1412 St. James Court – Chavis/Blakely Home


A true southern gal, Karan Chavis was born and grew up in North Carolina.  She began her college career at the University of North Carolina, where fellow student Michael Jordan would drop by her dorm room and eat from the stash of fresh fruit that she kept on her desk.  On the tour you’ll see a hefty collection of Jordan’s memorabilia.  She followed her childhood sweetheart to College Station, TX, where she finished college at Texas A&M, graduating in 1987.  Afterwards, she began working in human resources there.

 

Craig Blakely grew up in Chicago and is a huge Cubs fan.  Proudly displayed in their front parlor is a bat signed by all the team members after last year’s World Series win.  (Craig is proud to point out that he attended game seven!)  His academic resume is impressive, beginning with undergraduate work at the University of Illinois, Champaign, where he played hockey.  Next up:  a masters at Southern Illinois in Carbondale.  Then he attended Michigan State to study ecological psychology under a professor he admired.  Here he earned his doctorate and just happened to be there when Magic Johnson led the Spartans to victory in the 1979 NCAA championships.  (Clearly these two are charmed when it comes to college basketball!)  Craig moved to California to begin his career at the Stanford Research Institute.  Four years later, he was recruited to Texas A&M to work with the state as the Deputy Director of The Public Policy Research Institute.  Craig obtained yet another masters at the University of Texas in Public Health, which gave him the credentials necessary to move from department head to Research Dean to Academic Affairs Dean to Dean of the new Public Health School, which he helped start.

 

Karan wasn’t very keen on Craig at first, as she felt that her boss should have been promoted to fill the position for which Texas A&M had hired him.  Unaware that she harbored some resentment toward him, Craig was immediately impressed with Karan and wanted to get to know her.  Even though the relationship with her childhood sweetheart had ended, Karan wasn’t the least bit interested in getting involved with anyone, least of all Craig.  Besides, her life was full with her full-time day job and regular singing gigs at jazz clubs after hours.  In 1990, while working together on a labor complaint, they discovered their mutual love of the new Miata automobile (he’d special ordered one of the very first ones).  Ever polite and undeterred, Craig persisted.  He would drive her to her singing gigs.  He didn’t push or pressure her.  She felt he was “safe.”  One night while on stage in Austin, Karan looked out at Craig sitting in the audience and realized that their friendship had turned to something more.  Years later they married and blended their three children (Gwen, Dan and Steve) and added a fourth (Hunter).

 

The weekend of the Final Four Tournament in 2013, Craig was recruited to the University of Louisville.  With the opportunity to build a smaller school into something bigger, he accepted the offer to become the Dean of the School of Public Health and Information Services, and 1412 St. James Court became their new home.  With a turret, arched window and rough-cut stone foundation indicative of the Richardsonian Romanesque style, this 6,500 square-foot mansion was built by famed architect William Dodd for haberdasher and real estate mogul John P. Starks in 1898.  As a tribute to him, Karan designed what she calls a “1412 Starks crest” that is represented in various forms throughout the home’s rooms.

 

Still one of the most prominent residences in the city on its most famed street, Dodd’s impeccably designed mansion invites you onto a gracious portico-covered entry porch, through the massive beveled glass-cut door into an expansive foyer.  Step onto original inlaid wood floors, featuring a different pattern in every room.  The chandelier in the foyer was originally in the dining room, and tiger-eyed burled maple adorns the entryway.  In the living and dining rooms, silk damask dresses the windows. Landscape oil paintings, which Karan loves and calls “windows,” are featured in the living room and prominently in the home.  Note the beautiful original rose marble fireplace surround, one of two in the home.  Diane Sawyer filmed a Good Morning America hometown episode in this very room!

 

The parlor gets its octagonal shape as the lower level of the turret on the north side of the house.  Because the couple wants modern technology to be inconspicuous in their Victorian mansion, the television in this room is hidden behind an 1898 map of Louisville, which notes the location of the Southern Exposition and other period Louisville landmarks.  On the windows, the couple added beveled glass inserts to match the front door.  The drapes, which Karan added, are of a fabric pattern called Kentucky Lacquer – the fabric design is repeated in the anaglypta-papered ceiling. Here and throughout the home you’ll note unique switch plate covers.

 

The original trunk closet under the stairwell was divided to make a half bath on the foyer side and a pantry on the other.  The floor of the bathroom had to be raised to the level of the first floor.  The couple painstakingly searched for and added to its walls Lincrusta, a British covering made by the same company that created the original linoleum.  Lincrustra was popular with the cleanliness-obsessed Victorians because it could be scrubbed spotless (whereas plaster could not).  The sconces in the bath are from a French chateau and the window coverings are silk georgette chiffon.  Classical works of Mozart and Vivaldi play continuously, lending an elegant touch.

 

The crotch-cut mahogany banquet-sized Maitland-Smith dining table is complemented by antique mahogany chairs from a New York furniture store, Flint and Horner Furniture (Est. 1840), whose name can be found on attached brass plates.  A carved mahogany armoire from J.V. Van Sciver anchors the room.  The chandelier in this room is one of two Karan and Craig found that had once hung in a late 1700s home in Georgetown.  They covered the walls with eighteen yards of lush silk.  Note the copper tub in the bay window, which originally served as a planter for the very popular fern.  Their table will be set with antique flatware, china and crystal in twelve different patterns.  Karan invites tour-goers to vote for their favorite.

 

A gourmet kitchen and keeping room complete the first floor.  The couple noted evidence of a fire in the keeping room as some of its rafters are charred.  They are no strangers to home fires, as their home in Texas tragically burned after they moved to Louisville.  Fortunately, they were able to restore some antique furniture pieces owned for generations, which now reside in this home.  Off the keeping room is a sweeping covered porch whose indirect lighting, ceiling fans and a view of the spacious back yard is a perfect place to relax and entertain.

 

Ascend the original grand burled maple staircase, still in immaculate condition.  The massive leaded glass window pattern is modeled after a pattern used in the windows of Chateau Goulaine and Chateau de Gudanes in France.  From the landing, look past the signed antique cut crystal lamp and shade to enjoy an outstanding view of the Conrad-Caldwell House Museum.  The second floor boasts more intricately inlaid floors.  The couple repurposed space in the rear of the house for a closet and bath for the master suite.

 

Karan began collecting antiques as a child.  To placate and keep her from complaining while antiques shopping, Karan’s mother would let her choose something during their frequent outings.  This home is the perfect showroom for the couple’s impressive collection of antiques and family heirlooms.  You’ll see a 1700s vestige priest’s armoire made in England by British monks, which Karan bought just out of college.  A drop-leaf table made from an old wooden bridge in Iowa traveled across the country in a covered wagon with Craig’s grandparents!  There are two antique bedroom suites which transferred with the sale of the house and which are believed to have been in the house since it was built and transferred from owner to owner.

 

So many of the homes in Old Louisville served as boarding houses at some point in their history, and this one is no exception.  However, this home survived its time as a multi-family dwelling virtually unscathed, unlike other houses in the area.  Its massive hipped roof with copper roof and gutters graces architecture that affords a view of St. James Court’s gaslights, beautifully landscaped green spaces and more Victorian treasures.  The home of Karan Chavis and Craig Blakely is a must-see during this year’s Holiday Home Tour!

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