By Stacy Thomas | Photos by Tony Bennett
In 2006, Matt Bergman and his wife Jessica sold their log cabin in North Carolina to relocate to Louisville to be closer to family. “I am from Cincinnati, she is from Louisville,” he said. “I was getting my PhD at the time, Jessica was working at Hanover – we were both working our way up in education.”
The couple was adamant about looking for property in Louisville exclusively. “My realtor suggested Indiana several times; they were all met with a resounding ‘no,’ ” Bergman said.
The couple wanted something unique, unconventional and potentially an investment. After months of looking with no prospects in sight, they reluctantly crossed the bridge to New Albany. “We were not particularly hopeful, but at this point we had exhausted ourselves,” said Bergman, “so we figured we had nothing to lose by looking.”
Charmed by the quaintness of Market Street, the beginning of a downtown revival and an offer they could not refuse, the couple purchased an abandoned commercial warehouse, formerly Lewis Furniture and Appliance in the late 1950s to 1960s. “The building had been vacant for 50 years,” Bergman recalled. “It had pigeons, rats and bats, no walls – and 10,000 square feet of potential.”
The couple invested their entire savings and the proceeds from the sale of their home in North Carolina for the building renovations. “Our friends thought we were crazy; my Dad was confident that we (he and I) could do the work; and my mother-in-law cried. (Note: She is now very impressed and very proud.) We moved into a tiny, 700-square-foot apartment and endured nine months of renovations,” Bergman said. “There were moments that we thought this was the worst decision we had ever made. It was definitely a challenge: we had no walls. When we finally started drywall, we turned a corner.”
The couple salvaged and recycled as much of the original building as possible. “There were some structural issues,” Bergman said. “We made a 10-foot harvest table from an old floor joist made from 150-year-old poplar. It is beautiful. We refinished some of the original floors, sealed and preserved some of the exposed brick, and scraped and sealed the trim on the doors.”
Matt describes their style as “vintage modern,” a combination of modern touches with vintage pieces from estate sales and second-hand stores. “We incorporated a set of vintage barn doors into the space and an old claw foot tub I salvaged from my uncle and resurfaced.” The finished product is a four-bedroom, two-story loft home with ample patio space. “The patio is covered in (football) field turf. It is basically carpet with blades of grass. I found a company in New York that sold remnants.”
Matt completed his doctorate along with the renovation and is now s professor at the University of Louisville. Jessica is vice president of advancement at Union College in Barberville, Ky. The couple had no aspirations to own their own business, so the ground floor storefront is home to their sole tenant, Louis Le Francais, a French restaurant, which makes their loft lifestyle seem all the more European in the midst of New Albany’s renaissance.
“We really were on the edge of the revival of downtown in 2006. We wanted to be a part of that process. I always wanted to build a house with my Dad (a retired farmer) and exploit his handy-man skills,” Bergman said. “I got to enjoy the best of both. I really feel like we are part of something special. People that lived here all their lives welcomed us with open arms.”
If you are considering urban living, Bergman advises: “Do your research and take chances. Make sure you understand the zoning and code restrictions before historic renovation.”
Originally, the couple thought they would live in New Albany for a few years and eventually move back to the Highlands in Louisville, but “you can’t find this amount of space in the Highlands,” Bergman said. “We are never bored. We live in a unique neighborhood and walk to everything. We just want all of our friends to move over here and create a fun, collective life in a great community.”
Home Sweet Home
Who Lives Here: Matt Bergman, his wife Jessica, their 5-year-old son Gus, and Javier the dog.
Their Home: A 6,000 square foot loft in a commercial building above New Albany’s Louis Le Francais restaurant in New Albany. One portion of the building was built in 1849; the other in 1879.