Ryland Witt still remembers visiting the rambler in Richmond as a seven-year-old. It was her older cousins’ house and, unlike Witt’s own home, it didn’t have a formal dining room. “They liked casual dining in one room overlooking the backyard,” says Witt, who found her cousins’ lifestyle fun and freeing. “They spent most of their time in that big room connected to the kitchen.”
Now an interior designer, Witt had recently completed work on a center-hall colonial for clients Dan and Amy Ludwin when the couple spotted the 1950s rancher for sale and told her they were intrigued enough to consider a move. They liked the house’s nonconformist spirit, the idea of living on one floor and especially the backyard swimming pool, visible from that big room. Could Witt take a look? They wondered if she could undo some of the additions that were choking its circulation and reconnect the house to its mid-century modern origins.
Dan, a Richmond financial advisor, and Amy, a stay-at-home mom, bet on Witt’s enthusiasm and discovered a meeting of minds: They all loved the idea of living without a formal dining room. The couple bought the house with the idea of renovating right away. Witt contacted local architect John Voight to take a look. Trained in the impeccable proportions and cohesive style of Virginia’s traditional housing stock, Voight recognized the need to integrate the abode’s flesh-colored brick into a neighborhood dominated by stately homes of red and lime-washed brick. “Off-white exteriors with taupe trim knit its disparate sections together and better assimilate the house into the neighborhood,” he says.
Successive additions over half a century had made the interiors choppy. “A single room had as many as four doorways, allowing little wall space for furniture,” Voight recalls. “The resulting circulation through the main rooms was confusing.” Collaborating with builder Tony Pitts, he got rid of remnants of past renovations by re-engineering roof trusses and reconfiguring portions of bearing walls. “As a team, we rescued the floor plan for better circulation and furnishing plans that could reuse furniture from their former home,” the architect says.
The cleaned-up floor plan dramatically impacted the back of the house. A circular layout finally linked all the rooms, but a connection to the backyard was needed. “How could we stop dead at that one back door?” Witt remembers thinking. “Dan and Amy wanted access to the pool, the terrace and the beautiful double lot. They knew this house would be great for parties, so we developed that outside dimension.” Three sets of French doors replaced picture windows to open up the rear elevation.
This new orientation toward the pool and backyard cleared the way for Witt to create interiors in sync with the mid-century modern home. A wet bar between the family room and former breakfast room off the kitchen was a retro touch. The breakfast room—the same space Witt remembered from childhood—became a hybrid space she describes as “not a dining, living or sunroom, but all of the above. The mix of chairs and a sofa around a trestle table can be used for dining but also rearranged for other occasions. It’s now known as the lounge.”
Witt worked to ensure that each room would be fun as well as functional. “The mid-century modern aesthetic supports this creative mix,” she says. “It advocates rethinking materials, design approaches and room orientations for fresh solutions.” When Witt spotted a dynamic but expensive fabric she and Amy liked for the living room chairs, the designer limited its use to cushions that enliven neutral linen upholstery. “The dual treatment is fun and the green pattern brings the eye out to the backyard,” she says.
The Ludwins’ wish to decorate with furniture from their former house instigated unexpected, dramatic color shifts from room to room. The family room and wet bar’s dark walls, taken from a favorite flame-stitch club chair, provide a stark contrast to the light neutrals in sunny rooms elsewhere. But the integration is deft, different and, above all, casual.
The Ludwins measure the success of Witt’s work by how they feel. “It’s easy to live here, and so welcoming to our friends,” says Amy. “My 21-year-old daughter saw it for the first time and said, ‘This is so cool!’ That’s when I knew it was perfect.”
Writer Susan Stiles Dowell is based in Monkton, Maryland. Gordon Gregory is a Richmond-based photographer.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE: JOHN K. VOIGHT, John K. Voight Architects, Charlottesville, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: RYLAND WITT, Ryland Witt Interior Design, Richmond, Virginia. LANDSCAPE DESIGN: RUSSELL COMBS, Russell Combs Design, LLC, Richmond, Virginia. BUILDER: TONY PITTS, Pitts & Associates, Inc., Manakin-Sabot, Virginia.
THROUGHOUT Millwork: pittsassociatesinc.com.
FAMILY ROOM Sectional, Fabric & Throw Pillows: Custom through rylandwitt.com. Coffee Table: worlds-away.com. Club Chair: Owners’ collection. Chair Fabric: fschumacher.com. Floor Lamp in Corner: arteriorshome.com. Mirror over Sectional: madegoods.com. Rug: Custom through rylandwitt.com
LIVING ROOM Club Chairs: Custom through rylandwitt.com. Club Chair Fabric: beaconhilldesign.com. Coffee Table: worlds-away.com. Rug: fibreworks.com. Brass Lights above Shelves: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Art over Mantel: carolyncarr.com. Ceramic Ware on Shelves: Owners’ collection.