When Comfortable Isn’t Enough, It’s Time for a Home Makeover

By Nancy Miller

Photos by Jolea Brown

Until a few months ago, Don Kavanaugh would have said he didn’t identify with a particular style of home décor. When pressed, he might have called his style “comfortable.” Comfortable is fine except when it’s not a stand-in for tired and outdated.

Unfortunately, he was living in just such a stand-in. Very little had been updated in his Jeffersonville home for 28 years. Not ready for a total home make-over, he had his kitchen remodeled and was planning to find someone to do the same for the master bath. As serendipity stepped in, “comfortable” was about to make an about-face.

Kavanaugh, a retired executive from both Blue Cross/Blue Shield and Humana, served on the steering committee for Let’s Dance Louisville, a local celebrity dance competition that benefits Feed My Neighbor, the Cathedral of the Assumption’s program that serves lunch to homeless and low-income individuals. While helping plan the event, he met Barry Wooley and Jude Loew, of Barry Wooley Designs.

After Kavanaugh talked briefly to them about the possible renovation, Barry visited the house for a look-see. He wasn’t hesitant to express his feelings about what he saw. “Barry said, ‘Don, if I do something with your bathroom, I have to do something with your bedroom.’ Finally, I said, ‘Do whatever you want to the whole house,’” says Kavanaugh. “I felt relieved giving him free reign.”

The duo agreed they wanted the end result of the design to be a showhouse, but not look like a designer’s showroom. To achieve that, Wooley incorporated furniture, artwork, photographs and other accessories that have special meaning to Kavanaugh and reflect his personality. 

Many times his and Wooley’s tastes and personalities converged. “I designed it the way I would if it were my own home. Originally, I had bought the sofa for my home but realized it was perfect for Don,” says Wooley. He laughs and adds, “The sacrifices I make for clients I really like!”

When Kavanaugh travels around the world, he brings back mementos that remind him of his trips and fill his house with a travelogue that can be touched and cherished. Some of the pieces that have particular significance to him are crosses from Bethlehem and Jerusalem. Although they’re prominent in his décor, they are, more importantly, beautiful expressions of his faith.

“Recently, I was in Barcelona and found a huge painting of baseball pitcher Mike Piazza. I liked it but had some reservations about buying it so I sent a picture of it to Barry. He at first said there was nowhere in the house to put it but then relented and said we would find a spot. We found a great spot for it. Now it’s a highlight of the entertainment area,” says a grinning Kavanaugh.

During the three months of renovation, he moved into Loew and Wooley’s guest apartment. He had not returned to the house since he had given Wooley the green light to begin the transformation.

On the day of the big reveal, Barry and Jude were inside. “They opened the door and said, ‘Welcome home.’ I just stood staring into the living room. I was so stunned I couldn’t say anything. I’m sure the look on my face was that of pure shock. Jude said, ‘Oh, no, he doesn’t like it.’ To that, I responded, ‘No, I love it!’” says Kavanaugh. 

“Every room should have dashes of drama that you see one by one. I think of a room as I do a great novel. You absorb a chapter at a time. You can’t wait to turn the page because you know something is about to happen,” says Wooley.

A whisper of Art Deco was introduced in the kitchen through custom upholstered gray cut velvet chairs that are paired with an iron base-round table. Wooley also embellished the recent kitchen renovation with a cross-cut framed mirror, textured dimensional wallcovering on the ceiling, a new light fixture and French gold hardware.

“I don’t think in terms of strict do’s and don’ts, but I like to contrast and complement. Far from being polar opposites, they allow the artistic freedom to alternate between toning down and accelerating a visual statement,” he says as he walks from room to room in the house.

“Everything about this home is ideal for entertaining. The new screened porch that opens onto the patio lets me host parties and charity fundraisers in a natural, semi-outdoor setting about eight months a year,” says Kavanaugh.

Myriad design elements add flair to the stylishly informal lower level that doubles as a guest suite and entertaining venue. The full kitchen with chocolate-glazed maple cabinets is adjacent to the living area. A leather Chesterfield sofa with red and orange pillows, glass top pewter coffee table, velvet slipper chairs and hammered pewter light fixture point to Wooley’s attentiveness to tactile design.

“I hope this house says I’m willing to change. Barry has made me proud of where I live. I walk around exclaiming that I can’t believe it’s mine. One reason I love it so much is that there is a lot of Barry and Jude here. That means a great deal to me because we have become such good friends. The house brought us all together, for which I am very grateful,” says Kavanaugh. VT