Great-niece transforms house, unchanged since 1957

mmeehan1@herald-leader.comNovember 15, 2012 

For the longest time, the yard was crowded with overgrown trees, the windows were dark and covered, and antebellum columns evoked tales untold. The house at Lansdowne Drive and Tates Creek Road, a 1950s showplace, had sat frozen in time for more than 50 years, until a great-niece and her family gave it a much-needed update to make it their home.

Laura Kehrt says her great-aunt Edna Wright Murphy, who built the house, never gave much heed to what others thought.

When Murphy decorated what was to be her dream home, she stayed true to herself. Her tastes were on full display in the 3,100-square-foot house.

Built in 1957, a time when there were few other houses around, it was resplendent in Eisenhower-era style. Think Don and Betty Draper's mid-century décor from Mad Men dipped in turquoise, a color enrobing the front door and the wrought-iron fences and benches around the property. One bathroom was lime green and pink, another had a cranberry-colored tub and toilet. Most of the rooms were filled with antiques. There were seven mink coats in a closet.

Murphy's husband, Raymond "B." Murphy, a lawyer and builder, was the more outgoing of the pair, saying his house was a showplace and its balcony a spot where, he joked, he could watch all the people pass by to whom he owed money.

Raymond Murphy died in 1961.

Edna carried on with many of the family's concerns, including a number of rental properties. (She would mow the lawns herself into her 80s.)

But the house, filled with pictures of Raymond, stayed as it was, a time capsule of the era, while his widow slowly retreated into living in just a portion of the downstairs, boarding up windows and doors to keep expenses down.

Edna's sister Eddythe Collier lived a few doors down in a house she had bathed in green. After Collier's husband, Talmer, died, the two women, often seen seen puttering in the dense garden out back behind Murphy’s house, would spend a few days there and a few days in Collier's house, always together, frequently walking through the neighborhood.

Murphy, fiercely independent, lived alone until she died in 2010 at age 94. Kehrt said several members of her extended family thought about buying the house, but the extent of the needed renovation proved too much.

Kehrt said that when she first walked into the house with an eye toward remodeling, "it was like, wow."

Her reaction was on target. The final renovation involved essentially gutting much of the first floor and rearranging the floor plan to create a master suite, plus a separate office and a much-expanded kitchen. In addition to a new color palette and more modern floor plan, much of the electrical and plumbing systems required work.

Still, growing up around the corner on Nantucket Drive, Kehrt had visited the house often and had a sentimental attachment. Practically speaking, it had good bones and a large yard where her six kids could have plenty of space.

Kehrt said her husband, Roger, ceded most of the design decisions to her.

"I wanted to keep as much of it as possible," she said of the mid-century style, but the '50s-tastic bathrooms had to go, as did the green patterned carpet and the Japanese-inspired wallpaper.

The carpet was removed to reveal hardwood floors, the turquoise front door replaced with a wooden double door. The updated kitchen has a mammoth quartz-topped island with enough room for the whole family to gather. Laura Kehrt, who like her husband is a teacher and a swim coach, has found that she likes cooking in the new space, even using the warming drawer ("I didn't know there was such a thing," she said).

A sandy beige now covers the walls, and overstuffed couches fill the two living spaces flanking the kitchen, enough room for kids and adults to spread out and relax. A pocket office with a sliding frosted glass door provides Kehrt with a haven; another family room in the front allows her husband to enjoy football games when the rest of the family would rather watch something else on TV.

Kehrt said she wanted something warm and inviting. When visitors walk through the front door, they can see through a sitting area to one of the five fireplaces in the house.

The original banister leads upstairs, a worn patch at the top. Kehrt added another bathroom and a laundry room for practical reasons. Some of the bedroom furniture used by her sons came out of Aunt Edna's house.

"I think she would like that there is some new life in the house," Kehrt said.

She's leaning toward keeping a turquoise iron bench that encircles a tree in the front yard as a nod to her great-aunt.

One of her sons, Christian, has already made his statement. He fished Murphy's old mailbox out of the trash and has it in his room, dented but awesomely turquoise.

Mary Meehan: (859) 231-3261. Twitter: @bgmoms. Blog: BluegrassMoms.com.

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