Fayette County

Acclaimed house damaged by vandals will see new life after restoration

Restoration is nearly complete on an architecturally acclaimed Lexington house that was vandalized two years ago.

The Chilesburg Road house, known as the Miller house, has been designated a historic house museum, similar to the Hunt-Morgan House. It now can be rented for events like parties and business seminars.

"We really want this not to be a dead museum, but an active place, an inspiration for the community," said Chesney Turner, reconstruction manager.

The Miller house and 20.6 surrounding acres were sold to developers in 2006. As the economy began to slow, the high-end residential development that was to surround the house stalled.

While the house sat empty, vandals broke 90 percent of the double-pane windows; pulled cabinets off the wall and spray-painted graffiti inside and out. Rain seeped in and warped the hardwood floors.

The Foundation for Advanced Architecture, spearheaded by local architect Scott Guyon, bought the house and about 2 acres in 2008 from the Chilesworth Development Co. for $1 million.

Most of the next year was spent repairing the damage, estimated at nearly $200,000.

"It's a handmade house, intricately constructed," Turner said. "That's the approach we took in restoring it."

The house was measured and drawn to scale by Guyon's architectural firm. The damage was meticulously documented. Work was done by University of Kentucky College of Design students and graduates, plus subcontractors with special skills like installing the windows and servicing mechanical equipment and the elevator.

Earlier this week on a walk-through with Guyon and Turner, the interior was lit up as sun poured through the windows. Some of the rooms have furniture and rugs, making the interior look less austere.

Floors will be sanded and refinished in the next two weeks. Four panels of white oak plywood sprayed with graffiti remain in the living room.

Guyon said there had been discussions about leaving the panels as part of the history of the house. In the end, it was decided to have workers turn them around. Work began on that on Wednesday.

Clyde Carpenter, UK professor of architecture and member of the advisory board of the Foundation for Advanced Architecture, has toured the mostly restored house and said, "It looks great."

Carpenter termed the damage inflicted by the vandals as "serious cosmetic damage. But it was not something that couldn't be repaired."

"The wonderful thing is the house is going to be preserved," Carpenter said. "The public can take part in and enjoy the Miller house, which is a remarkable piece of architecture."

The vandals were never apprehended. Joe Mainous, an attorney for the foundation, said they were "most likely kids from the neighborhood."

The house was built in the early 1990s for Lexington lawyer Robert S. Miller, and his wife Penny, a political science professor at the University of Kentucky.

Jose Oubrerie was the architect while serving as dean of the UK College of Architecture (now the College of Design). Oubrerie began his career as an assistant to legendary French architect Le Corbusier, described by Time magazine in 2000 as "the most important architect of the 20th century."

"This is the only house of Corbusier's legacy found in the United States that is of this degree of completeness," Turner said.

It is far from traditional. Built of steel and concrete, outside and in, it has hard surfaces and sharp lines. It's not a house most people appreciate, Guyon conceded. But he called it "an outstanding example of modernist architecture."

"You rarely see an instance where an artist is supported in his vision down to every detail like you have in this house," Guyon said.

It was made possible through the financial and moral support of Robert Miller. "He was the spirit behind getting this house built," Guyon said.

After Miller died in 2002, his widow began spending more time out of town. "The house was looked after but was no longer used on a daily basis by the family," Guyon said.

On Jan. 11, 2006, Penny Miller sold the house and 20.6 acres to Chilesworth Development for $3.25 million. A month earlier, the development company had bought an adjoining 11.4 acres from Lynwood Wiseman, paying $2.1 million.

The land was platted into 43 building lots.

The Foundation for Advanced Architecture is working to acquire those lots to develop a prototype community of sustainable, architecturally designed luxury homes called Moderna Community.

If successful, Guyon said, the proceeds from the land sales will go to retire the debt on the Miller house and create an endowment for its upkeep.

The prime development land adjoining the house lies on the edge of Andover Hill, off Chilesburg Road. "The Chilesworth Development Co. has been very supportive of what we want to do," Mainous said.

Guyon marveled at the set of circumstances that allowed the house to be bought and controlled by the foundation. "If it were not for vandals, the house would not have been brought to the point where it needed an innovative solution," he said. "There has been one creative response after another to events," he added. "It's been making lemonade out of lemons."

The Miller house can be rented all day on a weekend for $2,500, or half day for $1,500. Other times and prices are negotiable. For more information, call Chesney Turner at (859) 312-1547 or e-mail chesneymooreturner@yahoo.com.