With its lush lawns and myriad horse farms, Great Falls, Virginia, is the perfect image of the American dream. But step through the front door of interior designer Natascha Folens’s Great Falls, Virginia, farmhouse and you leave behind any reminders of Americana. True, the home Folens shares with her two children and boyfriend Luc Dejager is situated on five acres, with stables and a large riding ring for the family’s three horses. But the Belgian-born designer’s retreat is a decidedly sophisticated take on the country home, absent of folk art and bright hues, and abundant in rich colors and textures. “Some homes are so overdone. My vision is an old country home you would see in Europe,” says Folens, who favors clean lines over gingerbread and saturated, harmonious colors over white-trimmed windows and doors.
The atmosphere is refreshing and immediately inviting. The foyer is a lofty room where a large oil painting of a horse created by one of her close friends, Belgian artist Nele Cornelis, is a focal point. A simple table provides display space for treasured photos, and a spare metal rail adorning the staircase—which replaced a heavy wood banister—keeps the room open and airy.
The transformation of the home—which comprised numerous outdoor overhauls including a stucco treatment applied to the exterior of the house by a specialist from Belgium and the addition of a spacious back deck and pool—is a testament to Folens’s ability to carry out her vision. When she and Dejager first saw what was then a very traditional Colonial, they couldn’t even bring themselves to walk through the front door. “It was all red brick, with really no character. We drove up the driveway and told the realtor we didn’t want to go in,” she says.
Eventually the location and horse-friendly grounds won them over, and Folens got to work paring down trim, and rethinking the interiors. In the kitchen, she kept the existing wood cabinets but replaced the dark granite countertops (“too shiny for me,” she notes) with monotone buff CaesarStone. What had been an “overly decorative” built-in plate rack now serves as a small bar. The chunky kitchen table, a Crate and Barrel find that’s one of the designer’s only pieces from the States, stands under prominent metal pendant lights Folens found at a flea market during one of her monthly sojourns to Belgium.
“What sets me apart is that I use so many [international] sources. People are getting tired of what they see here over and over again,” she says.
The kitchen opens to a gracious family room, where a terra-cotta accent wall draws the eye toward a handful of well-placed collectibles: An aboriginal painting hangs near a commanding wooden floor lamp. The fireplace mantel and simple wall shelves were carved from support beams from a 200-year-old European monastery.“I’m very minimalist by nature,” Folens notes. “It’s all about finding the beauty in an object. I like everything to be balanced.”
Balance and simplicity prevail in the living and dining rooms, which the designer joined by knocking down a wall to form an elegant, cavern-like space enveloped in a velvety brown paint that covers the walls and ceiling. In the living room, a deep brown silk sofa resides near a similarly hued ottoman, both from Spain. The dining furniture is lighter in color but still fits squarely in the “naturals” category, which makes an oversized floral painting simply pop. “I don’t like to use colors that are too bold. I prefer objects to stand out more than, say, the curtain color,” Folens says.
Folens has purposely created rooms in her home for enjoyment during the cold winter months. Reflecting on the living room, she explains, “We wanted to create a cozy winter space inside. It’s a place where you can come and drink a glass of brandy and feel comfortable.”
Small wonder the family enjoys their time outdoors. A tiered patio that spans the back of the house leads down to the pool and hot tub. In another nod to Europe, the pool is surrounded on three sides by grass. “I very much wanted the Provence look and feel,” Folens says. A nearby garden includes ample lavender plants and shrubs. The designer and her daughter frequently exercise their horses and practice jumping in the riding ring.
Not surprisingly, Folens bypassed the traditional American concept of basement as recreation room for children. Instead, steps from the pool area lead down to a large spa complete with a generous steam room and separate shower. Folens credits Dejager with the idea. “He really wanted a spa, and for the basement to be a retreat when it’s cold out.”
Indeed, the spa is an ideal transition space to what is perhaps the coziest room in the house. Devoid of a glaring television or cluttered built-ins, this lounging space contains a comfortable sectional, a plush white rug scattered with oversized pillows and petite tables carved from the same wooden monastery beams, all situated in front of a substantial stone-faced fireplace. Adding further ambience and function, a sizable wine cellar is housed behind a wall of glass.
“In the winter we can come here right from the hot tub, light a fire and relax,” Folens says. “It’s just like being on a vacation.”