“Something old, something new” doesn’t apply only to weddings. It’s also at the heart of this 1870 Victorian Italianate home in Louisville, KY.
The oldest surviving home in the Old Louisville historic district, the 6,000-square-foot house was in need of repairs when Louisville native Ellen Archer and husband Elliot Bright bought it after a decade in London, Elliot’s hometown. “The home had not been renovated for many years and needed an aesthetic and functional refresh,” says designer Bethany Adams. “The original sun porch, now the dining room, was incredibly drafty, making it unusable in the winter months. The kitchen was not at all functional and incredibly dark. Systems needed updating—electrical, HVAC—and the structure needed shoring up.”
At first Ellen and Elliot worked only with an architect and a contractor, planning to decorate the home themselves. But when they ran into a snafu with their choice of kitchen flooring, Ellen called upon neighbor Bethany for help. Rather than the polished concrete they’d requested, Bethany convinced them to use freeze- and thaw-resistant white quartzite tiles they could extend beyond the kitchen into the dining room and the adjacent patio. “Using the same tile inside and out blurs the lines between interior and exterior,” Bethany says. The five pairs of storefront-style glass doors that make up two of the dining room’s walls accentuate the indoor-outdoor feeling.
Beyond implementing practical updates to make the house a livable home, Ellen and Elliot “had a vision of a light, bright, but still historic home, similar to the townhomes of London,” Bethany says. To create a sense of cohesiveness throughout the large house, they opted for a palette dominated by white and black.
While black and white might seem antithetical to the home’s Victorian style, “a historic home tends to be so rich with detail that it can overwhelm,” Bethany says. “Though it’s fun to look at, very few people actually want to live in Versailles!” The white walls, charcoal doors and millwork, and monochromatic furniture allow the stained-glass windows, tiled fireplace surrounds, picture rails, and other original features to attract attention by whispering rather than shouting.
For instance, the walls in the entry had previously been orange—a color that might have been historically accurate but distracted from the panels of Zuber’s black-and-white Les Courses des Chevaux wallpaper, which was original to the house. “The black paint we chose enhances the drama of entering this stunning house and provides the appropriate sense of constraint, before you enter into the stunning, light, and bright stair hall beyond,” Bethany says.
The three-year renovation gave Ellen and Elliot a home ideal for their growing family (their daughter was born shortly after the kitchen was completed, their son two years later). And it also led to the creation of Ellen’s business, Luxury Rentals Louisville. To help fund the reno, Ellen rented her home to visitors during the Kentucky Derby, as it’s only five minutes from the racetrack. “She was so successful renting her own home that friends and neighbors soon asked her to rent out their mansions for the Derby and other events, and her business was born!” Bethany says.