James Gaffney was renowned for his experimental architectural approach that took elements from a multitude of different styles for a final product that was unique to each project he designed. The Gaffney House is no exception; in fact, it is known as perhaps the most architecturally and stylistically unique design to his name. Combining Pre-Columbian, Mannerist, and Arts and Crafts style architecture makes this house both visually and foundationally unparalleled; with such distinct features of each making an appearance, Gaffney truly put his exploratory nature to use.
Pre-Columbian – or Mesoamerican – style refers to the architecture found from the civilizations that inhabited America before Columbus and European forces took over. With heavy reliance on natural materials, such as stone, stucco, terracotta, and mud bricks and favoring colorful tiles and motifs, Gaffney capitalized on this style and elements of it soon became a trademark of his. In the Gaffney House, this influence is seen in most of the floor patterns as well as the large sun motif located on the raised entrance on the outside of the house.
The Mannerist style originated in Europe and was the antithesis of the popular Renaissance style of the time, shifting the focus of architecture and design from expression and harmony to the non-conventional elements of conventional classical styles. It was wrought with complexity, contradiction, and oxymoronic values, which is perhaps what drew James Gaffney to it. The Gaffney House features the characteristic plays on spatial relationships and ‘unbalanced’ designs, such as the 1st-floor protruding sitting room areas that extend away from the house.
Finally, the Arts and Crafts style’s development and popularity in the 19th century challenged the cold, mechanical nature of the Industrial Revolution by rehumanizing the residential sphere – including the architecture of housing and common areas. Characterized by natural, exposed materials structural elements, simplistic designs, an emphasis on home life, and hand-made decorations, Gaffney utilized this style in the Gaffney House with stained glass that softens light, the presence of two chimneys, exposed columns throughout the house, a white, wooden hood above the front entrance, and a plethora of areas designed to sit and relax in, amongst other details.
The common areas and bedrooms are adorned with original moldings on the cathedral and elevated ceilings and, as Gaffney was the original resident of the house, many of the decorative touches are direct contributions of the architect. The experience of staying at the Gaffney House is not limited to the beauty and ideal location, but offers the opportunity to connect with Louisville’s history and glance into one of the brightest architectural minds that Kentucky had to offer in the 20th century.