Chip Crawford stands by the Faulkner House that his company, Crawford Builders, restored with the help of Architect Katie Cassidy Sutherland for Jay Farmer and his family.Photo by Emily Mosley
The former home of iconic Lexington artist Henry Faulkner was a grand old house that had seen better days. It has recently been transformed into a restored and updated hybrid of old and new, ready to face its next century.
Faulkner lived in the house from the late ’60s until he died in 1981. He was a prolific painter who left a rich legacy of work. His artwork was and still is widely collected, and he remains a beloved part of the fabric of Kentucky’s rich artistic history.
Faulkner was also famously eccentric. Neighbors going back decades have stories of the unusual but wildly talented artist who was a bit of a legend in Lexington, known for the animal menagerie he kept and his flamboyant coterie of friends and fellow bohemians, ranging from famous poets, artists and musicians to locals who were loyal and lifelong friends.
After the artist’s death, the home was bought at auction by Patty McCormack, a neighbor, friend and the aunt of the current owner, Jay Farmer. During his life, Faulkner had made the house into three apartments, adding walls and doors for the new spaces.
Farmer feels fortunate to have inherited the home from his aunt, as he had a close connection to the house and to Faulkner. Growing up, he spent a great deal of time at both his grandparents’ and his aunt’s homes on Third Street. Faulkner was a close family friend and remains a memorable figure for Farmer, who remembers him joining the family to watch TV, share a meal and occasionally take a shower, when Faulkner’s water was shut off for lack of payment.
“We all knew that was Henry,” Farmer said. “He and my grandfather were great friends even though they were complete opposites. They had eastern Kentucky upbringings and a love for natural foods, what would now be called organic food, in common and always found things to talk about. Henry was an extremely caring and compassionate person.”
Farmer remembers once as a young boy finding a painting the artist had thrown in the garbage. He retrieved it and took it home. Faulkner saw it on the mantle and asked that it be returned to him. Soon he brought it back to Farmer, completed, framed and signed.
The Farmer family includes Jay and his wife, Kaoru, along with their twin boys. They currently live in Japan but plan to move back to the United States to live in the house full-time.
To do that, Farmer credits technology for assisting him to assemble a team to renovate the house. The architect was in New Hampshire and the contractor was located in Lexington. Despite the distance, they were able to meet online every Friday and discuss details.
“Thanks to technology, I feel I was able to be involved in everything, even from so far away,” explained Farmer, adding that he and the architect were also able to visit Kentucky to see the project a few times during the renovation.
The architect, Katie Cassidy Sutherland, grew up in Lexington across the street from the Faulkner house and is a family friend of Farmer’s.
“I have always loved the house and its history and was very glad to have the opportunity to be involved with the renovation,” Sutherland said. Sutherland remembered being intrigued by her unusual neighbor, Faulkner, when she was a child.
“He often had his many animals dressed up out on the front porch,” she recalled.
She wanted to let “the house be what it wanted to be” when working on the design for the renovation.
“We basically had to undo a lot of things that had been done to the house over time,” she said.
Separations that were created for the apartments had to be removed to create the flow that made more sense for a single-family home. Other improvements include a new eat-in kitchen with a pantry created from the small studio apartment on the back of the home and a master bedroom suite with an office, created from a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor. A deteriorating back porch was recreated into a sunroom looking out onto the backyard.
After the design was complete, it was contractor Chip Crawford’s turn to go to work. Crawford, also a resident of the neighborhood, had a good deal of knowledge of the house.
“This was a great project. We really brought the house back from the brink,” Crawford said. “We did a lot of different kinds of work, part restoration and part renovation. Some parts of the house we were trying to return to their former glory, with custom moldings, plaster work and interior details. Other parts we were modernizing and improving. For instance, the new upgraded mechanical systems in the house are very energy efficient. We added square footage but cut the energy needs by 60 percent while maintaining the integrity of the home.”
Crawford’s crew also added a completely new roof system and had to excavate the dirt-floor cellar and create a new basement, including pouring a new floor. In addition, a masonry crew rebuilt the four chimneys of the house.
“It’s a real blend of art and architecture,” Crawford said.
That’s a combination Farmer likes.
“Seeing the work nearing the end has been extremely satisfying, and we are happy we were able to restore this beautiful old house with such a rich history to its
original glory, and glad to be able to add to the collective glory of the Northside neighborhood.”
Note: Due to a reporting error, the version of this article in the June 2013 print edition identifies architect Katie Cassidy Sutherland by the wrong last name. We regret the error.