Lexington couple looked to architect to bring their vision to life

The large kitchen island in Julie Nicholls' home gives her plenty of room when she's hosting her extended family or her recipe group. Birch twigs are embedded in the frosted glass of the cabinets.
The large kitchen island in Julie Nicholls' home gives her plenty of room when she's hosting her extended family or her recipe group. Birch twigs are embedded in the frosted glass of the cabinets. Lexington Herald-Leader

Deep in the Beaumont subdivision is a Japanese-inspired house filled with touches big and small that make it a home.

Pendant lights hang from the ceiling in the entry way to evoke the sky, a oblong gold fixture off the side represents the moon. Scrolls in the ironwork on the stairway reflect the family's love of music.

The enormous kitchen has a mammoth island perfect for multiple cooks. A trough sink makes cleanup easier when chopping or rolling dough and is used as an iced resting place for sushi during a party.

Julie Nicholls said that she'd seen a similar trough years ago on a design show and that she took her Kohler faucet to architect Graham Pohl and said, "Design the kitchen around this," well before the ads portraying such an exchange.

Folks may see the results next weekend. The Nicholls' house is one of eight on the Lexington Residential Architecture Tour from 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sept. 22. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Bluegrass Domestic Violence Program. The tour showcases the residential work of local architects. (Pohl's home also is on the tour.)

Nicholls said she and her husband, Mat, didn't start out using an architect. After months of trying to design their dream home themselves, they interviewed several.

Julie Nicholls joked that her 6-foot-4 husband had two main requests — a bathtub he could sit in and a refrigerator tall enough that he didn't have to bend down to look inside.

She said she knew Pohl was the right man for the job when he asked her about the poetry of design.

He said that is always part of his process. "It's always a good idea when you start a design to have poetic inspiration, because if you are strictly responding to functional and structural issues, then it sometimes can just become perfunctory," he said.

Nicholls found equal inspiration in her Japanese heritage and Kentucky materials, such as the exterior limestone and the walnut used for the kitchen cabinets, which was from ice-damaged trees.

Even though Pohl said the Nicholls' home had to meet the strict construction rules of the subdivision, the house still stands out from the neighbors'. From the torii gate on the porch, which Nicholls said represents the gateway to heaven in Japanese culture, to the small patio tucked off the kitchen, to a rooftop deck designed for Mat Nicholls' passion for stargazing, the house fits the family's aesthetic and daily needs.

There are many nods to the practical. The house uses geothermal heat, passive solar heat ( making the most of window placement and sunlight) and high-tech thermostats that Mat Nicholls, an orthopedic surgeon, likes to adjust from his phone. "It really comes in handy when we are on vacation," Julie Nicholls said.

The couple have two children, Kai, 14, and Aya, 7, and their house often is the gathering place for their large extended family. The storage closet off the open dining room now holds fold-out tables and chairs but also is an elevator well that can be put into service if the couple's parents ever need to move into the upstairs guest suite. There is a wood storage area tucked behind the fireplace with a trap door next to it for sliding wood down a chute for use in the basement. An iPod dock on the kitchen wall allows Julie Nicholls to stream music while she's cooking.

But the lyrical is there as well. The silver ceiling fans have a gleaming, twisted base. The chandelier in the dining room has a delicate, flowerlike feel. Birch twigs are embedded in the frosted glass of the kitchen cabinets. Traditional shoji screens have the modern twist of plexiglass replacing rice paper.

With open spaces soaring to the ceiling at the front and back of the house, the overall feel is airy, but the design still allows for a cozy feel.

For a 4,200-square-foot house, the bedrooms are on the small side. That was intentional, Nicholls said, to encourage use of the communal family spaces, such as the upstairs homework nook outside the children's rooms.

Every family member has a favorite spot, she said. Her daughter likes to grab books from the built-in shelf on the second floor landing and read to her stuffed animals in the sunny window seat at the front of the house. Her son favors the newly renovated Xbox room in the basement. Her husband enjoys his extraordinarily tall tub and the rooftop deck. She loves the kitchen.

She said she's glad to be a part of the tour because her house shows just how an architect can help bring a vision to life.

"It was such a gift," she said.

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