The Color Purple

Contributing Writer

The house in the Highlands appealed to the young couple immediately. A Louisville native, she had always wanted to live in the neighborhood.

Except they didn’t care for the color of the house. They weren’t sure how their modern tastes, reflected in their choices of furniture and accessories, would fit into the 100-year-old Richardson Romanesque envelope.

And, most of all, they were expecting their first child. And they needed a nursery. They’d seen a nursery by Louisville designer Jason Jennings at a Bellmarine Show House event. So his phone rang.

But it turns out he was needed for more than just the nursery.

“They wanted me to improve the flow of the house, make it simpler,” Jennings said, “to make their modern tastes fit in an old house.”

The furniture and side pieces were all in place. In fact, they worked rather well. Modern geometric shapes have a way of fitting right into the angles and planes of old homes.

But one of Jennings’ main strengths is color. And so he went to work, starting with the exterior. It had been a dark, deep kelly green. Now it’s a warm and inviting pale yellow.

“It was a scary thing for me,” Jennings said, “a step beyond what I usually do.” As with everything else in Louisville’s older residential neighborhoods, it also had to pass muster with the Landmarks Commission. It passed.

Turning inside, Jennings drew inspiration from the home’s colorful, leaded stained glass front windows and incorporated those colors throughout the house.

“You can achieve color change in ways beyond just repainting the walls,” the designer said. “You can achieve it through adding rugs and curtains, lamps and artwork and, especially, flowers.”

So there are fresh arrangements throughout the house – this time of year, a plethora of colorful tulips on ledges and tabletops.

One color required no guesswork. The little girl, now around eight, has a passion for purple. (There’s even a little globe she received as a recent birthday present with the oceans and seas colored purple instead of blue. It sits prominently on the coffee table in the front room.)

Wherever appropriate, Jennings added royalty to the color palette: sometimes trims and touches, sometimes whole walls.

On the first floor – a procession of big rooms, large doorways, high ceilings and tile fireplaces -  Jennings placed urns with topiaries and decorative spheres, mirrors and curtains to warm it all up.

In the large front foyer, just inside an elegant double leaded-glass front door, Jennings leaned an eight-foot mirror against the wall and placed an arrangement of colorful tulips and white stock.

He also laid down a round, mosaic-patterned area rug from Carpet Specialists, and continued that pattern up the stairs to the second floor.

Just past the living room is the dining room. Jennings hung sheer silk curtains of a red and gold dot pattern from Work the Metal to let the light in but keep the view out. “With these big, tall windows and houses so close together in this neighborhood, privacy can be a problem,” he said.

Jennings also added two antique-looking iron candle sconces from Colonial Design on the wall, and on the table a colorful floral arrangement of purple tulips and white calla lilies.

There’s a bar cart against the wall (“very popular right now,” the designer said) and a collectable Jim Beam bottle from the 1974 Kentucky Derby that commemorates the 100th running.

The big kitchen at the rear had been modernized (“A real plus in the Highlands,” Jennings said). It’s an airy space with a high pressed tin ceiling, and Jennings painted the room a light slate blue.

He also painted the downstairs bathroom a bright chartreuse green. “It’s a happy bathroom,” he said.

And in the rear den, Jennings laid down two Dash & Albert area rugs from Dover House Mercantile on Frankfort Avenue: one striped, the other a diamond pattern. Because a corner of the den is reserved for the daughter’s play area, the rugs needed to be durable and cleanable.

Upstairs is the room where it all began as an infant’s nursery, now a little girl’s bedroom. The crib is now a fun bunk bed, and the wall is stripes of light and deep purple courtesty of Louisville artist Bonita Cantrell.

The two big stuffed penguins standing in the corner are joined by a whole shelf of plush penguins in the corner.

Photos of the girl by Dede Holman occupy much of the available wall space.