A two-year collaboration between Greg and Becky Goodman, owners of Mount Brilliant Farm, and internationally known interior decorator Mona Hajj has resulted in Hajj's new coffee table book, Interior Visions (Random House, $50), featuring the farm.
Texan Greg Goodman and his wife, Becky, bought Mount Brilliant Farm in 1995 and discovered that they would be caretakers of a significant slice of Bluegrass history. That history dates back to 1774, when Kentucky was part of Virginia and 2,000 acres of land on what is now Russell Cave Road was given as a land grant to William Russell for his family's service in the French and Indian War.
Over many years and many owners, the farm has played a starring role in Kentucky history. Russell Cave, which is on the property, is rumored to have been a hiding place for slaves making their way north on the Underground Railroad.
It was no rumor that in 1843, the cave, often used for secret political rallies, was the site — during one rally — of a duel between Cassius Marcellus Clay and Samuel Brown. Clay, who narrowly escaped Brown's bullet when it ricocheted off his Bowie knife, retaliated by cutting off Brown's ear and gouging out one of his eyes.
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Despite the grisly nature of the act, he was acquitted after his cousin Henry Clay mounted a masterful defense, arguing that Cassius was simply acting in a manner befitting a Kentuckian.
Things are considerably more peaceful these days at Mount Brilliant, where Goodman keeps a stable of 25 broodmares and their offspring, and where Nehro, the second-place finisher in this year's Kentucky Derby, was bred.
Although he has owned homes in Houston, Nashville and Nassau, he admits to a special fondness for his farm, which includes adjoining 400-acre Faraway Farm, where Man O' War lived his entire life.
"I love the location, the roll of the land and the quality of soil here on Elkhorn Creek, which is as good as that found anywhere in Kentucky," he says.
The Goodmans also love their elegant home, which under previous owners was the carriage house, complete with stables, loft and a ton of character. Despite its charm, however, the couple originally had no intention of living in it, and that decision was reinforced after a 2006 fire destroyed much of the building.
"We just planned to rebuild it to live in while we were constructing our permanent house," Goodman says. "Initially, because of its position overlooking the lake, we planned to use this as a guest house."
But best-laid plans often go awry, and sometime during the process, the Goodmans abandoned the idea of building a new house to focus on making the carriage house livable.
Enter Hajj, the interior decorator. After seeing the work of the Baltimore and New York-based decorator in Architectural Digest, and being impressed with her style ("very clean and spare, with a touch of Moorish influence" is how Goodman describes it), they approached her about decorating their future home.
It turned out to be a two-year project, with the savvy Goodmans and the Beirut-born, globe-trotting Hajj making excellent collaborators.
"About 75 percent of what Mona used were pieces we already had that she re-purposed to go with this particular design concept," Goodman says.
The pieces included a carved walnut desk that is a showcase for the Goodmans' collection of Asian ceramics, a long banquet table that can easily seat 18, and Greg's eclectic art collection, which features canvases by Milton Avery, Julian Schnabel and Andre Pater.
They trusted Hajj, who has decorated the homes of royalty, celebrities and ambassadors on three continents, to bring her own special touch to the house. She did that by layering fabrics and patterns, combining classical elements with contemporary style, mixing the influence of many cultures and basically following her conviction that there are no rules except those of good taste.
Although the Goodmans already had the bed that dominates the master bedroom, Hajj found the 17th-century Flemish tapestry that hangs behind it in Paris, and the 18th-century antique walnut chest at the foot of the bed in Italy. The bedroom's 19th-century Murano chandelier also comes from Italy.
Then there were the chairs inlaid with mother-of-pearl from Syria, a Chinese daybed, a paint-stripped and patinaed French mirror for the sitting room, and Hajj's trademark — custom-made linens from a combination of textiles found in Istanbul, and a 19th-century antique hand-embroidered Suzanni bed cover.
"The original carriage house was so rustic that mixing it with European antiques and delicate fabrics made it all the more interesting," Hajj says.
The Goodmans say they love Hajj's interpretation of their carriage house-cum-residence, but they found that the unpredictability of the Kentucky weather made one major change necessary.
"We enclosed the previously open-air space connecting the two wings with a glass roof so that we can use it in every season," Goodman says.
The house, with a pool house and casitas decorated by Lexington-based interior decorator Matt Carter and gardens landscaped by garden designer Jon Carloftis, make for one spectacular Kentucky home.