Adirondack chairs placed beneath a tree provide a secluded spot for taking in the views.
A gently sloping lawn and mature trees surround the stable, painted a quaint barn red.
A central green unifies the pool and nearby brick terrace.
Shade-loving plants abound under grand old trees that shelter the house.
The pool's flagstone deck matches the existing stone walls on the property.
A gray fence flanked by rows of perennials encloses a small vegetable garden.
Hosta and oakleaf hydrangea delineate the lawn from a less manicured area.

Historic Idyll

Richard Arentz transforms a run-down property into a sprawling outdoor retreat

couple had finally found their ideal country home: an 18th-century historic farmhouse in Orlean, Virginia. Though they wanted a rustic, serene setting in which to entertain family and friends, the 18-acre property was anything but.

“It was in deplorable shape,” says landscape architect Richard Arentz, who was hired to regenerate the neglected property. In addition to drainage issues, fence runs cut up the landscape and many old trees were either dead or dying. 

Fortunately, Arentz could see potential. He removed the fences and dead trees and re-graded the slope, creating a large central green with a drainage system beneath. The landscape became a stunning retreat that boasts terraces for entertaining, manicured green lawns, a tennis court, pool and spa, and lush shade gardens. Winner of a Potomac Chapter American Society of Landscape Architecture award, it has been the site of large parties and a number of weddings. Many of these have centered on the large yew-bordered lawn, which also serves as a calming transitional space between the home, terrace, gardens and guesthouse. 

A turned-edge brick terrace accented with sandstone leads from the house to the lawn. A table and chairs sit on either side of a large, open central area with views of the lawn and pastures. Tucked into the greenery, a rectangular pool is surrounded by a deck of the same fieldstone that clads the house and existing walls. A secluded area nearby holds a stone spa, table and chairs. 

Arentz’s goal was to retain a natural look appropriate to the landscape’s country setting. He succeeded: A tapestry of oakleaf hydrangea, hosta and Solomon’s Seal now thrives where parked cars once dripped oil over the tree roots. Although the transformation was dramatic, Arentz observes, “The greatest compliment you could give me is to say, ‘I’m not really sure what you did.’” 

Karen Watkins is a Bethesda, Maryland, freelance writer. Photographer Roger Foley is based in Arlington, Virginia. 

LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: RICHARD ARENTZ, ASLA, Arentz Landscape Architects, LLC, Washington, DC, and Warrenton, Virginia. ARCHITECTURE: JERRY HARPOLE, Harpole Architects P.C., Washington, DC. STONE MASONRY: CANGELOSI MASONRY, Locust Grove, Virginia.