The grand facade of Elmwood Inn is a well-known landmark in Perryville. The iconic 1842 Greek Revival home has housed a beloved regional restaurant – site of some 500 wedding receptions between the mid-1970s and its close in 1989 – and the more recent Elmwood Inn tearoom, which at its peak in the early 2000s hosted more than 40 guests at three tea seatings daily.
Owners Bruce and Shelley Richardson purchased the home at auction in 1990, never envisioning that the tearoom they would launch there would one day take over the entire 5,000-square-foot home and lead to the establishment of their tea book publishing line, as well as thriving retail and wholesale tea businesses, now based at their Elmwood Inn Fine Teas retail space in Danville.
“That’s the way life happens,” says Bruce, a former two-term mayor of Perryville who, with his wife, is widely regarded as one of America’s leading tea experts. “Shelley and I were both professional musicians, and we attended an open house before the home’s auction in 1990 with no intention of buying it. But something in the house told us that it needed to be brought back to life. And, really, once we had purchased the home, it was Shelley’s idea to launch the tearoom. I just went to work for her.”
“When we started to think about how we could share this house with the greater community, we thought of the idea of a tearoom, because afternoon tea was something that Bruce and I enjoyed – that sense of respite in the middle of the day. It turned out to be something that so many people responded to and were able to enjoy. And we were very happy that we could share the house in that way,” says Shelley.
During the height of the tearoom’s run, Bruce and Shelley lived in a nearby cottage in order to devote the home’s full space to serving their daily guests. But in 2004, they closed the tearoom to focus on their retail and publishing business. Eight years ago, they converted Elmwood Inn back into their personal, residential space.
Over the course of their 26-year ownership of the property, Bruce and Shelley have been careful to preserve the originality of the main home as much as possible, while modernizing it with new HVAC and plumbing systems, redesigned bathrooms and all-new plaster throughout.
“It took a major restoration to bring it back to life,” says Bruce. “But the wonderful thing is that over the years, people hadn’t muddled the original layout of the home. The original wood floors are there. The original woodwork is all meticulously made and still intact. The original limestone foundation is visible and as true today as when it was set in 1842.”
As for the home’s two-story back addition, added in 1973 to incorporate the restaurant’s commercial kitchen, the renovations were more complete: the couple stripped the area down to its studs and recreated a space that is both modern and inviting. On the ground floor of the addition is the former commercial kitchen, now a 30-foot long private kitchen – outfitted with two dishwashers, a stacked oven, enormous walk-in pantry and a five-burner gas range – that is roomy enough to accommodate several cooks at a time.
Above the kitchen, the addition houses an inviting and modern den space, which Bruce and Shelley have decorated with neutral carpeting, cream couches, a farmhouse table, dual bookcases and several cozy reading chairs, all with a perfect view of the home’s lush, tree-lined back garden, thanks to the floor-to-ceiling windows that line one entire wall.
“When you’re in that room, you feel like you’re in a tree house, because you’re on the second floor, and you’re overlooking the tree canopies outside of the windows,” says Bruce.
The home’s master bedroom, which boasts its own adjoining bathroom suite, is on the second floor, along with a guest room which also has its own adjoining bath. A third second-floor bedroom has been converted into Shelley’s home office. Flooded with natural light, the office is, like most of the main home, outfitted in antiques that she and Bruce have collected over their 39-year marriage.
“We both have a passion for antiques, and we frequently stop in at antique stores throughout central Kentucky. We’ve picked up most of our items at stores in Perryville, Danville, Lexington and Louisville,” says Shelley. “I really love design and interior decorating. It’s always been a secret little passion of mine. So I truly enjoyed getting to work with this house and bring it back to life.”
Downstairs, the home has a formal dining room and a library, both with their own fireplaces, where the couple love to entertain family and friends for festive dinners, or, on quieter days, unwind with a good book.
The first floor also includes a laundry room and a guest suite with its own full bathroom, along with two additional half baths. The home’s stunning foyer includes a soaring 10 1/2-foot ceiling and a sweeping staircase just off the front door. Highlighting the space is a gorgeous Federal secretary and a striking wall display of several 19th-century china plates, which the couple also love to collect.
Recently, Bruce and Shelley put their Elmwood Inn home on the market, planning to downsize into a smaller home closer to their retail space in Danville. For both, leaving the home will be bittersweet. Their son, Ben, now 32, was only six years old when they moved in, and Shelley loved the freedom he had as a child to roam the home’s sprawling grounds, including playing alongside the picturesque Chaplin River, which runs by the front of the house.
“The thing that I’ve always known about Elmwood, and I think most people would agree with me who have visited it over the years, is that it has a great sense of hospitality. The minute you walk in the house you feel it,” says Shelley. “It just has this amazing welcoming feeling about it.”
Bruce agrees: “Sometimes, with these Greek Revival homes, they are so massive they can feel overwhelming. But this house doesn’t have that feeling at all. It feels welcoming as soon as you walk into it. I remember one day during the restoration, soon after we had bought the home, I was cleaning the threshold and got emotional thinking about the countless people who had crossed through that doorway over the life of this building, from Civil War soldiers to presidents – Ronald Reagan was a restaurant customer, as was Harland Sanders – to school children, when the home had been an academy. It has had an influence on an amazing number of people.”
The couple hope that whoever inherits the home next will feel the same sense of pride and stewardship that they have for the house and its place in Perryville’s storied history.
“We have loved the home,” says Bruce. “I have had the opportunity to travel a lot for our business and stay in some great hotels across the world, but it would be hard to beat the experience I have either sitting at my library here or sitting out on the patio with a pot of tea and reading a good book.”
This week’s feature home is listed with Mary Jo Joseph of Coldwell Banker VIP Realty.