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Saturday, April 20, 2024

A Feast for All Senses

Leanne Banna’s vision and energy revitalize an 1860s house in historic Henderson, Kentucky.

Leanne Banna fell in love with this historic house decades ago, never dreaming she would someday call it her own. Although originally known as the Millet House, Banna had fondly thought of this charming abode on North Main Street in Henderson, Kentucky, as “the New Orleans house” because of its ironwork and wide porches — and it was always her favorite home on the street.

Photo by Zach Straw. Leanne Banna’s home depicts the spirit of her hard- working immigrant father — who was born in Nazareth, Israel, came to Kentucky at age 18, and eventually rose to be president of Hercules Manufacturing in Henderson — as well as her culture-loving mother. Banna and Sammie B, her Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, enjoy showing guests art objects and sentimental pieces in the house from her parents’ backgrounds.

“After reading the history and learning that a remodel in the early ’50s was styled after Gulf Coast homes, the New Orleans look made a lot of sense, and explained why I loved it,” she says. “I’ve always been drawn to the Deep South, with its architecture and welcoming hospitality traditions.”

The now 4,063-square-foot house was built around the early 1860s on this prominent street, with sweeping views of the Ohio River in the back as a bonus. Like many older homes, it has a colorful history, including a past deed to the house drawn up in London, England, and the legacy of its most well-known owner, Frances Millet. He was a dry-goods dealer who eventually built the Belk-Dollar Store building and later added a vineyard in the backyard. A family in the 1950s then changed the façade to a New Orleans-style look.

The porches provide views of both the river and the historic street, so Banna praises the house’s layout for entertaining and maintains that it’s a peaceful place for anyone who visits. The homeowner discovered it at a time when she particularly needed a lift. After her father’s death and a divorce, Banna found out through friends that this house was going up for auction, and she was able to buy it directly from the owners in 2022.

“The family wanted someone who loved it as much as the prior owner,” she recalls. “As it turns out, the home picked me as much as I picked it; I never dreamed I would end up in this lovely and healing place.”

Photo by Zach Straw. An antique buffet, round table, and chairs in the dining room are a focal point, as well as family art objects. “The ‘wall of mirrors’ above the buffet all came out of my mother’s home, as well as her collection of religious artifacts and paintings,” Banna says.

After the purchase, Banna set to work implementing some remodeling changes, mostly unseen but important aspects such as installing a new HVAC system, replacing pipes and fixing fireplaces, putting in a security system, and scrubbing and painting every room after a soot and ice disaster shortly after settling in.

She even addressed a common complaint about older houses: “I added a scenting diffuser to the HVAC system, so it has a signature spa smell throughout,” she says. “I love that added touch, since older homes can smell musty, and I didn’t want that — a home is about creating a feast for all senses.”

Keeping key historic features was always a priority. She retained the wide-plank wood floors, dining room chandelier, and woodwork around doors to reference the past. The exterior was enhanced by adding newly designed sidewalks and a driveway cut into the hill to the garage, but the ironwork also was important. Banna added front stairs and railings that provide a way to enter the house at the top, main level — something that had not existed for decades.

Photo by Zach Straw. Banna’s home offers a picturesque setting on its single-acre lot that overlooks the Ohio River. “The back sunroom is where I can take in the expansive views of the river, barge traffic, and incredible sunsets,” she says.

“I commissioned Zacheriah Hust — a true local artist — to create steps to complement the rest of the ironwork,” Banna says. “I wanted guests to be able to access and enter the front door and porch. He told me it was a labor of love for him.”

Banna was always cognizant of a sensitive subject about the house: its history with enslaved people. From what she knows about the house, slaves lived in the basement, where there still are remnants of their hearths.

“I wasn’t sure how I felt about living in a home with that sordid past,” Banna says, “but yet it felt sacred, and I wanted to honor it, too. When I moved in, I sat and meditated, sent peace to the spirits that long resided here or still could be and asked for their forgiveness of the transgressions anyone may have experienced here.”

Photo by Zach Straw. Banna says there are “little stories everywhere” around her home. This doorknocker is from her father’s house in Nazareth, Israel. A nearby gallery wall features artwork by Robin Lawrence, an Evansville resident who died of cancer in 2022; friend Kim Luttrell, a Henderson native and internationally acclaimed artist based out of New York City; and local artist Matt Edmonson.

Her furnishings and art collection also show a reverence for the past. Some of Banna’s antiques were collected with or inherited from her mother, a Campbellsville, Kentucky, native who passed away in summer 2023 — which brings Banna’s own history into her current life. Some favorite pieces include two antique buffets in the dining room, one dating back to the 1800s, and a rocking chair her great-grandmother used when Banna was a baby.

“I’m also a big lover of art and music, so my home is filled with both,” she says. “I have some local artists’ pieces mixed with some I have picked up here and there over the years.” She credits Caren Barton Sellars with CBS Interiors for helping guide her in the interior design journey.

Banna loves sharing her home with others. In December, the house was featured in a Christmas tour of Main Street homes benefiting the Henderson Garden Club —her late mother was a longtime member — and Banna was able to hear stories of how the house was decorated in the past. Believing herself to be one in a long line of owners, Banna’s goal is to track down previous owners and any associated stories, keeping a record of the house to give to those who occupy it in the future.

“I feel a sense of honor and responsibility to do the best I can for the home and to keep it well-maintained so the next homeowners can enjoy her once it’s my time to move on,” Banna says. “It’s important for all Hendersonians, since this has been part of community history for over 160 years.”

Resource Guide:

Caren Barton Sellars, CBS Interiors
Interior design
270-827-2636, 270-724-2636

NuLook Restoration
Restoration from water damage
724 Barret Blvd., Henderson, Kentucky 270-724-1111 nulookrestoration.com

Eric Woodard, Simply Comfort Heating & Air
Scent diffuser install on HVAC system 5108 KY 266, Corydon, Kentucky

Zacheriah Hust,
Matthews Creek Ironworks
Custom iron front entrance staircase on Instagram @matthews_creek_ironworks

Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti
Maggie Valenti joined Tucker Publishing Group in September 2022 as a staff writer. She graduated from Gettysburg College in 2020 with a bachelors degree in English. A Connecticut native, Maggie has ridden horses for 15 years and has hunt seat competition experience on the East Coast.

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