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Lexington mid-century modern home featured as part of Moveable Feast fundraiser

Sleek, unadorned styling is a signature of mid-century modern style.
Sleek, unadorned styling is a signature of mid-century modern style. Herald-Leader

In 1963, when a new house in Lexington was typically a one-story brick with double-hung windows and shutters, a distinctly different design was being built on Standish Way.

It was long and low, constructed of native limestone with simple lines, and large expanses of glass that created a sense of bringing the outdoors to the inside.

The architectural style was called mid-century modern, a design movement that took off after World War II and lasted into the 1970s.

The house at 1290 Standish Way belies its age, and feels much too contemporary to be more than 50 years old.

"It's timeless in its design," said owner Tony Huston. "It's so simple, so elegant."

Huston and his partner, the late children's author and artist Paul Brett Johnson, bought the house in 2005. It is one of three architecturally significant houses featured on Sunday Salons in September presented by Moveable Feast Lexington. Each event will include food, art and music.

At Huston's on Sept. 20, University of Kentucky Architecture Professor Clyde Reynolds Carpenter will lecture on the mid-century modern style. The event is sold out.

San Francisco architects Campbell & Wong designed the house for a doctor who moved to Lexington to be on staff at the then recently opened University of Kentucky medical center. It was built by Richard Isenhour of Lexington.

Huston, a retired physical therapist, described moving to the sleekly modern 2,964-square-foot house in the suburbs "as an amazing departure" for him and Johnson. The couple previously lived in Fayette Park, an historic neighborhood between Fifth and Sixth streets.

"We loved Fayette Park. We loved downtown. But Paul's studio was in the attic on the fourth floor. There were a lot of stairs, and we were looking toward retirement," Huston said. "And it was incredibly expensive to maintain."

With a "yard sale to end all yard sales," the men emptied the Fayette Park house of four floors of antiques, Huston said.

Furnishings they chose for the new house were contemporary; the look was minimalist. Long uninterrupted walls provide a perfect place for large, colorful paintings by Johnson, who died in 2011.

Every room has floor-to-ceiling windows that look out on gardens designed and maintained by Huston, a Fayette County Master Gardener.

His favorite place to sit is in the living room with its 20-foot vaulted ceiling, where in winter "I can watch it snow from three different directions."

Mid-century modern residential architecture began in America after World War II.

"The postwar era was a time of new beginnings, with young families demanding new houses," Raymond Isenhour says in his book about his father, The Houses of Richard B. Isenhour: Mid-century Modern in Kentucky.

Architects and builders wanted to create a new look for the modern age.

"Spaces flowed together. Often interior spaces had multiple uses like living, dining and kitchen areas," Carpenter said.

Architect Mies van der Rohe, regarded as one of the pioneers of modern architecture, coined the phrase "Less is more." That originally referred to minimal ornamentation, Carpenter said, but it came to mean that with fewer walls, interior space feels roomier, as in Huston's house.

Carpenter and Greg Luhan, associate dean for research in the UK College of Design, are working on a book on modern houses in Kentucky.

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