A river ran through it—and how. The temptation of owning a second home on the lush banks of Little Hunting Creek—a tributary of the Potomac River in Mount Vernon, Virginia—was too great for a cosmopolitan, Manhattan-based couple.
“We found it while surfing the Internet,” says one of the homeowners, describing the four-bedroom, 4,400-square-foot abode. “It spoke to us right away. The waterfront location was a big draw, and the house had great potential for entertaining. We have lots of family and friends who come to stay. We also love to kayak and canoe, and just got a boat. It felt like the right place for a retreat.”
Shortly after purchasing the residence in 2014, the owners met Alexandria Davenport, a decorator and the owner of Tchoupitoulas Furnishings, a home store and interior-design studio in Old Town Alexandria.
“They invited me to tour the property,” says Davenport, who was hired to execute a complete makeover of the home. “It had a nice, open layout and was very livable, but definitely needed a redesign. The wall paints were bright, with colors like lime-green, and there were no window treatments. There was also no landscaping, just scrub and mud, and poor indoor-outdoor connectivity.”
The homeowners’ wish list was simple but specific. They wanted a comfortable, low-key getaway conducive to entertaining, both indoors and out. In terms of décor, they sought a rustic elegance in spaces that would forge a natural connection to the riverfront setting without, in Davenport’s words, “being kitschy.”
“The first room we worked on was the dining room,” she recalls. “The thing that turned it around and ultimately affected the whole redesign was the lighting choice. The owners picked these cool triple pendants made of steel wire with exposed bulbs that look like little crab pots.”
Davenport covered the dining-room walls in textured grasscloth and selected a rustic wood dining table with a wrought-iron base. A wool-blend rug defined the space, which is bordered by an open hall running from the foyer to the great room on one side and a full bank of French doors on another. In lieu of a bulky china cabinet, the designer cleverly created stylish storage with charcoal chests by Vanguard on either side of the fireplace.
Meanwhile, Landscape Associates, Inc., worked with the homeowners to design a deck—accessible from either side of the house—that leads to a central limestone terrace out back overlooking the river. This arrangement allows guests to walk out of the dining room or great room and meet on the terrace, which is also accessible from the kitchen area. Plantings and boulders now embellish new raised beds that, along with walking paths, wind down the hillside to the dock below.
Davenport and her clients selected a neutral color scheme that would not distract from the outdoor scenery. “Our palette became a natural linen, as opposed to a stark white, along with pops of gray, gray-blue and yellow,” she says.
In the great room, where the kitchen and living area meet, the challenge was to fill the large space while maintaining a flexible layout that could work for a large party. “We picked two matching, custom English roll-arm sofas instead of a sectional. They allow for better movement when you remove the round side table between them,” explains Davenport. Two coffee tables, positioned side by side, can be separated if needed. Throughout the home, the designer varied stains on the wood furniture. “We wanted everything in the house to look collected—not like it was bought all at once,” she explains. “We also wanted to create the air of a multigenerational, family holiday home.”
Since frequent visitors occupy the home’s three guest bedrooms, the designer created a master suite that serves as a private retreat for her clients. “I wanted it to be a cozy place for the owners to go and rest,” she adds. She painted the walls a deep gray-blue shade and selected a beautiful recumbent chaise with nail-head trim for lounging or reading by the window. The windows are dressed in minimalist linen panels on the same wrought-iron curtain rods used elsewhere in the house.
“We love how it turned out,” concludes the homeowner. “The contrast between our Manhattan lifestyle—all those skyscrapers and the cold—and this is amazing. It’s so special to come down to this house, have friends and family over and unwind in a completely different place.”
Writer and stylist Charlotte Safavi is based in Alexandria. Robert Radifera is a photographer in Charlottesville.