Val Schirmer is quick to take the blame. She’s the reason she and husband Darrell ended up living on 5.5 acres on Combs Ferry Road in Clark County in 1990.
“It’s my fault,” Val said. “I wanted to live in the country really badly.”
Her spouse felt differently. Darrell had grown up on a farm with livestock to tend 24/7 and he looked forward to living in the city as an adult.
Even so, he agreed to sell their house in the Belleau Wood neighborhood in Lexington. “We had a real good friend who lived down the road from here,” Val said. “At lunchtime, I would drive out here,” seeking “for sale” signs.
When their house sold more quickly than they expected, they sought house-hunting help from Realtor Carol Bryant. “We wanted an older house, even though we aren’t do-it-yourselfers at all,” Val said. “This was the last house of the day. The sun was setting. It had been part of a big farm and we could get 5.5 acres. The last tenant farmer had moved out.”
The house had belonged to the Estes family. It had been built in 1919, on the site of the original farmhouse, which had burned down. “It was just a big, friendly place with no ghosts,” Val said. The Schirmers were impressed that three of the four bedrooms had walk-in closets.
Still, the house needed updating, so the couple lived in one room for a while, using a microwave and a coffeepot as their kitchen. “The kitchen had to be improved,” Darrell said. “There wasn’t any air conditioning. The electrical needed updating and there were structural things to be done.”
The couple spent a lot of their evenings on the front porch. They brainstormed about what to name their property. They considered “Valdar,” a combination of their first names as well as White Flower Farm, a Connecticut nursery for which Val is a test gardener. “We had lots of toads on the front porch, so we decided on Three Toads Farm,” Val said.
In 1997, sitting on that same front porch with friends Charlie and Cheryl Hendricks, Val talked about her dream of starting a specialty flower business. She wanted to grow Oriental lilies. Charlie, who had recently retired from the fire department, said: “I’ll grow them if you’ll sell them.”
Because he knew Val wasn’t ready to leave her full-time job as director of executive communications at Ashland, Darrell had suggested she find a partner for the flower venture. Darrell is a partner at Cross Gate Gallery in Lexington.
Most of the Three Toads Farm flower business eventually moved to land on nearby Colby Road in Clark County. Today, Val, who retired from Ashland in Dec. 2012, works with Charles and his daughter, Elizabeth, who started offering floral design for weddings and special events. They sell at the Lexington Farmers Market every Saturday from April through October.
Through the years, Val and Darrell have continued to make improvements to their farmhouse. In 2000, they added a family room and a breakfast area onto the back of the house, which also has a large porch with wide steps. They updated the bathroom on the main floor and moved their laundry upstairs from the basement.
In 2006, they did a major renovation of the kitchen, which is open to the breakfast area and family room. Darrell, who does all the cooking and is nicknamed Chef Rock, wanted a six-burner Viking stove like celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse.
Their friend, retired interior designer Linda Roberts, and kitchen designer Laura Dalzell of Cabinets and Designs helped them get their dream kitchen. The sink now is situated below the large old windows looking into the side yard. Their island, which is rounded on one end, features a granite countertop while the rest of their countertops are walnut.
Many of their home-improvement projects are done outdoors, where they spend most of their time. Their large side yard has a heated saltwater pool they installed in 2009.
In 2012, they added a large side porch off the kitchen, using Inside Out Design in Frankfort. The porch features a red cedar pergola. “We didn’t want to cover up the porch because we like the light,” Val said. The porch also connects to a spacious mudroom/laundry room that serves as an indoor work space for Val.
A patio with a dining area is located below the side porch and leads to the pool area. At one end of the pool is a potting shed that the couple won in a contest and call their “cabin.”
Behind their house is a vintage greenhouse that Darrell and Charlie Hendricks took apart to move to the Schirmers’ property. They hired a retired engineer to rebuild it. Beyond the greenhouse is Val’s newest project, a field of dahlias.
The couple’s friend, garden designer Jon Carloftis, has helped them with their landscaping (Val once won $10,000 of his services at a fund-raising event) and approach to country living. For one thing, Carloftis suggested that the Schirmers and their guests always park behind the house. That way, they get to enjoy making their way along the curving drive, taking in the view of their house and gardens. “It’s the best,” Val said.
Although they continue to think of possible projects (“We have talked about adding a porch on the south side of the house because three porches isn’t enough,” Val said.), they enjoy their place in the country with the great soil for growing flowers. Darrell mows a little each afternoon so as not to get overwhelmed by the chore.
He cooks breakfast on the outdoor grill every Sunday morning. They host his family reunion every September, setting up tables outside and decorating them with vases of dahlias.
“I love it here,” Darrell said. “It has gotten me to start fishing in farm ponds again like I did years ago. We love all the sounds of the birds.”
Val agreed. “I can’t believe that some people build houses in the country and don’t even have porches,” she said. “We love seeing the sun go up and down.”
Darrell chuckled. “As much as I wanted to get away from the farm, I love it,” he said.