Written by Theresa Rolen Long
Photography by Arden Ward Upton
For Arden and William Upton, living in a barn isn’t quite like it sounds. Nestled in a picturesque mountain valley south of town, Windwood welcomes guests through its formidable iron gate and along a woodsy, meandering drive. Over train tracks and past verdant meadows, the heart of the property is revealed: an old barn bearing the Upton family crest of a venerable cross moline, kept company by other cupola-topped stable barns, all surrounded by lush paddocks and pristine arenas.
Windwood has earned its reputation as a resplendent world-class equestrian facility and wedding venue. But more importantly, it is the other-worldly home for this newlywed couple. And as with many a burst of creativity, it started as a mere napkin sketch.
William, whose passion for horses began with riding lessons at age 15, developed his vision for the farm without assistance from an architect. The property came alive over time, being developed initially as a means for him to share his love for horses with others. The 70-year-old original barn was renovated and retrofitted to include stylish living quarters adjoining five stalls. From the exterior, it might be considered a human/horse duplex of sorts. But inside it proves to be much more.
The couple offers warm greetings from the residence barn’s flower-filled patio. William exudes a calm, polite confidence, and Arden is at once the equable and friendly hostess. She is readily proud of their unique home, confiding she wasted no time upon taking up residence in softening its manliness with oriental rugs, antiques, artwork, and family mementos. In the den, a sofa jauntily draped with an Hermes horse-cooling blanket is flanked by huge antique bellows cleverly repurposed into floor lamps—a birthday gift from William’s father. A cast-iron wood-burning stove cozies up the corner, juxtaposing sheer linen curtains and an antique tapestry. Two small, square interior windows provide a peek into the adjacent stalls. “William and I will be watching TV and something loud will come on. Suddenly, the horses’ heads will appear in the windows, like they are saying, ‘We hear you!’ It’s hysterical,” Arden says. “You have to really love animals to live here.”
An efficient, galley-style kitchen outfitted with distressed black cabinetry, granite and butcher-block counters, and high-end stainless appliances offsets the warm wooden tongue and groove walls adorning the main floor of the home. Photographs, both recent and vintage, of William’s family mingle with Arden’s own in a carefully curated collage on the foyer salon wall. Throughout, you are reminded of the couple’s love for all things horse. French antique tables showcase silver serving pieces with brass snaffle-bit accents. And gently arched Louis-Philippe style mirrors allude to stall yokes. The stairwell leading to the second floor is anchored by massive black and white horse photographs taken and printed by Arden, herself a professional photographer.
Prior to her courtship with William, Arden purchased a stunning 18th-century oil portrait of a woman and her dog at an estate sale. The woman is actress Mary Robinson, and the painting is by renowned English portraitist Thomas Gainsborough. Robinson was an artist and provocateur, and her scandalous behavior earned her the moniker of “Madonna of the 18th Century.” Unknown to Arden at the time of her purchase, the painting once hung in William’s childhood home. Yes, the exact same painting. It now presides over their second floor landing. A gallery leading to the master suite dons many works of art. A console table is commanded by an antique scale model of a horse made from leather, a wedding gift to William from Arden. Displayed alongside are William’s mother’s riding helmet and crop and Arden’s grandmother’s horse statues.
The large, light-filled master bedroom commands a breathtaking view of the nearby dressage and lesson arenas. A sitting arrangement of an antique sofa and chairs circles a coffee table, offering shelter to a smattering of Hermes boxes. A corner displays Louis Vuitton luggage, at the ready. In another corner, polo mallets casually occupy a large antique barrel. Hanging above is a still life by Arden’s grandmother, Irene Stephenson Ward, a well-known artist and Walker County native. The animal-loving couple’s Doberman and Irish Wolfhound have their beds nearby.
Past a David Austin rose garden and up the hill sits the main barn, with 24 roomy stalls housing a number of well-maintained, Grand Prix horses. Arden lights up as we greet happy riders and instructors, working inside to prep, bathe, and care for their steeds. The tack room connotes a quick lesson in the difference between jumping versus dressage saddles, and the locker room proudly displays a plethora of award ribbons.
The rustic-luxe barn also houses William’s office. Inside, Arden points to the antique wood covering the walls and the rough-hewn beams on the ceiling, explaining, “This came from Andrew Jackson’s barn.” She thoughtfully framed a print of a horse-drawn carriage scene, hanging behind his desk. A large photograph of the couple’s horses, seemingly kissing noses, hangs on the opposing wall. Men’s riding boots with their shapers stand tall in a corner.
Ambling down the hill is an idyllic school barn, replete with chandeliers and other high-end touches, housing up to six horses and a lounging cat or two. “William’s long-time goal is to provide children with the opportunity to learn to ride without having to own a horse,” Arden says. “Here we offer beginner’s lessons with resident horses.” Arden describes William as “always in motion.” He soon joins to pose a question to her regarding the venue’s wedding calendar. After discussions of all things bridles and brides, he suggests we scope the property via their Polaris. Unflinching, he speeds over ramps, gallops around wooded corners, and commands ridiculously steep climbs. With heart in mouth, we fly past herds of grazing deer and leap spattering mud puddles.
After awhile, we stop at a large clearing aside the mountain. The setting sun dances behind a circling glade of pine trees, as William shares, in his minimal manner, that this is to be the site for their new home. Neither of them say much more about it. But judging from the telling grins on their faces, their minds are racing with possibilities.
A content and assured future awaits them. Whether they decide to stay in the cozy-chic barn or build the “proper” house of their dreams a furlong away, Arden and William Upton have found their future, and they have found their home.