A humorous sign on the wall of the big red barn says: “Friends always welcome. Relatives by appointment only.”
But actually, Diane and Tom Abbott’s Middletown farm house is a true family affair. One son lives right across the cul-de-sac, and an extended family of as many as 25 people often gathers – including Tom’s 98-year-old father.
The two-story Colonial with red brick and white trim was built by the couple in 1993 after Tom’s former father-in-law gifted him 2.75 acres of undeveloped property, with one stipulation: When any of Tom’s sons got married, he would have the opportunity to build his own house on the property. (Oldest son Dave now lives there in the house Tom and his company, Holloway & Son Construction, built for him.)
“It was truly undeveloped,” recalled Diane, “a forest of trees and heavy underbrush. We had family clean-up days for two and a half years, when Tom and I and the four kids would cut down trees and clear and burn the brush just to get the land ready for building.”
But the family of six had been squeezing into two bedrooms, so the chance to build the expansive home of their dreams was worth all those clean-up days.
Diane’s dream included two priorities: a big kitchen and a big family room. She loves to cook and entertain. Tom also had two priorities: a master bedroom suite on the first floor and his classic red barn behind the house that can only be described as “Tom’s playhouse.”
In 2005, Diane had hired Louisville designer Jason Jennings to help her decorate the 3,000-square-foot house. But now she felt a redesign was in order.
Jennings brightened and lightened the house, reassembling and repainting. But he also respected some traditional pieces, such as marble floor tiles in the entryway that were rescued from the old St. Thomas Seminary on Brownsboro Road. “Embedded in each square were little discs said to contain saints’ ashes,” Diane said.
Around the tiles are the home’s original oak wood floors. But Jennings covered them with colorful new rugs from Francis Lee Jasper, such as a gold-and-cream, raised brocade rug with an organic pattern in the piano room and an Oriental rug in the dining room.
He used light Porter Paint wall colors like First Frost, Summer Sunset, Almond Cream and Peach Surprise, and replaced heavy drapery in both front rooms with lighter silk curtains from Work the Metal, playing off the colors in the new rugs and the sunlight now streaming through the windows.
Haunting places like the Goss Avenue Antique Mall, Crescent Hill Trading Co. and Colonial Designs, Jennings and Abbott looked for lamps and accessories that would bring simplicity and elegance to the house.
“Jason’s shopping style is more daring,” said Diane. “Of course, that’s his job: to know what I want and also to see things I might not even know I want.”
“I’m looking for things I like, but I’m also trying to see them through my clients’ eyes,” said Jennings. “I want to love it for them.”
The house is also filled with family contributions, like various needlepoint pieces done by Diane’s talented mother, Nancy Cowell (who once put together needlepoint ornaments for a White House Christmas tree), and original artwork from Diane’s uncle, local watercolorist Keith Spears. And her sister painted the handles, drawer pulls and cabinet knobs in the kitchen.
The sprawling, open kitchen and breakfast room Diane had wanted is also home to a collection of cows – ceramic and plastic statuettes, wall plaques and one cow’s-head tree ornament attached to a brass railroad bell by a chain.
“It comes from my maiden name, Cowell,” said Diane. “My four grandchildren call me Moo-Moo.”
The barn in the back, Tom’s aforementioned “playhouse,” contains his toys: two Corvettes, some John Deere farm equipment (the couple owns a small farm in Shelbyville) and what the family calls “the beer garden,” a convivial gathering corner of the barn for ballgames on a big-screen TV.
A sign over the barn door says: “Harley parking only. [Foreign-made] bikes will be crushed.”
Tom’s various loves dominate the motif: sports (especially University of Louisville), bourbon, beer, cigars, New Orleans, movies (especially “The Sting”) and politics. There’s a campaign poster from his run as Middletown mayor. (He lost.)
There’s also a wall plaque that says: “I feel a sin coming on.”
Contact the writer at YourVoice@voice-tribune.com