Surrounded by rolling countryside in Virginia’s Albemarle County, the classical home with a weathered-stone façade could pass muster as a well-kept 18th-century gem. From its cobblestone courtyard to its working farm, the entire property harkens back to another era.
Which is exactly what the owner of this newly built home intended.
As a boy, he often played at Monticello, where his friend’s uncle was the curator. The beauty of Jefferson’s estate resonated with the young Virginia native, who vowed to build a Palladian-style villa of his own someday.
Fast-forward 50 years. On a sparkling autumn morning, the same architecture buff, now in the private equity business, strolls with his wife and guests through the residence and its gardens. For design inspiration, he spent decades amassing a 3,000-volume library of contemporary and antiquarian books related to Virginia homes and architecture. “I went through every one and tried to capture all the details I thought were important,” he says. The couple collected museum-quality antiques—including a circa-1840 English dining table, parts of which were stored in a barn for 10 years—in preparation. And when they finally added an adjacent parcel of land to the family farm near Charlottesville, he pored over topography maps to find the ideal spot for their future home.
During the winter of 2001, the owners hiked the property—then covered in dense woods—with the architect and long-time friend John Dalgliesh. “We got to this knob on top of the ridge,” recalls the husband, “and I said, ‘This is the site.’”
That decision sparked a four-year design process that would realize the owners’ ambitious goals and carefully integrate the home with the landscape. Lead architect Dalgliesh collaborated closely throughout the project with architects Robert Paxton and Mark Bittle and interior designer R. David Craig, all colleagues at Charlottesville-based Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects. Michigan architect Jonathan Lee reviewed the plans for adherence to the rules of classical symmetry while landscape architect Charles Stick, kitchen designer Karen Turner and scores of local craftspeople also left their mark.
Notebooks of images the owner photocopied from his library spoke volumes to the design team, who also took into consideration the couple’s practical requirements. They wanted the house to accommodate their book and antique collections, allow them to live on a single level and admit plenty of natural light. One more request, Paxton relates, “called for the house to last 300 years.”
In this spirit of Old-World staying power, wood-molded brick, Virginia slate and Indiana limestone on the home’s exterior were chosen to create a sense of timeless authenticity. Bronze window and door frames were imported from Italy. The large, flat-faced stones that form the front entry wall, salvaged from a pre-Civil War barn in West Virginia, notes Paxton, “were probably carved by slaves.”
While the house is by no means small, its owners wanted to maintain a modest scale. After Dalgliesh’s first drawings mapped out a “great big, sprawling Georgian house,” recalls the husband. “I said, ‘Let’s try to compress that into a classical shape.’”
What evolved was a cube-shaped main building. Wings flanking this center volume are visually obscured in the front by curving colonnades. To arriving guests, the home appears to be only one and a half stories tall though it’s actually three. The property slopes down in the back, allowing for a full lower level.
The architects made space for additional rooms in pavilions accessed by the covered arcades. One houses a guest suite and a summer living room spilling out to the garden and pool and the other a garage, workshop and caretaker’s quarters.
When fitting a large dining room and library into the main volume proved impossible, Dalgliesh hit on a solution: Why not make them one space? In this cylindrical room just off the foyer, cypress millwork housing the book collection rises two stories to a dramatic oculus and dome. “The dining room/library is the key architectural element of the house,” the husband extols. “Everything else scaled out from it.”
The dining room opens to a light-filled sitting room and solarium, which overlook pastureland unfurling toward the Blue Ridge Mountains like a colorful patchwork quilt. “The house really opens up on this side,” says Paxton. “It was important that there be a series of surprises.”
A trio of furniture arrangements in the sitting room welcomes gatherings both intimate and large. One end of the space leads to the kitchen, breakfast room, wife’s office and mudroom and the other to the master suite. The upper floor houses a gallery, the husband’s office, and a guest suite while the lower level contains another guestroom, a wine cellar, sewing room, gym and a farm mudroom.
Simple, rustic materials and a restrained color palette create a warm patina throughout the home. “Unlike projects in which the interiors make a statement, we were trying to create a background in this home where the architecture and the views were paramount,” says interior designer R. David Craig. “We came up with a soft palette that was still strong enough to stand up against dark antiques and paintings.”
Mingled with the owners’ largely American antiques, new Turkish Oushaks left to fade in the sun and fabrics with a lived-in feel suggest this abode is older than its years. “But there’s always richness,” Craig insists. “It’s all about flow and a cohesive feel. We took the time to create a thoughtful way to integrate everything and it feels edited.”
Sadly, architect John Dalgliesh passed away in 2012 during construction, but his partners carefully saw every detail through to fruition.
Now ensconced in their dream home, the owners enjoy the property in every season. But one day is especially gratifying for the husband, whose precise site-planning orchestrated an annual light show. On the summer solstice, sunlight pierces the home’s axis like an otherworldly beacon. “On June 21,” he marvels, “I can stand in the front driveway and watch the sunset right through the center of the house.”
Gordon Beall is a photographer in Bethesda.
ARCHITECTURE & INTERIORS: ROBERT L. PAXTON, AIA; MARK T. BITTLE, AIA; R. DAVID CRAIG, Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton Architects, Charlottesville, Virginia, and Baltimore, Maryland. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: Charles Stick Inc., Charlottesville, Virginia. KITCHEN DESIGN: KAREN TURNER, KTK Design, Charlottesville, Virginia. CONTRACTOR: JEFFREY D. SMITH, Alterra Construction Management, Earlysville, Virginia.
LIVING ROOM Antique Chandelier, Wooden Chair, Armchair, Table Lamps & Pedestal Tables: Owners’ collection. Coffee Tables: dennisandleen.com. Armchair Fabric: Custom by nomiinc.com. Wooden Chair Leather Upholstery: edelmanleather.com. Sofas: ohenryhouseltd.com. Sofa Fabric: nancycorzine.com. Pillow Fabric: robertallendesign.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com.
DINING ROOM Millwork & Bar Cabinet Design: dgparchitects.com. Millwork Fabrication: gastonwyatt.com. Sconces: besselink.com. Antique Table & Chairs: Owners’ collection. Chair Fabric: starkcarpet.com. Rug: Custom Oushak: keivanwovenarts.com. Bar Cabinet Design: Bar Cabinet Fabrication: blaisegaston.com.
KITCHEN Custom Cabinetry: gastonwyatt.com. Countertops: cogswellstone.com. Antique Rug & Pendants: Owners’ collection. Ovens: monogram.com. Faucets: rohlhome.com. Armchairs: whittemoresherrill.com. Stonework: empiremarblegranite.com.
MASTER SUITE SUNROOM Seating & Ottoman: michaeltaylordesigns.com. Seating & Ottoman Fabric: vervain.com. Seating & Ottoman Cording: samuelandsons.com. Antique Side Table: Owners’ collection. Rug: starkcarpet.com. Custom Shutters: gastonwyatt.com.
GUESTROOM Bed: ef-lm.com. Antique Ottoman, Chandelier, Night Tables & Chest: Owners’ collection. Sconces: besselink.com. Drapery Fabric: elizabethbenefield.com. Sheer Fabric: cowtan.com. Ottoman Fabric: zimmer-rohde.com. Ottoman Trim: scalamandre.com. Armchair: rjones.com. Armchair Fabric: clarencehouse.com. Armchair Trim: samuelandsons.com. Rug: starkcarpet.com.