This Farmhouse Renovation Created a Cozy Home on a Family Compound

Feel the warmth of homecoming and explore how this young Kentucky couple realized their dream with the help of an old friend.

For designer Isabel Ladd and homeowner Adam Lawson, working on the redo of an 1889 farmhouse was a different kind of assignment. These longtime friends attended high school together in Lexington, Kentucky, where they were part of the same crowd, attended the same sporting events, and enjoyed all the fun that accompanies those growing-up years. Adam even took Isabel to see rapper 50 Cent for her first concert.

Two decades later, the former schoolmates took on a history project with an architectural spin. The project was poised to earn them an A+.

So much had changed since their time at Sayre School in the early 2000s: Isabel had two young sons and a fledgling design business. Adam and his wife, Kristin, were building their own family with children of similar ages, and Adam was assuming a role at the business founded by his grandfather.

"When Kristin and I decided to move forward with our home, we thought of Isabel," Adam says. "We had reconnected with her through our kids, and Kristin and Isabel had grown as friends through kid activities. The rest is history."

Lawson family home exterior
Adam and Kristin Lawson's house was built in 1889. The redo was complete in 2020. Katie Charlotte

Not only was the connection with Isabel familiar to Adam, but the property was too. Adam grew up on this piece of land, now dotted with four houses and multiple barns. His grandfather and father had always dreamed of living on their own farmland. When this property went on the auction block in 1991, the father-son duo bid on it, won, and created a family compound that serves multiple generations.

Adam and Kristin originally built a new house at the back of the farm and envisioned raising their family there. But the oldest home on the property became available after an employee who was the right-hand man of Adam's father retired.

"Adam's father pushed the idea of us renovating the old house," Kristin says. "It needed to be redone anyway, and if we lived in that house, we would be closer to family. Our kids can hop onto their scooters and quickly be at their great grandparents' house."

Lawson family entryway
A center table draped in a tribal fabric anchors the art-laden entry. Katie Charlotte

There was no question that the process of renovating, adding on, and designing the interiors would be lengthy—with inevitable frustrations. But with what both Ladd and the Lawsons refer to as the "dream team," the natural blips of a full house renovation were kept in check. In fact, the experience ended up being so rewarding that Darren Taylor and Baron Gibson, the architects who worked on the structure—one a historical preservation specialist and the other a tech genius hired to focus on the addition—merged their practices.

Designer Isabel Ladd

We always had a commitment to leave each meeting with a 'yes.' That gave us so much time to be creative.

—Designer Isabel Ladd

In addition to the design pros, another element sped up the design process: a furniture-filled warehouse on the property.

"It was important to honor the history of the house," Ladd says. "On the back of the barn was a climate-controlled warehouse where various members of the family had stored old furniture for years. It was a treasure trove of gems that put my mind onto a different track than if I had visited showrooms. I love to reimagine things that already exist. Pulling from the warehouse made the project really theirs."

Ladd's job also was made a little smoother because Adam and Kristin not only knew what they liked, but they also knew what they didn't. Nothing too fancy. Comfortable and relaxed like a farm should be but not farmhouse style. And lots of artwork. Kristin paints as a hobby and likes to collect, so Ladd understood that whatever the textiles and furnishings were, they needed to support an extensive art collection of both fine pieces and $25 eBay discoveries.

Lawson family room
Katie Charlotte

Designing a house that was neutral and monotone was never in the cards. But Ladd, who is known for her maximalist and colorful aesthetic, found ivory walls to be the best choice for the Lawsons' home.

The foyer establishes the scheme. There, the original staircase posts and baluster, painted white, contrast with the rich brown rail and trim that continues throughout the house. The foyer also presents a taste of the art that adheres to the collected look that the Lawsons aimed to achieve. "We used artifacts along with paintings and sketches," Ladd says. "Old postcards, a child's toy, and a Christian hymnal. We framed them all exquisitely. Art doesn't have to be expensive."

The living room takes cues from the foyer artwork and dives into color. A grand piano grabs attention in the room's corner, but furniture covered in textiles with warm tones including browns, reds, and oranges offers its own charm.

Warm sand-color grass cloth sets the stage for a space with an equally warm palette. The sofa is covered in a geometric fabric with soft lines. An old bergère chair is fashionable in bright orange velvet while a vintage rattan chair boasts cushions in a multicolor floral. Matching burl wood console tables are positioned on each side of the door frame.

Lawson family study room
Katie Charlotte

Peek around the corner into the high-gloss study, and orange sneaks in again on a banquette in a corner nook, where Ladd knew that a pop of color would add fashionable flair to the handsome space. Adam jokes that throughout the process, Ladd knew how to push his buttons and his boundaries.

Lawson family home study
Katie Charlotte

The high-gloss brown study is a menagerie of finds from the family warehouse, including the leather sofa, the desk, and the chair that serves it. The exception is a pair of new tiger-print chairs.

"She somehow manages to hide tiger print here and there," he says with a laugh. "But I appreciate her pushing us to think outside the box." Case in point: a pair of armchairs that Ladd bought at a home show before approval.

Isabel Ladd
Andrew Kung

Interior designer Isabel Ladd's design style commits to layering colors and patterns.

Lawson family great room
Katie Charlotte

The architecture of the home supports a seamless transition between old and new. In the original part of the house, walls are painted; in the new addition, brick walls make an appearance. In each case, the bones of the structure support Ladd's subtle design pivots.

The great room addition is defined by new brick and a mix of furniture covered in botanicals and geometrics.

Lawson family dining room
Katie Charlotte

She gently moved from classic in the living room and den to organic bohemian in the dining room and kitchen. Caned and lattice chairs in the floral-wallpapered dining room introduce the style. The kitchen continues the theme with its spool pendant lights, lattice barstools, rattan host chairs, and vintage accessories.

Lawson family home kitchen with black countertops
Katie Charlotte

"We never considered an all-white kitchen," Ladd says. "We wanted warmth with lots of texture." Pickled wood on the cabinetry contrasts the black soapstone countertops and backsplash.

Lawson family breakfast room
Katie Charlotte

In the adjoining breakfast room, a table and Windsor chairs were snagged from the warehouse and joined a pair of rattan chairs that Ladd found.

Lawson family boy's room
Katie Charlotte

In son Cooper's room, constellation artwork was modified to double as a night-light. Holes poked into the stars accommodate tiny lights.

Lawson family home main bedroom
Katie Charlotte

In the primary bedroom, a four-poster serves as the foundation for a mix of patterned fabrics.

Lawson family home patio
Katie Charlotte

The outdoor gathering space also gives the Lawsons a comfy spot to watch their children walk to their great-grandparents' home.

Lawson family of five
Portrait Adam and Kristin Lawson and their children, Quinn, Harper, and Cooper. Andrew Kung

The Lawsons have lived in the house for only a year now, but given their family's history with this property and the proximity to older generations, the house will likely remain in the family for decades to come.

"One day when our kids are older, they will see this as a house that we worked on together," Kristin says. "We don't just think about living in it now. We see it as so much more."

Updated by
Raymond Schneider

Raymond Schneider is a writer at Better Homes & Gardens and consultant in interior design and the luxury market. He's worked with brands like Architectural Digest, Good Housekeeping, Elle Decor, and more. As a designer, Raymond spent years at Philip Gorrivan Design and Amanda Nisbet Design as vice president.

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