Time and neglect had taken a toll on the circa 1825 house at 6105 Sulphur Well Road when Herman and Elizabeth Playforth purchased the 117-acre farm on which it sat in 2003.
“We didn’t think this house was worth saving until we got in and started looking around,” said Herman, a retired heart surgeon.
“It was just a dilapidated farmhouse, and we were thrilled to discover there was a Federal house on the inside,” Elizabeth added.
The couple took the structure down to the brick, salvaging about 900 square feet of what is now the dining room and entry hall. They then built out and up from there.
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It’s not the first Federal home the Playforths have saved, so they understood the time-consuming process of staying true to the style that dominated the American architectural landscape for 60 years following the Revolutionary War.
Characterized by their simplicity, Federal houses are a square or rectangular box shape, two or three stories high and two rooms deep. Windows are arranged symmetrically on the understated front façade.
“Federal houses have been a big part of our lives,” said Elizabeth, whose grandmother restored Woodstock, a circa 1812 house at the corner of Cleveland and Todds roads that’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“When Herman and I got married, we bought the Dallam house at 505 South Mill, she said. “It was falling down, and we preserved it.”
For several years, the Playforths also lived at Valhalla, a Federal house in Versailles that had been restored in the 70s. They decided to name their new place Blue Fox Farm, a name inspired by pottery they picked up in Italy.
Herman, a Barbourville native who wanted to be an architect at one time, designed the 4,700-square-foot addition, being careful to incorporate elements of Federal design with modern, practical features.
“We knew what we wanted. We had lived in enough houses,” Elizabeth said. “When it was finished, it was basically a brand new house.”
First impressions matter, and it’s no accident that from the front door you can see straight through to the stunning sunroom, the 991-square-foot Tennessee blue-grey flagstone terrace and farmland beyond.
The 48-foot-long sunroom spans the back of the house and features a wall of 14 windows that link the kitchen, the living room and the dining room on one end of the house to the library and owners’ suite on the other.
Elizabeth winters her plants there. Watering them is a snap, thanks to a spigot and water hose hidden in an inside wall.
“I knew I was going to have plants in here, so this made sense,” she said. The sunroom’s stone floor, laid on the diagonal, is just fine getting wet occasionally.
The Playforths opted for large rooms and an open floor plan that are conducive to family gatherings and entertaining. Wide hallways and a first-floor owners’ suite — unusual in Federal homes — make the main floor wheelchair accessible.
“Both of us ride horses, and we thought it would be foolish to not be able to get a wheelchair in here,” Elizabeth explained.
Master carpenter and builder Stephen Yon made many of the home’s eye-catching features, including the library’s coffered ceiling and arched doorway; 14-inch-high crown molding; the newel post on the front staircase; the walnut front door; and the random-width cherry floors crafted from trees grown on adjoining acreage the Playforths own.
Yon also built door frames to match an original that was found intact, and repaired the dining room mantel, also original to the house. Herman and Yon consulted daily over the two years it took to build the house.
“We had very few plans,” Herman recalled. “We kind of did it as we went along.”
The kitchen, which was designed by Laura Dalzell of Cabinets and Designs, has a farmhouse chic feel. Three large windows above the sink provide picturesque views.
As the heart of the home, it’s a relaxing, comfortable yet hardworking space with creamy white cabinetry, black granite countertops and hardwood floors. Hand-hewn beams from the original structure are built into the ceiling and stained to match the dark cherry finish of the center island.
The Playforths procured several light fixtures, including the stunning chandelier above the island, from the late Dr. Lon Roberts, a Mount Sterling, Ky., physician and antiques dealer.
Half-door pocket doors between the kitchen and living room allow an unobstructed view of the farm through the towering Palladian window in the living room.
When closed, the pocket doors muffle noise from the kitchen. A tall Rumford fireplace warms the room and carries away smoke, thanks to shallow, angled sides and a streamlined throat that minimizes heat loss.
Located off the kitchen, near the door to the garage, the back staircase leads to the upstairs loft and two en suite bedrooms.
However, the Playforths could not improve upon the farm vistas that surround their home.
“The best features of this house are the views and the sunlight,” Elizabeth said. “There’s a beautiful view out of every single window. Herman designed it that way, because he knew it would make me happy.”
As the couple prepare to sell and downsize, they have not decided where the next move will take them. It could be a house in town or a new house on their adjoining 87-acre property.
“We want to spend more time with our children and grandchildren,” Herman said. “We’ve loved living here, but we’re ready to take the next step and have less responsibility.”
“It’s so quiet and peaceful out here,” Elizabeth added. “We’re happy that we will still have a little piece of the neighborhood to keep.”