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Inside the Heron's Nest: Mimi and Milton Turner have filled their lakeside home with the collection of a lifetime

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Mimi and Milton Turner have filled their lakeside home with the collection of a lifetime

Story by Gay Lyons | Photography by Ben Finch

Mimi and Milton Turner named their 11,000 square foot Georgian-style home in Louisville “Heron’s Nest,” but its nickname could be “The Place that Nellie Found.”

The Turners had decided the only way to have the space they wanted was to build. Milton discovered the four acre lot while walking Nellie, the family’s Scottish terrier, in their Topside neighborhood. Nellie escaped and led Milton on a chase down a wooded waterfront hillside, which turned out to be for sale.

The home took two years to complete. “Milton and historic house buff Bailey Sharp spent a year collaborating on the design,” said Mimi. “Milton made some changes and then worked with builder Craig Belitz. We wanted it to look like an old house.”

“The house has evolved,” she continued. “We had very little when we moved in in 2001.”

Over the last 20 years, empty spaces have filled with evidence of the Turners’ common passion for antiques and art. “We’ve acquired things from auctions, from our travels and from family members,” said Mimi. ”We’re sentimental. Everything we have has a meaning. It doesn’t always fit.”

All of the light fixtures are antiques. The sixfoot art deco pendant in the foyer came from the Patten Hotel in Chattanooga, where Milton grew up. “There were six of these in a row in a hallway,” said Mimi. “Our fixture was assembled from three of them.”

The couple loves Impressionist paintings and watercolors. Mimi collects Imari, a Japanese porcelain also collected by her mother and her aunt. A lot of the silver collection came from family, including a silver water pitcher nicked when the Union Army came through Fitzgerald, Georgia, where Mimi’s family comes from. A painting by Catherine Wiley hangs near a painting by Rene Theobold, and there are numerous contemporary pieces by Tommie Rush and Richard Jolley. In the formal living room hangs a painting of Mimi and her daughters Mollie and Sinclair by nationally known portrait artist Ann Kenyon.

“We are wearing what we wore when Mollie and Sinclair were presented at Girls Cotillion,” said Mimi. “We asked her to make it look like a John Singer Sargent.” When the painting was completed, Kenyon presented the family with a prized possession, a scrapbook documenting the process.

The foyer, living room, family room, library, dining room, butler’s pantry, kitchen and master suite occupy the main floor. The kitchen, with its restaurant stove, is Milton's domain. “Some have said our kitchen is the best restaurant in Knoxville,” said Mimi.

A guest suite and two large suites, one for Mollie, one for Sinclair, occupy the top floor. “Each was supposed to be a bedroom and a study,” said Mimi, “but our builder said, ‘let’s open it up.’”

The bottom floor holds a well-equipped gym, including a sauna. There’s also a large media room, which Mimi calls the Hemingway room because of the big game trophies on the wall courtesy of her brother Louis, a big game hunter. “The giraffe was destroying crops in a village, and Louis was invited to shoot it,” said Mimi.

The property also includes a three-car garage and, over it, an apartment, occupied by Mimi’s 95-year old mother, Emily Browning. “It was supposed to be a guest house,” said Mimi, “but mother has been here 10 years, and it’s been great. We each have our privacy, but we see each other every day, and we have dinner together every night.”

An old cinder block boat garage could have been torn down, but builder Craig Belitz had a better idea. “He said, ‘we can turn it into a retreat,’” said Mimi. “The roof of the boat garage is now the floor of the studio. A lot of people say it’s their favorite place.

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