When garden designer Jon Carloftis got a call from a friend that historic Botherum, his favorite house in all of Lexington, was for sale, he dropped everything. "We were over there in five minutes," he said.
"I've wanted that house since 1984, when I bartended a party there. I've loved that house ever since," Carloftis said. "We go down that street a lot. Every time we pass, I say, 'That's my house.'"
Botherum, at 341 Madison Place, is a 161-year-old, one-story stone house in Woodward Heights, very near Rupp Arena. It sits back from the street behind a high stone wall, built in the 1980s. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
The rooms are not too large, and ceilings are vaulted in the library, drawing room and entrance hall. The house is about 3,000 square feet, according to the Fayette County property valuation administrator's Web site.
"It's not so grand and it's downtown," Carloftis said of his attraction to Botherum.
The house sits on about three-quarters of an acre, and in the front yard is a large ginkgo tree. Getting the ginkgo was worth the price of the house, he said.
According to lore, statesman Henry Clay gave the ginkgo to his friend Madison C. Johnson, who built Botherum.
Carloftis and his partner, Dale Fisher, have lived on Chenault Road in Chevy Chase for many years and had no thoughts of moving. "We are so happy where we are. We love it," Carloftis said Thursday in a telephone interview from New York.
Tom Cheek and his wife, Fran Taylor, who live in Woodward Heights, tipped off the men about Botherum being for sale.
The opportunity to own Botherum — which Carloftis described as being in a state of "glamorous decay" — was too tempting to pass up.
Carloftis and Fisher bought the house last week from John Cavendish, who had owned it since 1983. Cavendish has not lived in the house for years. The couple paid $695,000, Carloftis said.
Next week, the house will be the destination for the Blue Grass Trust for Historic Preservation's free "deTour" program, which allows the public to visit historically significant houses and sites they normally wouldn't get to see.
A mix of styles
"Botherum is one of Lexington's hidden treasures," Bettie Kerr, director of the city's division of historic preservation, said earlier this week.
The house was built for Johnson in 1851 by prominent local builder and architect John McMurtry. An attorney and banker, Johnson had wanted a house that would be a shrine to his beloved wife, Sally Ann, a sister of emancipationist Cassius M. Clay. Sally Ann Johnson had died in childbirth 23 years earlier, according to National Register records. Johnson, who is said to have been a confidante of Abraham Lincoln, had bought 36 acres as his "suburban" estate in 1845, Kerr said.
Architecturally, Botherum — named for a character in a play — was unusual when it was built because it had Greek, Roman and Gothic architectural influences, Kerr said. It's made of large stone, with Corinthian columns on the front and either end. The drawing room, library and entrance hall have vaulted ceilings. An octagonal cupola topped by wrought iron is said to have provided Johnson, who was an amateur astronomer, a place to view the heavens.
At its construction, the house was in a U-shape, with a garden between the rear wings. That space was later filled in for use as a dining room. Botherum was surrounded by beautiful gardens and had at least one greenhouse, Kerr said.
The house originally faced High Street but is now approached from its side entrance on Madison Place.
Renovation work on Botherum's two-story guesthouse, which Cavendish built, got under way Tuesday. Carloftis and Fisher, who runs the business side of Carloftis' design firm, will live in the guesthouse and have their offices there until work on the main house is finished. Their house on Chenault is for sale.
On Thursday, a crew from Longwood Antique Woods in Lexington was pulling up carpet in the guesthouse, preparing to lay wood floors.
Carloftis' friend Linda Bruckheimer has visited Botherum. Bruckheimer, who has renovated several old buildings in downtown Bloomfield, is on the board of the National Register of Historic Places. An author, editor and producer, the Louisville native is the wife of blockbuster Hollywood producer Jerry Bruckheimer.
"We went down in the basement with flashlights, looking at beams and the foundation," Carloftis said. "She said, 'My congratulations and condolences all at once.'"
Carloftis said the three front rooms of the house were part of an early farmhouse that predated Botherum and probably date to the early 1800s or late 1700s.
He and Fisher plan to install geothermal heat, if possible, and update the kitchen and bathrooms — but really not much more.
"We want to clean it up and bring it alive," Carloftis said. "We are going to preserve, not renovate it."
'A perfect fit'
Cheek, an architect, said he was thrilled that Carloftis and Fisher bought Botherum.
"It is a slam-dunk for the neighborhood. They will be such good stewards of the property," he said. "Having a garden designer with a fabulous piece of property and a fabulous house, it's a perfect fit."
That an architecturally and historically significant house has been saved also pleased Kerr.
"Botherum is a unique house, beautifully designed and scaled," she said. "It is very exciting that it is to be renovated, once again, highlighting its unique character and history."
Beverly Fortune: (859) 231-3251. Twitter: @BFortune2010.