Who Loves Lucy?
21C collaborates with Lexington preservationist Lucy Jones
By KEVIN NANCE
For a couple of decades now, it’s been Lexington preservationist Lucy Jones’s dream to restore a midcentury motel in town to its original glory. To that end, Jones has been “hoarding” — her word — modern furniture and design from the 1950s and ’60s, picking it up piece by piece on eBay and in antique malls around the country. But while she’s serious about the project, she concedes that it’s still a long way from fruition. “It’s definitely going to happen,” she says in a recent Zoom interview, “but give me 10 or 20 years.”
In the meantime, Jones recently got a shot at one fabulous test run. She was brought in as the midcentury design consultant for the Harmon Room at 21c Museum Hotel Lexington, an homage to the hit Netflix series “The Queen’s Gambit,” based on Walter Tevis’s 1983 novel about a Kentucky chess prodigy named Elizabeth Harmon, who stays in a series of swanky hotels rooms on her way up the world chess rankings in the mid-to-late 1960s.
“When they told me it was about creating this time-capsule experience of the 1960s at the 21c, it felt like my whole life had weirdly been leading toward that moment,” says Jones, who ended up loaning most of the midcentury furniture in the room from her collection. They included a TV cabinet, a coffee table, two futuristically high-backed Adrian Pearsall chairs, a wall clock, a peacock sculpture, a piece of period gravel art, an ice bucket and other items, all oozing classic midcentury style.
The project’s interior designer, Isabel Ladd, coordinated the overall look of the room, including the avocado-green color palette and a large chess set hanging upside down from the ceiling, a reference to Beth Harmon’s visions of chess games in her mind. (The other most eye-grabbing aspect of the design is the custom wallpaper designed by Alex K. Mason and featuring — in a sly tie-in to Lexington’s equine culture — the horse-head knight chess piece.) But it’s the furniture loaned by Jones, along with additional items on loan from Scout Antique & Modern and Black Swan Books, among others, that give the room much of its authentic period feel.
“We couldn’t have done it without Lucy,” says Ladd, who was tapped to lead the design team by VisitLEX and its ad agency, Cornett, which was looking to capitalize on the popularity of the Netflix series and its Bluegrass connections to encourage staycations and travel to Lexington at a time when the Covid-19 pandemic has had a drastically negative effect on tourism.
“When you first walk in the room, you’re struck first by the wallpaper and the crazy colors,” Ladd says. “Then you see the chess pieces coming down from the ceiling. And then, finally, you’re looking at all of Lucy’s furniture, which just completes the whole effect.”
The response to the Harmon Room, which rents for $234 a night, has been “phenomenal,” says Brian Pulley, 21c’s director of sales and marketing. More than 50 reservations had been booked as of late January, and the room is currently available at least through May 31. “As that date draws near, we’ll evaluate,” Pulley says. “Pop-culture things like this can ebb and flow, but we’ll keep it going as long as there’s a demand. It’s a hard time for our industry — because of Covid, we’re running at about one-third capacity — so this is great for us.”
Ironically, Jones had been wary of the Netflix series because she’d been a fan of the Tevis novel. “I was hesitant to watch the series because justice is very rarely done to novels in film and television. But I felt they did a really beautiful job in this case. They really captured the era.”
Among her favorite pieces loaned to the Harmon Room are the Pearsall chairs, which she snagged a few years ago after following a hunch. “I occasionally have vintage psychic moments,” she says. “I’m driving down the road in South Carolina and there’s a little voice whispering that I should pull over and stop at the nearest antique mall. I went into this very nondescript antique mart, and the chairs were sitting right out front and they were practically giving them away. I got them for a song, brought them home, and had them restored.”
And she’s continuing to chase her dream of that midcentury motel makeover, the idea for which was sparked by a visit to the Shady Dell, a vintage Airstream-style trailer court in Bisbee, Ariz., in the early 2000s. “They have the trailers all decked out to make them period-appropriate,” she recalls. “It’s magical, one of my favorite places on earth.”
In the next step in her master plan, Jones will soon move into a larger home in Lexington that will include a workshop for restoring vintage midcentury furniture. Her current home will become an Airbnb, destined for greatness.
This article also appears on page 10 and 11 of the February 2021 print edition of ace magazine.
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