My Old Kentucky Home
(ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER 2006)
DACE STUBBS NEVER COMPLAINS about the spotty cell phone reception at her 1,100-acre Bedford, Kentucky, farm (near the Indiana border). She'd rather her thoughts were interrupted by trilling songbirds or rustling wheat fields than a ringtone any day. "We love our solitude," says Dace, who shares the property's 200-year-old restored log home with her husband, King. "There's nothing like the rolling hills and the woods. There are incredibly gorgeous limestone gorges, wonderful trees, wildflowers and lots of green, green, green. This is a place for the soul."
Something stirred deep within her the moment she saw this two-story log house 14 years ago. Perhaps it was the unique opportunity to restore an early American house that had been vacant and neglected for 40 years. Perhaps it was the thrill of seeing first-growth poplar logs that stretch a full 56 feet across the house and measure as much as 30 inches deep.
Or perhaps it was that Dace had unknowingly bought a piece of her own family's history.
The property, part of an 8,000-acre land grant made to the prominent John Howard in the 1780s, is the subject of several books. When Dace sat down to read one, "I opened up to page five to the genealogy chart, and it went straight to my grandmother." She realized she was now living on her ancestors' land. "It was meant to be."
The renovation's goal was modernizing the 1,400-square-foot home while preserving its primitive charm. Some local historians believe this was the main plantation house due in part to its excellent craftsmanship and the first floor's unusually tall 11-foot ceilings. The logs were rechinked, the fireplaces rebuilt and the original doors, trim and chestnut floors refinished. An addition that includes a master bedroom, mudroom and screen porch was built at the back of the house.
Challenges of the Log Cabin
One big challenge was shoehorning in two tiny new bathrooms as discreetly as possible. Another was the original kitchen (once a freestanding structure), which lacked cabinetry and needed major work, including custom white cupboards, new open shelves and panels to hide modern necessities such as the refrigerator. "It's not a really high-tech kitchen, but it works," Dace says. "It's very cozy."
Some modern concessions simply weren't made. "There are no closets, so we use Shaker pegs," says Dace, who encourages guests to pack lightly. "Bring blue jeans and shirts. We're very casual." The limited space also dictates that most decorative objects serve a practical purpose, too. Old pottery works for dinner dishes, vintage bedding warms chilly nights and a pewter mug holds flowers.
Dace furnishes the home with quilts, wood game boards, blue-and-white stoneware and American flags. "I'm kind of a country girl, and I love the casualness and intrigue of Americana and antiques," she says.
Dace and King's restoration extends even to the land. "We're real conservationists," Dace says. "I've farmed all my adult life and grew up on a farm." Today, crops fill the fields, and the barns hold horses, cattle and llamas. An easement will ensure the property is never subdivided.
The couple's four grandchildren are particularly taken with the miniature pony that pulls a kid-size cart. "It's like going on a treasure hunt," Dace says of the little ones' frequent visits. "We go collect worms and fish a lot."
The grandkids are still too young to enjoy one of the family's signature traditions: Kentucky bourbon. Dace's great-grandfather sold his first bourbon in 1870; today, the company, Brown-Forman, employs more than 7,000 people, including many family members.
It was common for early settlers here to grow corn, distill it for whiskey, then feed cattle with residue from the bourbon-making. Much like life on this family farm, "it's a perfect cycle," Dace says.