By: Malcolm Mayhew
It’s not every day (or every decade, for that matter) that upon arriving at the front door, a writer is met with a huge hug from her interviewee — along with effusive exclamations of how incredibly happy said interviewee is to have her there. And not only that, but when the interviewee’s husband happens upon the portal, he, too, is every bit as affable as his wife. And this welcoming reception all took place within a mere three minutes of gaining entrée to the Westside residence. (A girl could get used to this, let me tell you.)
Once you get to know Bob and Judy Blakeman — and it doesn’t take long; the couple is completely without airs — you’ll realize that their propensity for hugging and hospitality really is an outward expression of who they are. And their house is an extension of them.
Building by Necessity Fifteen-year residents of Monticello, a stone’s throw from their current quarters, the Blakemans reluctantly decided to sell their beloved 1930s Georgian and relocate to something more accessible. That all the bedrooms and bathrooms were upstairs at their former home made getting around somewhat of a challenge for Bob — who has a replaced knee — as well as for Bob’s 93-year-old mother (who lives in a nearby assisted-living community but still visits often) and their bevy of guests. Their must-haves?
As collectors of vintage furnishings and other antiquities, the Blakemans needed a graciously arrayed layout (read: high ceilings and nicely sized rooms) that would hold their artifacts — and not be swallowed up by them. The master suite absolutely had to be on the bottom floor. They also required upstairs bedrooms for their visitors — complete with their own handsomely appointed bathrooms. Their new home had to flow effortlessly from one zone to the next, yet still retain the charm and character of an older structure. “We didn’t want a sprawling, open floor plan,” Judy says. “Instead, we wanted a traditional, older-home style in keeping with the antiques and rugs that we were moving from our previous home. …“We also both wanted it to welcome and comfortably accommodate the people we care about and the celebrations to be enjoyed with them, with décor that was relaxed and more masculine than feminine,” she says.
New Neighborhood, Traditional Look After vetting the available lots for a new-build, Judy and Bob stumbled upon Idlewild. The brainchild of V Fine Homes, the picturesque new-construction neighborhood channels a bygone era, looking every bit the vintage enclave as a Monticello or Park Hill. “We took our precedence from Spanish colonial homes,” says Rob Sell, who co-owns V with Patrick Towle. “The design is very simple and straightforward, but we paid attention to the little details that define great homes and separate them from the masses.” Judy and Bob snapped up the first lot in Idlewild. And that’s also when the fun began. (Judy might take issue with the term “fun,” because she spent many a sleepless night fretting over interior design. More on that later.)
First off, the layout: Referencing a floor plan Judy fell in love with during one of her jaunts to local open houses, its logical congruity — all the walls and trim, for instance, are painted the same shade of cream — lends an effortless air to the well-composed setting. “We wanted a simple range of color, not tons and tons of floral and no cute filler,” Judy says. “We don’t like ‘too much.’ ”
Architect Randy Walton then set about drafting a plan. V Fine Homes’ Mike Fadal — the Blakemans say they would never build another house again without him — served as building superintendent. “Our other house was much more formal. We wanted a house that was welcoming, casual and comfortable,” Judy says. “But because this is a family home that sees a lot of activity, it had to be livable and durable — nothing fancy or precious.”
Building Livability Frou-frou this house is not. “I didn’t want any one piece to stand out,” says Judy of the uninterrupted lines and natural nuances. Case in point: A pair of matching antique bibliothéques filled with Satsuma pottery stands sentinel in the great room, their grandiosity softened by warm and squishy, pillow-laden couches that sit in close proximity. The wood-beamed coffered ceiling lends an almost lodge-like air that feels more cosseting than quaint. A Samsung flat-screen, one of 10 (yes, 10) in the home, is installed above the fireplace. “We’re TV freaks,” Judy says self-effacingly. Having that many televisions at the ready ensures no missed football games — especially those involving Horned Frogs. When the couple entertains, as they are apt to do on any given day, the built-in bar is a perfect self-serve beverage station. “We wanted a bar where our guests could put in as much gin or Jack Daniel’s as they want,” Judy says with a wink.
In the nearby dining room, an oversized dining table (the only non-antique piece in the room, Bob points out) seats a crowd. The kitchen, Judy’s favorite room in the house (the second being her pantry, which is exceedingly organized, by the way), includes plenty of storage and workspace. Bob’s “study,” which functions more as the couple’s informal hangout, is home to a veritable herd of wall mounts. (Bob, who turns 73 years young this month, is an avid hunter/fisherman.)
Between this room, the kitchen, the adjacent powder room and the master bedroom, the Blakemans have their official stomping grounds. “This is the way we live,” Judy says. Other than for parties and such, the Blakemans don’t much tread the white oak hardwoods of the other downstairs rooms. “That way, we can keep the rest of the house clean,” Judy says, so that when the entertaining bug bites, she and her husband can get a party started lickety-split. All first-floor main rooms include a set of light-admitting French doors leading to the centralized courtyard.
The ability for fiesta-goers to easily flit from the inside out is “so nice during parties,” Judy says. The courtyard is an extension of the indoors and includes a fountain and copious potted plants, as well as a living area complete with fireplace, grill/prep spot and, of course, a flat-screen TV. The master suite is all about ambiance. “We wanted our bedroom to be calm and serene,” Judy says of the space, which includes an oversized closet and sumptuous bath. Accessible via a stairwell or an elevator (the couple’s two grandsons’ favorite feature, by the way), the second floor includes a spacious landing/small library, three bedrooms and accompanying bathrooms and serves as a laid-back getaway for family and friends.
Loving Atmosphere No matter what room you’re in — even in Bob’s workroom off the garage, where he loves to tinker, Judy says — you can practically feel the TLC that the Blakemans have infused in every nook and cranny. That love is an outward expression of the couple’s affection for each other — the currency of some 28 years of marriage. A divorced mom to a young daughter, Judy worked full-time at Ridglea Bank. As luck would have it, Bob — a board member — was in the office for a meeting. Spotting a ring-less finger, he immediately asked about Judy. They spoke, had dinner at Margie’s Original Italian Kitchen and — voila! — a match was made. “We really clicked,” Judy says. “I fell in love with Bob because he is a very good person. His values were the same as mine: ‘You get back what you give.’ And he is so generous; he loves to share. He has the heart of a giant.” The couple married after a three-year courtship. Besides Judy’s daughter, Courtnay, Bob has two sons from a previous marriage, Jeff and Chad.
All three kids work at the family business, Blakeman Transportation. “We’ve been in the transportation business since March 1965,” says Bob, who also served in the Army and was discharged as a captain. A Sigma Chi at TCU, Bob has been a Cowtown resident since 1951. Judy, on the other hand, has lived here since Day One. Whatever they’re doing, they must be doing it right. Their affection is obvious. Ever doting and easygoing, Bob is very nearly as sweet as they come. Judy, all hugs and smiles, has an effervescent personality that truly makes a person (or a writer, in this instance) feel like she’s her lifelong friend and biggest fan. And together? They have contagious spirit that radiates cordiality and charm.
The Final Piece OK, so remember the part about Judy stressing over the interior composition? Try as she might, Judy was at loggerheads with the overall mien. Although unmistakably beautiful, to be sure, her initial plan and related elements just didn’t feel right … until the solution quite literally showed up at the front door. Enter local designer Brad Alford. “It was like magic to me to meet Brad,” says Judy. “It was clear he knew exactly where we were headed. I hired him immediately.” Not only did he and assistant Tyler Cobb provide the spot-on look she sought, but they also completed the substantial project in just less than two months. Problem solved. “We’re very pleased with everything. It was carefully thought-out, simple and elegant and really suits us and our needs,” Judy says. “It truly is a great home.” Judy and Bob give nods to the team effort that helped shape their Idlewild showpiece from vision on a page to reality on a plot. “Our sincere appreciation and gratitude go to all who helped us in designing, building and decorating this great house,” she says. “It was definitely a labor of love by many.”by Alison Rich
By: Malcolm Mayhew