The American city is experiencing a bit of a renaissance as millennials and baby boomers buck the decades-long trend of settling in the suburbs.
As downtowns are rediscovered, some are drawn to the unique appeal of older urban properties for their character, sense of history and one-of-a-kind details.
Adam and Sarah Smith came to Lexington from St. Louis where they lived in an urban setting in a historic area. It’s a lifestyle choice that makes sense for their young family.
Sarah was familiar with Lexington from her days as a Transylvania University student.
“I’d always loved these old houses, and thought someday maybe,” Sarah said. “So it was kind of a dream come true to move into one.”
“When I look at this house, it’s like living in a work of art,” Sarah said. “Just to be surrounded by something so beautiful every day, it’s wonderful. The bannister is probably my favorite thing in the house. You look at it and you can sense all of the hands that have touched it over the years.”
Hands have been taking hold of the bannister in the home at 625 East Main Street in the historic Bell Court Neighborhood District for nearly a hundred years.
The five bedroom, three-and-a-half bath home was built in 1920 by Samuel Bastin, owner of the Elkhorn Coal Company.
The Colonial Revival architectural style of the home is known to elicit waves of nostalgia. Pocket doors, unique moldings, wood floors and other original features remain.
“It’s classic Americana – what a house was meant to be,” Adam said. “Growing up you watch movies like “Home Alone” or “Father of the Bride” and you can spot the same entryway, the same beautiful trim, and on and on.”
BACK FROM THE BRINK
Living in a walkable neighborhood -- within comfortable walking distance of everyday needs like shops, food and parks — was important for Adam and Sarah and their three children — Patrick, 9, Nicholas, 5 and Alexander, 3.
McGee’s Bakery, fast food and sit-down food are all within walking distance, and the Farmer’s Market and the revitalized National Avenue area are nearby.
The Smiths go to church at Good Shepherd Episcopal right around the corner, and the school age children attend Good Shepherd Day School and Ashland Elementary which are also nearby.
“Bell Court is a great neighborhood,” Sarah said. “It’s full of a lot of young families.”
When it’s time for a downtown parade, the Smiths are in the catbird seat. Not only do they have a prime view of the festivities, they have a back gate on their property that opens up to Sayre Avenue, giving them an alternate way to get out and about.
The Smith’s feel indebted to the previous home owners, Jim and Paula Lawson, who recognized the potential of the home and began a painstaking top-to-bottom restoration process.
“My understanding was the house was condemned when they bought it back in the 90s,” Sarah said. “And they saved it from being destroyed.”
“They did a great job of preserving the character of the house and that’s one of the reasons we loved it. They kept a lot of the original fixtures true to the style of the house, and we’ve tried to do that as well.”
In addition, the Lawsons were both engineers and used their know-how to upgrade and update the electrical and HVAC systems.
“It’s a very cozy house,” Sarah said. “In winter time a lot of old houses are drafty, but not this one.”
“You don’t really see the open concept that everybody loves so much in old houses,” Sarah said. “But I think they did a really good job of opening it up so it has a similar sort of feel, even though it has a traditional floor plan.”
YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW
Through nearly a hundred years, the Smiths are only the fourth homeowners. After the original Bastin family passed on, the home became a Business College for a time and later fell into disrepair. Then came the Lawson’s in the 90s with their loving restorative touch.
Which is not to say that the Smiths haven’t put their own mark on the 5800 square foot home. In addition to redecorating nearly every room, they have tackled some structural changes.
The master bedroom suite was completely remodeled by Atchison Hellar Construction with a modernized bathroom layout and a generous walk-in closet. And the laundry room was creatively relocated, taking advantage of some underutilized space.
Recently the shingle roof was replaced and upgraded to reproduction slate with copper fittings on the dormers.
The kitchen features double ovens, new quartz countertops and double stainless steel sinks, as well as a charming pantry and bourbon bar nook.
So what’s next for the Smith family?
“Our plan was that we were going to live here forever until we moved to the nursing home or the graveyard,” Sarah said. “But sometimes life changes your plan.”
The couple are both physicians who met while in medical school in Memphis and that’s the city where they’re moving.
Sarah is accepting a position on the faculty at the University of Memphis, and Adam will be practicing at the Baptist Health System.
And their new home?
“It’s a cottage-y house, built in 1923,” Adam says. “If we have a choice, we prefer to have an older house.”
This week’s feature home is listed with Karen Hollis of Turf Town Properties in Lexington.