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Old Warm Charm: Lush Gardens and Bright Colors Come Together at the Home of Jim and Kati Blalock



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Story by Gay Lyons | Photography by Ben Finch

Kati and Jim Blalock describe their 30-year old 15,000 square foot home as a modified Georgian that has been “added on and added on” according to Jim.The design of the house was inspired by a house the Blalocks used to see on their way to The Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.

“There’s a house near Wytheville, Virginia, you can see from the interstate,” said Kati. “We had admired it for years and were getting ready to build. We stopped and asked,’can we look through your house?’ and this gracious older lady invited us in.”

The next step was drawings on the backs of napkins, followed by the construction of the
original house and then numerous additions, which have sometimes thrown off the Georgian symmetry.

“It’s getting ready to be more symmetrical,” said Kati. “We’re adding a one-story master bedroom and bath update.”

The home sits on 90 acres in Sevier County, land Kati has cultivated for enjoyment and, starting eight years ago, for her floral business, Sevier Blumen.

“Jim once told me, ‘you can’t landscape 90 acres,’” said Kati. “I said, ‘yes, well, we can give it a good shot.’”

There’s a boulder garden, a sunken garden, a conifer garden, a Japanese maple garden, a serenity garden and other gardens that have not been named yet. There’s a pond planned adjacent to the boulder garden. There’s her personal greenhouse close to the house and the production greenhouse farther from the house built for her business.

The serenity garden features a statue of St. Francis and soft foliage.

“There’s not much going on here except foliage,” said Kati.

Ferns and hydrangeas grow near a fountain in a fairly new garden that has no name yet. A contemporary sculpture by Preston Farabow, “Victoria of Sevier,” anchors a garden facing the mountains. The rock bench in a garden near the boulder garden has special meaning.

“My dad had this rock at his real estate business,” said Jim. “Kati saw it and said, ‘I’d like to have this.’ He said, ‘well, when I die, you can have it.’ It took 20 years. It’s a river rock that was formed into a bench.”

“The Japanese maple garden has been a struggle,” Kati said. “It’s situated on fill dirt; there aren’t enough nutrients. The conifer garden has been a challenge because most conifers don’t like heat.”

“Basically, I see a blank slate,” said Kati of her approach to garden design. “I went back to school at 50 and earned a degree in plant science. The young students asked, ‘what are you going to do? Start a business?’ I formed Sevier Blumen eight years ago with fellow student Robin Yeary.”

The classic red brick exterior surrounded by lush greenery leads into a home filled with color: a cheerful blue and yellow sunroom; a living room warmed by reds; a guest bedroom surrounded with cool, serene shades and a mural; a kitchen that features light and dark contrasts and old world touches; a den that uses hand-me-downs and rich shades. Outside the home, four Adirondack chairs in blues and yellows, colors Kati describes as “happy,” face the mountains.

Kati says her love of color comes from her Hungarian heritage: “I was raised to appreciate the rugs, the colors, the art work. It’s old world.”

“My parents met in a refugee camp in Germany," she continued. “My mother and her parents fled during the Soviet occupation of Hungary. My grandfather, a colonel, would have been executed.”

Her parents and grandparents, who were sponsored by Greystone Presbyterian Church, arrived in Knoxville in 1951. Kati was born two months later. She still has the clipping and photo of the family at the railroad station that ran in a story in the “News Sentinel” about the family’s arrival.

Kati and Jim were married in 1984. Kati was a TVA project manager, working on the Tellico Dam. Jim was an owner of the family business, Blalock Companies. Kati has two daughters; Jim has three. Between them they have 10 grandchildren.

“This house is the culmination of things that are important to Jim and me,” said Kati.

“Everywhere we look in the house something evokes a memory.”

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