When Nancy Gaunt moved into this 1950s, ranch-style home more than 24 years ago, she loved the fireplace in the kitchen — the rest of it needed some work. The façade was nice, but to feel truly at home, Gaunt needed to take a slightly more personal approach.
Gaunt, vice president and financial consultant at Hilliard Lyons, began transforming the home into a tangible tapestry of her life. In each room she compiled a three-dimensional scrapbook of her family, friends and adventures. Walking through each room is like turning the pages of her life and seeing everywhere she has been and many of the people who have accompanied her along the way.
The antiques and Oriental rugs bring memories of her devoted aunts, Bette Bower and the late Rosemary Montgomery, both of Evansville, dragging her as a child to antique stores in search of items to add to their collections. The pictures, gifts and souvenirs remind her of her many adventures abroad with her two sons, William, 23 and Jonathan, 24. And the fabrics, themes and arrangement of each room are accomplished with the help of her childhood friend, Tay Ruthenburg, a designer with Evaline Karges Interiors.
“Houses are always a work in progress and should be a reflection of you,” Gaunt said. “We did some things to the house before we moved in and there were a lot of things that evolved over time.”
The result of these changes is a complete reformation of the home’s feel. The changes become obvious from the first room, located off the right side of the entry hall. It is a deep, rectangular space broken into two areas that function as the living and dining room. Both the fireplace and bay window are the focal points of the living room, and as such, both were changed to better suit Gaunt’s style. The window, which was originally a large picture window common to the 1950’s style, was converted into a bay window. The fireplace was freed from the original limestone encasement and covered with a white, tongue-in-groove wall.
“It changed the entire look of the room,” Gaunt said.
The living room features one of the many collections Gaunt has pursued. A gathering of small, black Russian boxes, scatter the side table. Gaunt said the collection, inspired by her aunts, is probably as complete as it can be —it is now illegal to remove antiques from Russia.
Her other collections, however, are still inspiration for scavenger hunts. The first collection she started was Victorian powder boxes, which have crept out from their main location in the guest room and made a brief cameo in the living room. Many of her favorite additions to her collections come from England, where her sister, Jan Ryder, lives.[pagebreak]
At the end of the entrance hall is the kitchen, home to the fireplace that persuaded Gaunt to buy the home. However, the most stunning attraction now is the large window that runs along the back wall, revealing the vibrant colors and welcoming blooms of the backyard garden. But the kitchen is not the only room that gets custody of the garden view. The family room, guest room and master bedroom all claim overlooking windows and form a backward ‘L’ shape around the yard.
Unique to the kitchen are the collections of horses of Delarna (Swedish wooden folk art), English blue and white china and horse brasses (hung over the fireplace, according to tradition, for good luck). The room is alive with stories — the most striking of which begins when Gaunt was a teenager.
During her time as an exchange student in Sweden, a 16-year-old Gaunt found a beautiful set of Royal Copenhagen, hand painted, blue and white china. She knew instantly they suited her taste, but quickly faced reality — in the form of an intimidating price tag — that they would not be hers. Years later, Gaunt returned to Sweden with her son, Jonathan, for one of their routine travels abroad, and happened upon that same set of china.
“I still loved them after all this time and my son said, ‘Mom, why don’t you just buy them?’” Gaunt said. “So, I did, and here they are on my kitchen table.”
Ruthenburg, who helped Gaunt decorate the home, said the story of Gaunt’s unchanging taste isn’t hard to believe. He has been enlisted to pull-together Gaunt’s homes for many years, dating back to her very first “grown-up” apartment in Washington D.C., where she worked as a press secretary for a U.S. senator (a precursor to the job that lured her back to Evansville as the first female news anchor for 14 WFIE).
“Her style hasn’t really changed,” Ruthenburg said. “It has, let’s say, evolved.”
Ruthenburg has, no doubt, nudged that evolution by keeping Gaunt on track during shopping excursions.
“We certainly have an open and candid design relationship,” he said, flashing a quick smile to Gaunt and sharing a laugh.
“Yes, when Tay picks up something and says, ‘I don’t understand this,’ or ‘This is interesting,’ I know that’s code for, ‘Do we really like this?’”
One item both Gaunt and Ruthenburg routinely agree on is their mutual love for English Staffordshire, a type of art deco pottery, the most popular of which are statues of dogs. Gaunt houses her collection in the family room, which was once the carport of the home (explaining the single-step down from the kitchen). The back wall of the room is a sprawling bookshelf filled with the Stafford-shire, Canton-ware Chinese porcelain and a continuance of mementos from her travels, including two horse-and-rider statues from the Ming Dynasty she purchased for her sons while with them in Hong Kong.[pagebreak]
The focal point of the room is the fourth fireplace of the home. When planning the added room, Gaunt knew she wanted a fireplace along that wall. She also knew she wanted it to incorporate Delft tile, a product of Holland that she had been drawn to for its lively representations of everyday life. Gaunt enlisted the help of her brother, John Hartley, who was planning a trip to Holland, to bring back enough tiles to frame the fireplace.
“There are different themes to the Delft tile so when he went to pick it out, he chose this ‘men at work’ theme (each painted tile shows a different person and occupation) because he thought it would be of the most interest to the boys,” Gaunt said.
The softened blue, white and other pastels from the tile stand out from the dark woods used throughout the room. The French doors to the left of the room open up to the back yard and serve as the main floodgates of traffic when Gaunt entertains (although she says everyone always ends up in the kitchen).
The quieter end of the home is on the opposite side, which includes the four bedrooms — one for Gaunt, one for each son and one for a guest. The boys’ rooms each showcase a piece of antique campaign furniture (a desk in Jonathan’s room, a chest in William’s), used during traveling times of war and popular for their ability to dismantle easily and accompany the officers throughout their advances.
In decorating her own room, however, Gaunt chose a palette of pink. The windows, which look out into the garden, support the room’s warm glow with the pink hues in the flowers outside. The bathroom, half of it added to the home in the hopes of more closet space, is an extension of the feminine décor, with flirty wallpaper lined with blue waving ribbons and accented with yellow leaves and birds. The decoupaged 1920’s dressing table is the perfect accent for the bright and airy feel of the room. The final touch is a grouping of butterflies incased in Lucite boxes Gaunt purchased in Puerto Rico.
The memorabilia of travels strewn throughout the main level of the home is only an appetizer to the labyrinth of artifacts found in the den downstairs. The room is balanced by a “luggage closet” full of the suitcases, bags and boxes Gaunt and her sons have used in all their travels. The den’s tavern-like appeal is enhanced with an antique English pub sign hung next to the bar. The remaining space in the room is filled, wall-to-wall, shelf-to-shelf, with dozens of memorabilia, each with its own story: a hand-sewn mola purchased at the base of Machu Picchu in South America, antique puppets from Prague, a machete from the Amazon and a small collection of trinkets acquired by William that are accompanied by a particularly memorable story.
“We were on safari and after a few days we get to this marketplace where people are trading,” Gaunt said. “We lose track of William for a while and when we find him, he’s standing there with a handful of things and no shoes, no shirt, no jacket. He had traded everything he had to get these little things. He was so proud.”
For the antique treasures they know no history of, like the British battle drum serving as a side table in the sitting area, the Gaunts can only guess as to what memories they inspire.
“It’s amazing to think about the many young men who must have carried this into battle,” Gaunt said, pointing out the carefully scripted list of battles on the side of the drum.[pagebreak]
The back yard wasn’t always an appealing feature of the home. In fact, when Gaunt purchased the home, the many windows looking out into the area were a detraction from the home’s inner beauty. The yard was essentially a field of dirt. Its only points of interest were the patches of holes dug by the previous owner’s dogs and the occasional glimmer when the sun bounced off the chain link fence enclosing the area. It was an eye sore in need of healing.
“There was just nothing back here,” Gaunt said. “There wasn’t even a sign of a plant’s existence. I immediately put in a garden.
“I developed my love for gardening from my mother, Anne Hartley. She loved flowers and (when I was) growing up, she would have me right there helping her. It was my job to weed our long driveway. I didn’t instantly enjoy it, but I think when you grow up with a garden and seeing things grow, you always have to have one.”
What evolved was what she describes as a “garden room,” a structure with four walls of flourishing greenery, a carpet of blooming Gerbera daisies and an oversized mantle in the form of an arbor.
The front of the “room” is a living space, complete with a couch and sitting area padded with brightly colored cushions and a table and chairs for outdoor dining.
The gravel pathways encircle the space and divide the four garden beds. The back two hold a variety of ferns, the front two are filled with Gerbera daisies in the summer and pansies in the fall. The beds are bordered with boxwoods, an idea borrowed from a tour of gardens in England.
All areas of the space include a point of interest. In the center, a stunning cascading fountain, to the left, a series of three large birdhouses staked into the ground and to the right, a tiered shelf with a collection of tuberous begonias in yellow, red and orange.
“They seem to love that spot,” Gaunt said. “They get bright light but not sun. They just flourish there, so I keep them.”
Another favorite she has is the mandovilla vines climbing up the arbor in the back of the area.
“They bloom prolifically and I love the way they vine,” Gaunt said. “I also love that they are pink. I try to keep with a basic color scheme of pink, purple, blue and white.”
The garden continues along the side of the garage (added onto the outer side of the family room) and down the driveway. Gaunt chose to use this space for her herb garden. Basil, mint, tarragon, parsley, rosemary, sage and chives enjoy the sunlight of this space and are easily accessed out the side door for snipping a few ingredients and adding last-minute garnishes to meals.
And to think, just a few years ago, it was nothing more than a neglected yard hugging an ordinary house.