Mind Over Matter

The Voice Tribune – August 8, 2013

TVT_9331Jim Phifer is not your ordinary, run-of-the-mill neuropsychologist.

He’s a man of wide interests and talents, who loves to travel, to cook, to collect art, to entertain and to create scary Halloween environments using his own home-made animatronic monsters.

He recently sold his company, for which he had developed a unique brain injury treatment program, and bought a 10,000-square-foot home on 31 acres in Simpsonville. He has spent the last six months remodeling it. And with all that time and all that square footage, plus the talents of licensed remodeler Renotta Henson of Victory Home Builders, he has fulfilled almost all of his fantasies.

“We told Renotta what we wanted,” Pfipher says. “She took our ideas and brought them to the ultimate level.”

The sprawling home hews to three decorative themes: country farmhouse, horse farm and the Old West.  But the primary theme running throughout is fun – and the good time Phifer has clearly had putting this little theme park together.

His interest in theming is not entirely accidental. In his practice, he used to host themed parties for his patients – brain-damaged either as a result of trauma or disease – for which he encouraged them to get involve in planning the costumes or painting the decorations.

“It required them to concentrate their thinking,” he explains, “and to develop skills that they could apply to the real world.”

From that, Phifer says he has about 10,000 square feet of Halloween-themed decorations, a complete haunted ghost town and Disney-level animatronics –monsters, witches, pirates – that he created for his two sons, Jake (now 17) and Dylan (14), both students at Kentucky Country Day.

He’s still waiting for the space to display his collection. But almost all his other interests are on display.

So he has filled the walls with artwork he likes, much of it country- or equine-themed, by artists such as Laurie Pace, Robert Joyner and Dick Jemison.

He has turned his French Country kitchen into a commercial-level set of appliances to fuel his love of cooking, and is building a cooking pavilion in the back yard, where he will do his smoking and barbecuing.

He has turned a first floor office and potting room into a parlor and adjoining bourbon bar, with a horse theme.

He has turned the master bathroom into a cozy grotto of stone walls, flagstone floor, Gothic arched doorways, river rock shower, copper soaking tub and fireplace.

And he’s most excited about the renovated basement, now a Western-themed saloon with subtle touches, like bar stools topped with tooled leather saddle seats; an Amish wagon wheel chandelier hanging over the poker table; poker chairs, by Maitland Smith, with carved leather and cowhide chair backs; even coasters on the poker table shaped like horseshoes; and a bathroom with a cracker barrel base and copper sink.

On the wall by the poker table are three signed and numbered lithographs by illustrator and painter Arnold Friberg of Western saloon scenes. Phifer says Steven Spielberg and hotelier Steve Wynn own the originals.

The fantasyland basement also has a full movie theatre (with de riguer popcorn machine), pool room and music room (Phifer is also a guitarist and keyboardist).

It might sound inviting, but there are warnings for visitors. Signs on a wall proclaim: “POKER PLAYIN’ ALLOWED; CHEATIN’ AIN’T – Cheaters will be horsewhipped, hung and shot” and “BEWARE! Poker playing and loose women are permitted in this establishment.”

If those warnings don’t deter you, Jim Phifer’s renovation will be one of 14 stops on this year’s 28th annual Tour of Remodeled Homes, Saturday and Sunday, August 10 and 11, sponsored by Bonnycastle Appliance & TV and produced by the Home Builders Association of Louisville (HBAL).