parlor, and Milligan hand-painted all 56 faux tin ceiling tiles.

 

attention.  Milligan spent two to three days meticulously hand-painting each of the 56 two-foot-square faux tin ceiling tiles before Bader installed them. “I wanted the look of Victorian Bradbury & Bradbury wallpaper, but three-dimensional,” she explains. A wallpapered square in the ceiling’s center sets off the hand-painted medallion above the chandelier.

Furnishings are a mix of antiques and new. The parlor set was made by Bader’s great-great-great-uncle and graced his grandmother’s parlor for many years. “I wasn’t allowed to sit on it until I inherited it,” he says with a grin.  Bader’s father built the couple their bed as a wedding present and Bader himself fashioned the big, square table in the dining room. Milligan tells the story: “It was coming up on Thanksgiving and I had purchased 10 dining room chairs, but I couldn’t find a table that fit the room. We had the width for a big table but not the length. So, in just a week, Kenny made this table for me with a granite-look laminate top. It was supposed to be temporary, but we use it for everything, from wrapping Christmas packages to playing cards.” 

Whether or not the table turns out to be temporary remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: The work that Bader and Milligan have put into their painted lady in Cliftonhas saved it for generations to come.

 

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