By Donna Andrews Russell
April 2007

Frock-coated Dixie gentlemen sipping mint juleps would seem perfectly at home on the double-decker veranda that welcomes visitors to Whiskey Run, the Prospect horse farm of Richard Sauer and Leila Davis. Situated on 20 acres high above the Ohio River, the house oozes Southern charm, from its white-painted brick to its many Tuscan columns.

It was precisely that sense of Southern grace that Sauer and Davis wanted to capture when they broke ground for their new home three years ago. “We looked for an old house that didn’t need a lot of repair and found several in the Highlands, but they didn’t have any acreage and we wanted to have horses,” recalls Davis.

After acquiring the land, she purchased the book Creating a New Old House by Russell Versaci (Taunton Press, 2005); gathered photos of National Register properties she had admired on a trip to Charleston, S.C.; and enlisted the help of a local draftsman to design a gentleman’s farmhouse. “A country estate — nothing too fancy, but something that would look like it’s always been there,” Davis says.

The porch floors are salvaged brick from Churchill Downs; an extra-tall doorway in the foyer.

Some of the details that imbue the home with an authentic feel include historically correct (and energy efficient) Marvin simulated divided-lite windows; eight-inch baseboards with decorative caps and rounded shoe molding at the bottom; flat ceilings accented with deep but simple crown mold; eight-foot-tall solid interior doors with pediments above; five-inch oak plank flooring; porch floors made with brick salvaged from the old paddock at Churchill Downs; and decorative balustrades on the second-floor porch and breezeway to the garage. Mike Blacketer of the Blacketer Co., which built the home, notes that the balustrade was fabricated to resemble wood by a company based in Campbellsville, Ky.“It has the rich, beautiful look of wood, but will never rot and never needs painting,” he says.

In keeping with the couple’s Louisville roots and country-estate theme, the decor is heavy on horse racing and hunting. Black cast-iron hitching posts flank the brick steps leading up to the porch, while a colorfully painted jockey umbrella stand is positioned just inside the front door.

In the walnut-paneled library, an original hunting-dog painting by Tim Hutt hangs over the fireplace. The couple purchased the painting because the subject bears a striking resemblance to Whiskey, one of two dogs the couple currently owns and namesake of their farm, Davissays. “Whiskey climbs fences and has the run of the place, so that’s how we came up with the name Whiskey Run.”  

Sitting astride a hand-carved hunt table in the library is a cast-iron flying horse — a flea market find from Atlanta. Above an Italian hand-rubbed sideboard are a pair of Fore’s National Sports racing lithographs. Antique books, including a vintage 1930 Louisvilletelephone directory, are held in place by horse-head bookends. Accent pillows on both couches feature hand-screened jockey prints sewn over leather. Pheasant feathers surround the hurricane candles on either end of the hunt table and a hammered tin lamp between two barrel-backed leather gentleman’s chairs was hand-painted with a fox’s face by an Atlantaartist.

Horse racing is also the theme in one of the two upstairs guestrooms. Davisused an American Silk horse print on both the pillow shams and wicker bench cushion at the end of the leather bed. A monogrammed accent pillow bears the farm’s name. Horse oil paintings and lithographs decorate the walls in the bedroom and hall leading to the room’s private bath. But the pièce de résistance is undoubtedly the large cupboard featuring hand-painted jockeys on the doors, bridal hardware on the bottom and Churchill Downs’ twin spires on top, crafted by Brown County, Indiana, artisan Sarah Sandburg.

In the rest of the home, Davis, one of three co-owners of Tassels and Tassels Too, describes the decor as “vintage casual with a formal touch” — a look she feels is epitomized by the dining room chandelier, which combines weathered brown iron and elegant crystal teardrops. Other good examples of this casual/formal juxtaposition: the rubbed-through finish on the carved dining room mantel and the linen panel drapes trimmed with Egyptian tassels and hung from wooden rings on the dining room window.

Lending country warmth to the dining room are upholstered chairs in a bold red-and-white gingham print by Kravet, a round walnut table and a nine-foot-tall 18th-century British reproduction serving cupboard, which provides storage for linens, serving pieces and china, as well as a spot for displaying a whimsical pig.

“Vintage casual with a formal touch” (clockwise from left): the hearth room with its wheat sconces and Soumak rug; a pair of horse racing lithographs and an Italian hand-rubbed sideboard in the library; and a chocolate-and-cream color scheme in one of the guest rooms.

The butler’s pantry, leading from the dining room to the kitchen, is equipped with both a dishwasher and an icemaker and papered in a classic Stroheim & Romann block print. Black granite countertops provide a nice contrast to the glazed white cabinetry. A cornice and valance above the window add color, but preserve the view. “I want to be able to see outside,” Davissays. “The view is so beautiful, especially in the spring.”

Dominating the kitchen is a huge island where “everyone hangs out,” Davissays. “I wanted it this size so there would be space for people to sit and we could still work at it.” The island is so big, in fact, that Daviswas unable to purchase a slab of Santa Cecelia granite in Louisvillelarge enough for the top. “I ended up buying the granite in Boca Ratonand having it shipped here,” she says.

A Derby-ready kitchen island with Curry & Co. chandelier. A leather pillow with sewn-on jockey print in the library.

For Derby, the island is decorated with a huge centerpiece featuring silk roses, mint, a horse head and bottles of whiskey — another tribute to the farm’s name. “I have to stop my guests from drinking my centerpiece,” she says with a laugh. Above the island is a wonderful wheat chandelier from Currey & Co., known for its understanding of historic design and unique hand-finishing process. Although Davisfeels the chandelier is a bit on the small side, she decided to break the rules. “It doesn’t come any bigger and I really love it,” she says. “I used the matching sconces over the fireplace in the hearth room.”

While most of the walls throughout the home are painted in soft neutrals — a decorating trick that draws attention to the furnishings and accessories — Davistook another tack in an upstairs bedroom and had it painted Porter Chocolate Candy. “I was concerned when I first saw it,” she recalls. “But after adding the cream furniture, bedding, window treatments and accessories, I’m very pleased with the way it came out.” Wide gingham trim on the curtains, square fretwork plates hung above the bed and plantation shutters give the room a country cottage feel. “I picked shutters because they have a fresh, clean look and provide privacy without sacrificing the view,” she explains.

This spring, the couple intends to purchase their first horses — the finishing touch to their gentleman’s farm. A new horse barn stands ready and waiting.  

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