Find Design Inspiration in Louisville

1. Where to Stay

A guest room at the art-focused 21C Museum Hotel.Photo: Courtesy of 21C Museum Hotel

Go retro at the Inn at Woodhaven (from $125), whose eight rooms pull off the Victorian look without feeling staid. Most of the architectural features are original from the 1835 construction—en-suite fireplaces, thick wooden floors, beveled moldings, and even some of the paint varnishes—but the third-floor attic suite features the most modern look thanks to its exposed-brick walls. Help yourself to bourbon from the honor bar in the evening, and start the day with a two-course breakfast of organic fruit, cage-free eggs, and Cheddar-garlic toast.

Drink up the décor at GraleHaus (1034 Bardstown Rd., 502-459-9939; from $125), opening in December behind the courtyard of beloved beer bar (and repurposed church) Holy Grale. Occupying the upper floors of a century-old home, Louisville’s first design-focused bed and breakfast features three rooms furnished with a mix of new and old items, many from the eclectic shop SCOUT, and two rooms come with claw-foot tubs from the British bath company Victoria + Albert. A handpicked selection of beers will be available for in-room purchase, while the first floor will house a public café, overseen by chef Andy Meyers.

Glean inspiration from the impressive art displayed throughout the 21C Museum Hotel (from $229), where basement gallery spaces, guest rooms, and even the elevator waiting areas are all venues for showcasing 21st-century works. Rooms in this former warehouse feature exposed brick walls, silver mint-julep cups, and Malin + Goetz bath products, but for a one-of-a-kind experience book Asleep in the Cyclone (from $339), a site-specific installation that doubles as a hotel room constructed from repurposed barn wood and custom textiles by New York artists Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe.

2. Where to Eat

The dining room at 610 Magnolia takes it design cues from the seasons.Photo: Courtesy of 610 Magnolia

Settle into the rustic interior of Decca’s 1870s building, which avoids the contrived “olde fashioned” look with dual-toned cork flooring and geometric brass frames on lighting fixtures. The kitchen serves sophisticated locavore fare: creamy brown-butter risotto with chanterelles ($15); a low-slung bowl full of pan-roasted mussels with an enticingly charred brick of bread ($12); and a wood-grilled pork chop with parsnip purée and curry oil ($25). After dinner, sip bourbon-based cocktails on two patios or jam out to a roster of D.J.’s and live music acts featured on weekend nights.

Dine in an elegant farmhouse setting at Edward Lee’s 610 Magnolia, where exposed beams painted a cool slate gray and a stark white neon sign out front set a spare tone. Three- and four-course dinners ($55 and $65, respectively) include plates of fancifully composed, refined Southern fare, like seared pork belly with three kinds of peas and buttermilk. Chart your own course with the well-curated wine list or opt for pairings ($45 or $55) featuring winners like Château Chantegrive’s Bordeaux Blanc. Ask if Lee is hoarding a bottle of the hard-to-find Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve twenty-year bourbon and maybe he’ll let you splurge on a dram.

Ogle the racks of freshly baked bread, mounds of macarons, and baskets of croissants at Blue Dog Bakery, an airy, breakfast-and-lunch-only spot on the east side of town. Poached-egg pizzas ($12), sardine tartines ($11), and a bacon, cheddar, and cheese curd sandwich ($9) are highlights from the satisfying menu. Co-owner Bob Hancock recently began raising his own Red Wattle hogs at a farm nearby, so rest assured that all the pork served here is top-notch.

3. What to Do

Canoe sells textiles imported from Turkey (left); SCOUT's specialties are whimsical home pieces (right).Photo: Courtesy of Canoe and SCOUT

Start shopping for big-ticket items that make a statement at Architectural Salvage, 24,000 square feet of mantels, doors, and backbars showcased in shabby-chic splendor across four interconnected houses and courtyards. Here, an original 1890 carved cherrywood mantle might run you $2,800, or you can snag a 1910 brass bank gate for under $500. For equally impressive finds, head a couple blocks east to Frederick Chaffin’s second-floor showroom to see original designs handmade mostly from local storm-fallen trees. At $10,000, the stunning black-cherry credenza is not cheap, but you get heirloom-quality handiwork that’s increasingly hard to find.

Use what’s left in your budget to pick up well-priced pieces at the Antique Market at Distillery Commons, a former whiskey production facility that’s now home to nearly 10,000 pieces of carefully selected furniture, paintings, and home goods from bygone eras. Discoveries here might include a funky old zinc-top worktable ($1,100) or oil landscape paintings (from $165). For more of a scavenger hunt, get lost in 90,000 square feet of items—some random, some rare—at Goss Avenue Antiques & Interiors. The sprawling 19th-century cotton mill offers a never-ending supply of deals and discounts, like an old but still-working Eskimo fan ($39) and a beautifully weathered wooden bench ($14).

Hit the new wave of design shops along East Market Street for contemporary accents to compliment your older finds. At Canoe, owner Lynn Seiller sells rugs and textiles she handpicks during biannual trips to Turkey; selections include new-production brown and white wool kilim from East Anatolia ($2,800) and a vintage hand-woven suzani tapestry from Uzbekistan (price upon request). Around the corner, browse stocky, rough-hewn chests of drawers from Revolver’s well-edited selection. Down the block, SCOUT brings a campy attitude to serious design with items like Cardboard Safari’s wall-mounted cardboard taxidermy animal heads ($18–$200). Down the block, you’ll find fanciful letter-pressed posters at Hound Dog Press, which offer a quick fix for any bare walls you may need to dress up.

4. Insider’s Tip

Bittners offers Old World craftsmanship in custom designs.Photo: Courtesy of Bittners

If you’re serious about finding unique furnishings but keep coming up empty-handed elsewhere, take your search to the next level with the experts at 150-year-old, full-service interior design firm Bittners. Started by a German immigrant as a one-man cabinetmaker, the in-house custom wood-working shop now turns out one-of-a-kind dining tables in their showroom. Don’t see something you fancy? Create it yourself—they specialize in custom-made orders like a 45-foot reclaimed-wood banquet table made for a nearby horse farm. (Ask for a behind-the-scenes peek to see chairs and tables being sawed, carved, and crafted.) Or go all the way and hire one of the twenty interior designers for a full home redesign—they’ll jet around the country sourcing reclaimed wood, egg chairs, and whatever else your style calls for.

5. Oddball Day

Outdoor drinking and Ping-Pong tables at Garage on Market.Photo: Courtesy of Garage on Market

Pay your respects to local legend Colonel Sanders with a fried-chicken-focused road trip. Get an early start with a breakfast of doughnuts (75 cents each) at Nord’s Bakery; the maple and bacon cruller is a knockout. Drive seven miles northeast to Carmichael’s Bookstore in the Highlands neighborhood. The highbrow bookseller is too tasteful to hawk KFC paraphernalia, but ask if they’ve got Josh Ozersky’s Colonel Sanders and the American Dream in stock. Walk up Bardstown Road two blocks to Derby City Chop Shop, where gents can get a side-part haircut ($17) and a goatee trim ($6). Ladies can hoof it a little further to reach Salon Bacco, where Southern stylists will pull locks into old-fashioned pin curls like Sanders’s first wife, Josephine King ($50 and up). Hop back in the car and zip up Bardstown to Cave Hill Cemetery to visit the place where the man himself is laid to rest. Do as others have and leave a plastic spork in homage. Before leaving town, buzz up at Quills Coffee with expertly pulled espressos and eighteen-hour cold brew ($3), then drive about an hour on Route I-64 towards Lexington, but pull over for a picnic of fried pickles and pimiento cheese sandwiches at the Wallace Station ($6–$7.95) Take the scenic route twenty minutes through horse country to Lexington and get outfitted for a custom-made colonel-esque white suit (or maybe just a floppy black bow tie) at Graves & Cox (from $695 for a custom suit). Take 1-75 south for about 90 minutes to get to the Harland Sanders Museum & Café (688 U.S. Route 25W, North Corbin). After committing the details of KFC’s origin story to memory, order up some eleven-herb-and-spice goodness, or at least a biscuit or two. Re-trace your route back to Lexington for a fried-chicken taste test at Indi’s, Esquire’s pick for “best fried chicken in the world.” Turn up the heat with their spicy fried chicken and tack on a slew of indulgent sides ($1.40 each) like fried apples and potato salad. Digest on the hour-long car ride to Louisville. Cross your fingers that Mike Ratterman is holding one of his underground concerts at his Workhouse Ballroom (1314 Lexington Road; no phone), a 150-year old beer-lagering cellar that delivers perfect acoustics for acts like Bill Callahan and Hush Harbors. (To get one of the hand-written tickets, you’ll have to stop by Astro Black Records.) After the show, have a late-night drink at Garage on Market, which calls to mind Colonel Sanders’s back-of-a-gas-station roots. Sip on the effervescent District 8 ($8), made with bourbon, orange juice, lemon, and housemade tonic. You can’t get fried chicken here, but they do have a regional ham plate ($21) that echoes the Colonel’s original ham-and-egg breakfasts.

6. Links

Part art photography studio, part hipster Chamber of Commerce, the Original Makers Club lists the best places to eat and shop in town.

Keep tabs on local goings-on, edible and not, through Michelle Jones’s Consuming Louisville.

Named for the 1937 natural disaster that had Louisvillians fleeing for higher ground, 37Flood itemizes cool-kid happenings and curates local bands.

Find Design Inspiration in Louisville