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An Artful Space: David Butler and Ted Smith's Home Reveals Their Passions

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By Gay Lyons | Photography by Ben Finch

Prior to moving into their contemporary-style South Knoxville home, David Butler and Ted Smith say they looked at at least 350 ranch-style houses before finding the perfect fit for them.

The home had only one prior owner, architect Jim Kaatz of Kaatz Binkley, who designed it for his family in 1969. The home needed some updating, especially the kitchen and bathrooms, but David and Ted looked past that and saw the home’s potential.

“Ted and I rarely agree on anything,” said David, “but we walked in this house, and it was like, ‘Oh my God.’” “It was a beautiful spring day,” Ted remembered. “We loved the light, the view, the windows. You don’t expect that when you walk up. It’s very closed up [in the front.]”

David and Ted moved to Knoxville from Wichita, Kan., in 2006. David had just accepted his job as executive director of Knoxville Museum of Art and felt “it was important to put down stakes.”

The couple met at Thanksgiving in Darien, Conn., in the early ’90s and, according to David, “bonded over the fact that we were both raised Southern Baptist.” David’s graduate degree is in Italian Renaissance Art. Ted studied opera in New York. Currently business partner relationship manager for IBM, Ted says he studied computer science after “starving to death for art.”

They do still tend to their artistic passions. Until recently Ted sang in the choir at Church of the Ascension, Episcopal; David creates pastels, mostly landscapes, in his little studio downstairs. He works from photographs taken during their travels.

In the foyer hangs a gouache drawing of one of the fountains in the Piazza Navona in Rome from a photograph that Ted took during a trip there several years ago. Pastels on walls around the house — and in progress in the studio — depict the Little River in Townsend, a favorite destination.

“The things I paint are things that bring me a lot of joy,” said David. “It’s a way of hanging on to that place.”

In David’s oil painting of their home, the red front door is the focal point. When they bought the house, the door was brown, but David decided it “needed a red front door.” Now the front door is Tiffany blue.

David and Ted estimate that about 25 percent of the art in the house is David’s. Some of the rest reflects their individual tastes. A hallway holds the “Old Master” prints by Durer, Rembrandt, Tiepolo, and others that Ted has collected for years. Two painted icons are the  result of an icon workshop Ted attended.

Most of their art is contemporary, much of it created by people they know. “We have supported local artists,” said Ted. “It’s fun to meet the artists at the museum and around town.”

In the dining room a color wood block by Andrew Saftel, who is mostly known for his paintings, hangs above a sideboard holding turquoise McCoy Pottery chosen for its color and a French 19th-century bronze gladiator head David and

Ted call “Bruce.” Displayed a couple of feet away is “FD&C Red,” a painting by Denise Stewart-Sanabria and a collection of vintage cocktail shakers. Also in the living room are paintings by Kevin Mullins, a late colleague of David’s at Wichita State, and a woodblock print by Sandy Walker, an Oakland, Calif. artist and old friend.

The result is an eclectic, colorful collection that pops off the home’s neutralcolored walls. Not surprisingly, this is not a home where art is selected because it matches the sofa.

Ted says, “If you like it, buy it,” noting that he felt that way when he saw “FD&C Red,” which hangs in their dining room. “I wish people would be more fearless about buying art and not worrying about where it’s going to go” said David.

In 2019, with the help of architect Bob Alcorn, the couple added a large room to the front of the house where the carport used to be. They built a new carport right next to the new addition. This “great room” for entertaining and TV-watching connects to the original kitchen and features custom cherry cabinets to display glass and 3-D works.

The stars are glass pieces by Richard Jolley and Tommie Rush. The head created by Jolley is special because it was made in Venice for his 2011 show there and purchased there by David and Ted, who traveled to Venice with other Knoxville friends for the show. The new room is dominated by a beautiful fireplace of stacked Crab Orchard stone. “That’s something Ted had wanted for years,” said David. “We also added stone facing around the front door, which got painted Tiffany blue about the same time.” They replicated in the new space the floor-to-ceiling windows in the old living room, giving a nice view of the wooded surroundings. 

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