French-inspired chateau in Louisville is energy efficient



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David Kaelin and his family were living in Norton Commons when they began thinking about finding a new place to call home.

“We were spending a lot of time on (the other side) of town,” he explained. “We were doing a lot of back and forth.”

He and his wife, Alena, decided to look for a piece of property to build a brand-new house for them and their six children.

“We wanted something inside the Gene Snyder and really couldn’t find anything,” David said. “We wound up, just happenstance, driving through here and saw a sign for sale. This was the sixth section of Pine Valley Estates, and the developers were selling it.”

Strategic spaces

David and Alena had built a house together before, so they were ready to tackle this new project, their forever home.

“This house was designed by myself and my wife,” David explained, “on graph paper, from scratch. We knew how we lived: what rooms we use, what space we use, how much space we needed, so we just sat down on graph paper and started drawing stuff up.”

Alena is fond of old-world décor — they’d traveled to Europe a few times, and the French-country look was something she was really drawn to — so they started their drafting with that aged chateau appearance for the exterior, then worked their way in.

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“We wanted to build a house where every room gets used almost every day,” David added. “That was really the concept when we got into the room-by-room detail.”

The Kaelins aimed to create main living spaces that were as accessible as possible, since those were the areas where the family would be spending most of their time. These spaces include the heart of the home, which boasts a massive, commercial-kitchen sized quartz island, as well as the adjacent dining room.

“My wife cooks a lot,” David said. “We like to eat together a lot, so we always wanted to be able to have an easy place to sit down and eat as a family.”

The dining room has enough space for 12 to 14 people, plus “there are seven more seats at the largest bar in the state of Kentucky,” David laughed, explaining that part of their goal with such a large island was to accommodate a wood-burning pizza oven. He and Alena will often create a little assembly line on the island, and the kiddos walk through, carrying their pizza peels with them and adding toppings as they go. They then carry their creations straight into the oven on the patio just outside.

Life lessons

Beyond the patio is the Kaelin’s’ backyard, where David has begun “Back to Eden” gardening, which is a method for growing fruits, veggies and herbs based on how plants grow in nature.

“Basically,” David explained, “(you use) chipped up branches and leaves — anything from your yard you can chip it up — and you build a six-to-eight-inch layer of this stuff. After about a year, it creates that same (forest-like) environment. You get all the fungus and all the bacteria (the plants need to grow).”

This method of gardening is something David came across after suffering from a heart attack at the age of 39. At the time, he had three children with one more on the way.

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“That really changed my perspective on things,” he recalled. “I started doing a lot of research into eating and the environment, so we started growing our own vegetables as part of that.” This new garden provides the family with cantaloupe, watermelon, potatoes, basil, peppers and more.

Eco-friendly and efficient

David’s new outlook on life shaped more than how his family gathered food for their meals — it had a great deal of influence on how they built their new home, too. 

“We wanted to live off the land as much as possible and have as minimal of an impact on the environment as possible,” he said.

With that in mind, they put a lot of effort into the foundation, insulation and water sealing of the house. They also opted for zero paint on the exterior. Instead, the outside has been limewashed, giving it an old-world look while minimizing the negative environmental effects of traditional paint.

“It basically calcifies into the brick, so you never have to do anything to it again,” David explained.

The home also uses a 12.4K solar array, which provides so much energy the 5,600-square-foot house averages a monthly electric bill of just $20.

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“It was built to be net-zero capable,” David said. “I’m a form-over-function person. What was most important to me was to build a house that was going to last 200 to 300 years.”

Alena added, “I’m very proud of what we’ve done here.”

Know a house that would make a great Home of the Week? Email writer Lennie Omalza at [email protected] or Lifestyle Editor Kathryn Gregory at [email protected] 

nuts & bolts

Owners: David and Alena Kaelin. David is the vice president of growth at The Stevenson Company. Alena is a fitness/yoga instructor, reiki master and homeschool mom.

Home: This is a 4-bed, 4-and-a-half bath, 5,600-square-feet, chateau-style home that was built in 2018.

Distinctive elements: Galvalume roof; 12k solar array; high-efficiency, variable-speed HVAC heat pump; hybrid technology water heater; LED lighting throughout; all-electric, net-zero design; no exterior paint; front and rear walkout paver patios; wildflower meadow; cut flower garden; Back to Eden vegetable and fruit garden; Forno Bravo Vesuvio custom wood-burning pizza oven; inground pool with rock waterfall; wide-plank knotty oak floors; tumbled travertine tiled mudroom; pecky cypress box beam ceilings; bricked archways; massive quartz kitchen island; hidden pantry; Amish cabinetry; Amish moldings; Isodern Magnum custom wood-burning fireplace; Xtrordinary Catalyst wood-burning fireplace with Greenstart technology; indoor and outdoor Bose speakers; Bose home theater system; marble master bath; fish and duck pond, creek, and walking trails on property.

Applause! Applause! Ubuildit; Barry D. Early Designs; Doleman Services; Rick Ruckriegel Electric, Ted Smith Paver Patios; BCS Cabinets; Fireplace Solutions; Weatherstop Solutions; Elite Heating and Air; 84 Lumber Jeffersonville; Mark Vincent & Son Concrete; Junior and Darrell.

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