Text by Marion Laffey Fox | Photography by John O’Hagan
The genteel aura of Kentucky’s beloved Bluegrass Country seems to distinguish everything about Donna and Bill Shively’s Dixiana Farm. This is especially true in their elegant, four-year-old columned house that feels as if it has been there forever. Appearing in the distance like the setting of a Southern novel, the home is flanked by blowsy gardens and thick groves of century-old maple, oak, and walnut trees on more than 660 acres of rolling pastures, delineated by white-rail fences.
Within this epicenter of the thoroughbred horse world that has produced legends like Secretariat, Seattle Slew, and Man o’ War, Bill purchased Dixiana Farm in 2004. Founded in 1877, Dixiana became one of the top thoroughbred farms of its time. During its glory days of ownership by the automotive industry’s Fisher family, the farm rose in prominence. “The Fishers had a good thing going in the 30s, when this property was the home of greats like Mata Hari, Spy Song, and others,” says Bill, who reunited the farm with Domino Stud, a parcel of its original land, in 2009.
After the historic reconnection, the Shivelys planned an ambitious renovation of the pedigreed 1812 house on the property. However, a massive two-day fire soon ravaged the home, leaving only four charred columns and a shed over the garage.
Undaunted, the couple decided to build a new house that would pay homage to old traditions. “We thought if we started from scratch, we would have full say in where the house was located on the property,” says Bill. “However, we soon realized the old structure had been standing in the perfect spot. So we replicated the original columns to create the same welcoming facade.”
Lexington Architect Tom Wilmes of Wilmes & Associates Architects was hired to design a stately yet livable house that would function for the couple and their children, as well as provide elegant grown-up entertaining areas. To handle the interiors, the Shivelys called upon E. Dale Trice and Emily Graham of Design Services of Florida, who had previously decorated two Florida houses for them.