In 2009, Kentucky landscape architect and gardener Jon Carloftis was invited to help decorate Blair House, the presidential guest house in Washington, D.C., for the holidays. That effort was chronicled in national publications, including Martha Stewart Living and Traditional Homes magazines.
Quick to spot an opportunity, Carloftis approached his friend Ann Evans, executive director of the Kentucky Governor's Mansion, earlier this year about the possibility of doing something similar at the Old Governor's Mansion in Frankfort, reputed to be the oldest executive mansion in the country. He suggested having it as a fund-raiser, and Evans was immediately on board.
Carloftis, a contributing writer at Garden and Gun magazine, then pitched his idea to the magazine and collaborated with James Farmer III, a Georgia-based landscape designer and interior decorator, and a contributing editor at Southern Living magazine.
The mansion's holiday finery will be featured in the 2012 holiday issues of Garden and Gun and Southern Living magazines.
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Farmer didn't know anything about the Old Governor's Mansion, but he knew a lot about Carloftis.
"I'm a huge fan of Jon's," Farmer says.
Thus, began the Jon and James partnership — two kindred spirits when it comes to design philosophy.
"I've always been very natural in my approach to decorating, preferring to use things found in the woods and the garden rather than anything elaborate and over-the-top," Carloftis says.
"My style is classic back-to-nature," he says. "I don't like to mess with artificial things, instead opting for recognizable flora and fauna."
That means that in the two rooms Farmer will be decorating — the formal living room and casual dining room — visitors can expect lots of pine cones, dried orange slices, pomegranates, feathers and a myriad of greenery and berries.
Farmer will arrive in Frankfort early next week to begin decorating in time for a Thursday reception, which will be followed by a public display of his handiwork through Dec. 11.
Carloftis, who will be responsible for the front entrance, porch, entry hall, formal dining room and kitchen, got started this week. He prefers to work around what is already there.
"For example, the porch has a blue ceiling and floor, so I continued the blue theme by bringing in five living blue Atlas cedar trees, decorating them with pine cones and placing them on five different levels," says Carloftis.
He recruited local artist Ron Meece, whom Lexingtonians might remember for his shell-covered horse at the Alltech Experience during last year's World Equestrian Games, to make a series of shell ornaments for the trees and a shell-covered Santa.
Carloftis says the kitchen décor will appeal to foodies with its theme, "What every Southern cook should have for the holidays," featuring nutcrackers from Louisville stoneware, Kentucky Proud products Newsom hams and Weisenberger Mill grits, and a bar stocked with libations Southerners love most, from bourbon to sazeracs.
Carloftis says a design crowd-pleaser will be the formal dining room, where he has put five huge living Christmas trees in white glazed urns and a miniature fox-hunting scene as a table decoration.
"Along the length of the table will be a 21-piece hand-crafted wooden set depicting a fox hunt, complete with miniature box hedges, riders, dogs and foxes," he says. "It will be sprinkled with snow to make it feel like Christmas. It's a very Kentucky-centric centerpiece. It is a celebration of all things Kentucky and Southern."
So, can we expect a repeat of the Jon and James show?
"Definitely," Carloftis says.
"Absolutely," Farmer says. "I'm now calling the Old Governor's Mansion my new Kentucky home."