With its classic brick exterior, slate roof and stately presence, a center-hall colonial built in 1926 is a perfect fit for its southern Virginia locale. The owners, who moved in 19 years ago with a blended family of six children, only recently decided it was time for a thorough makeover. Though the kids are now grown, 11 grandchildren have entered the scene and the couple felt the need for more functional space to accommodate their visits.
They tapped architect Robert Paxton to expand the home’s cramped, dated kitchen and family room, bring in more light and integrate the indoor and outdoor spaces. “We needed a nice kitchen/sitting area for the kids,” says the wife. “We wanted the whole family to be comfortable when they’re here, and to have more usable space inside and out.”
Paxton and his team got to work sketching ideas for opening up the floor plan to the outdoors. “It was like a lot of these houses, built in the ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s,” the architect observes. “I call them introverted—built with service kitchens and minimal closet space and little connection to the landscape.”
Achieving better flow from the inside out meant also making the outdoors more accessible. The house is sited so that the driveway leads to the rear of the property, where a back door serves as the main entry. Paxton and his team replaced the uninviting back door with one of glass flanked by sidelites, then added a wide portico over it to impart a sense of scale. The driveway—formerly paved in asphalt that “looked like a road,” as Paxton recalls—is now cobblestone, connected by a picturesque, curved stone stairway.
Around the corner near the kitchen, an unused side yard sloped up awkwardly from the house. Collaborating with landscape architect Rachel Lilly, Paxton devised a way to dig out the slope and create an outdoor room in its place. They installed a slate patio complete with a fountain and a brick retaining wall; lush landscaping finished the new al fresco living area.
Meanwhile, the plan for the kitchen makeover moved forward. Extending out 10 feet from the original kitchen and spanning 32 feet in width, the addition creates ample room for an updated, functional kitchen and family room. Along with the glassed-in back entry, three sets of French doors, which spill out to the patio from this spacious new area, bring the outdoors into the open-plan space. “I could sit there all day long; you don’t even feel like you’re inside,” the wife says. “And the patio is fabulous.”
A breakfast nook with a built-in banquette is tucked beneath the back stairway. A French limestone fireplace from Chesney’s of London in the sitting area creates a focal point. Reclaimed heart-pine ceiling beams delineate the kitchen, with its white-painted cabinetry, limestone countertops, and backsplash. Antique, wide-plank European oak floors are stained light and distressed.
As is often the case, a small renovation project soon grew in scope. “Once [the owners] saw our ideas, they wanted us to do more,” Paxton says. An overhaul of the master suite, including a poorly designed dressing room and bath, created a more functional layout. The new dressing room shares space with adjoining his-and-her baths—one feminine with Venetian plaster walls and cream-colored millwork; the other masculine, with dark-wood cabinets and ceramic wall tiles. Limestone floors and counters unify the spaces. On the second floor of the addition, a bath was added along with an improved laundry room containing plenty of storage.
The husband’s study received a facelift, with a fireplace and built-ins, while Paxton updated the wife’s home office with another French limestone fireplace from Chesney’s of London, paneled walls, a stone floor, and new built-in shelving. Windows with fewer mullions in all the remodeled spaces admit more light.
The wife, a retired interior designer, worked with designer R. David Craig on the home’s interiors. “We wanted to lighten the house up,” she says. “The prominent colors are lime green, soft blue, khaki, and off-white. We have Oushak carpets and vibrant art, so we needed a soft, neutral palette to make them pop.”
The couple “had lived there so long, nothing really flowed,” Craig says. “They needed a plan that would make the interiors feel cohesive.” He reupholstered the furniture to fit the new, lighter décor, with notable additions like a round dining room table and antique dining chairs, and a new sofa with matching armchairs in the living room. Dining room millwork was freshly painted and soft linen now covers the living room walls. The family room addition was furnished from scratch, beginning with an antique carpet and textured-plaster walls that provide the backdrop for a comfortable sofa and armchairs gathered around an antique coffee table.
At the husband’s suggestion, the design team brought in Boston-based Lam Partners, a lighting firm, to install museum-quality lighting that would enhance the owners’ extensive art collection. Craig combined that lighting plan with one of his own, creating layers of light that now beautifully illuminate the refurbished home. “Lighting is always big,” he observes, adding that this house was no exception. “When you walk into one of the well-lit rooms, you know it’s right—even when you don’t know why.”
The late Philip Beaurline was an architectural photographer in Charlottesville.
RENOVATION ARCHITECTURE & DESIGN: ROBERT L. PAXTON, AIA, principal; SHAWN A. MULLIGAN, AIA, project architect; R. DAVID CRAIG, director of interior design, Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects, Charlottesville, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: Worth, Inc., Roanoke, Virginia. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: RACHEL M. LILLY, Rachel Lilly Landscape, Port Republic, Virginia.