The Collectors

Kelley Carson apologized for having removed all the Christmas decorations in the house. It was only Dec. 26 but, she explained, she and husband Ernest Sampson were heading out of town.

Considering that the 8,000-square-foot Glenview home was filled with garlands, wreaths and eight Christmas trees, it must have been an intense evening of activity.

TVT_1540But one gets the sense that being intensely busy is how Sampson likes it. Her husband calls her a “serial entrepreneur,” and just discussing all her ventures wears out most listeners.

She relocated to Louisville from Aspen, Colorado, in 2009 after meeting Sampson through mutual friends. He runs a series of successful investment companies, including Kentucky Financial Group. She has been, a nurse anesthetist, home builder, real estate developer, Cordon Bleu-trained caterer, truck driver, skier, founder of a clinical trial medical research company, founder of a ski wear company, developer of a day care center. Worn out yet?

When she moved into this Louisville home, she took on another role: redesigning it to evoke some of the same virtues of her Colorado home – melding the inside and outside, such a big part of the Aspen lifestyle, where the outside includes soaring mountains, thick stands of trees and impossibly blue skies.

But her new Louisville house was not letting the outside in. “The house had wallpaper everywhere,” Carson said, “and it was loud and busy, blue and pink and full of peacocks.  It made the house feel dark and closed in. So we repainted most of it a soft white linen and took down all the drapes.”

Carson also tried to introduce reflective materials – like shiny metals, glass and mirrored surfaces – to reflect the natural light now pouring into the house from the uncovered windows. The Colonial red brick house sits on a narrow acre of land that extends far into the back, offering unbroken outside views and plenty of privacy.

Among the reflective pieces is a mirrored table that sits front and center in the entry foyer, a piece Sampson bought by himself when Carson was away. She liked it enough to keep it in its place of prominence. And if she hadn’t liked it?

“I would have liked it because he bought it,” she answers.

The table sits on a red and white Russian silk Oriental rug, which influenced the red berry-colored walls in the foyer, giving the entry a bright and welcoming feel.

The furniture is a yours-mine-ours collection of pieces Sampson had, pieces Carson brought from Colorado and pieces they acquired together. A common theme is soft patterned fabrics with heavy, dark wood trim, some of which reflects the woodsy, ski lodge feel of Aspen.

Much of the furniture they acquired locally is from Ryser’s, which Carson describes as an incredibly high-end Eastern Kentucky furniture store “a diamond in the rough, in the middle of nowhere.” Actually, it’s in the middle of East Bernstadt, Ky., in the coal country of Laurel County.

How do you get there? “You go to London, Kentucky,” says Sampson, “turn left and then go a little further.”

The library is a study in wood, from the heavy built-in floor-to-ceiling cabinets along one wall to the beamed ceilings to the dark wood floors. Dotting the wall shelves are antique mallard duck decoys from Sampson’s large collection.

“A client gave one to me years ago and I’ve never stopped adding to it,” he says, admitting “it’s kind of a compulsion of mine.”

But on the subject of compulsive collecting, they both admit he runs a far second to his wife. Or, as he says, “don’t take Kelley to an auction, she’s likely to buy anything!”

“When I start bidding, I have to win,” she says, admitting she once bought an East Tennessee farm at an auction. “I love land, I could just buy it all day long.” Thus the couple’s art collection, which includes a Chagall and a Miro hanging in the kitchen, a Salvadore Dali in the basement, and a Picasso.

She also loves sculpture. There’s David Stuempfle pottery in the library and an Estella Loretto sculpture of a Native American woman, a smaller version of the same piece that sits in front of the statehouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico. And there are glass pieces in the kitchen, including a colorful glass chandelier, made by students of Dale Chihouly.

However, Carson says her favorite piece of art in the house is a colorful abstract oil above the fireplace in the living room painted by none other than Sampson himself. The bright canvas of yellow, red and blue orbs, which Sampson painted on a whim, is very interpretive, says his wife. “Some see pool balls, some see eyeballs,” she says. “I call it ‘the eyes of the world.’ ”

The large basement is Ernest’s playroom, with a pool table and three actual working Las Vegas slot machines that jing-jing-jing when he turns them on. It also houses his burgeoning wine collection in a temperature-controlled cellar that Carson also uses to store her furs.

“Why not?” she wonders, with assured practicality. “The cool air is great for preserving furs. They love it.” VT

Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS