When an avid equestrian purchased acreage in a coveted Virginia Hunt Country location adjacent to the late Bunny Mellon’s estate, she hired architect Thomas Beach and landscape architect Barry W. Starke to design a 3,000-square-foot home and horse farm on the site, comprised of 500 acres of open pastureland.
“It was originally intended as a guesthouse,” says Beach. “The homeowner wanted a one-bedroom dwelling with stables beneath it, so I suggested a fresh interpretation of an historic bank barn, whereby you walk into the upper level, which would have been used for hay and grain storage, but can also walk around to the lower level where livestock would’ve been kept. So the main living space is for the homeowner’s use and beneath it are stalls for horses.”
Beach, who is deeply knowledgeable about the vernacular architecture of rural Virginia, carried his concept past the architectural plans and into the building materials, which are authentic to the old bank-barn look. Shiplap siding of painted fir and natural stone clad the exterior, while sliding track-and-pulley barn doors adorn the front entry and side window. Indigenous fieldstone was gathered on site and stacked to create low walls that flank the flagstone ramp leading up to the home’s entrance.
Inside, Beach combined rustic elements with more contemporary features such as a state-of-the-art kitchen and bathrooms. “The homeowner wanted an east-facing glass wall for ample light and to enjoy the views,” Beach notes. “But we also used vertical tongue-and-groove painted planks for the walls and salvaged reclaimed oak timber columns and beams throughout. The hardware is hand-crafted to emulate what would have been there historically.”
Early in the project, the owner tapped designer Marlene Dennis to decorate the interiors. She worked in tandem with Beach on cabinetry design and the selection of kitchen and bath materials and other finishes. As a complementary backdrop to the reclaimed-oak timbers, Dennis chose white walls and trim, then contrasted them with rich, espresso-stained hickory flooring, wide-planked and laid on the diagonal. Sections of diagonal flooring are framed to delineate each area.
As the guest house came together, the owner fell in love with it and before long decided to make it the property’s main house—a retreat from her busy life and career in DC. Guest accommodations would be included in an additional barn on the site, also designed by Beach. He and Starke collaborated on this and other outbuildings—as well as an Olympic-sized riding ring, spring-fed lake and staff quarters—that would support the activities of the farm, home to about two dozen horses.
When the main house neared completion, Dennis had a timbered, two-story, open-plan space to furnish. “I wanted the furniture to be equal in strength to the architecture,” says the designer. “Big, solid pieces with details; nothing small or fussy. The fact that the homeowner is an equestrian also informed my design—as did the breathtaking views.”
Against the canvas of crisp white and rustic wood, Dennis explains, “I worked with shades of brown and select greens for furnishings. It’s about creating a peaceful, cohesive space that doesn’t compete with the outside. The deeper, darker browns also add a level of sophistication and speak to the contemporary nature of the home.”
Since the owner loves to host dinner parties, Dennis designed a custom, 14-foot-long dining table that seats 20. “The desk in the adjacent office is similar in width and height, and can be pulled in for even larger groups,” says the designer, who selected leather dining chairs and wingback host chairs upholstered in wool plaid. A huge, wrought-iron chandelier imparts a chic yet rugged vibe.
The living area is split into two seating arrangements. A trio of tailored-leather sofas gathers around a large X-motif coffee table, while four club chairs circle a drum table to accommodate more intimate gatherings. Accent pillows mix equestrian-inspired fabrics and patterns.
“Even in the kitchen, we wanted space for entertaining,” says Dennis. “The island, with its leather bar chairs and reclaimed-wood top, is the perfect place for a glass of wine and dinner for a small group.”
For days when the homeowner is looking to be quiet and cozy, sliding barn doors on both living levels can seal off space. “We added the sliding barn doors for privacy in either the office/den or the bedroom,” says Beach. “It’s just the kind of thing you’d see in an old bank barn—dividing the grain room from hay storage, for example.”
The homeowner, delighted with her weekend retreat, spends her time on site riding, relaxing in solitude and entertaining with the rolling countryside all around. Her thoughtfully designed second home turns out to be exactly what she wanted.
ARCHITECTURE: Thomas M. Beach, Jr., AIA, Upperville, Virginia. INTERIOR DESIGN: Marlene Dennis, Marlene Dennis Design, Middleburg, Virginia. LANDSCAPE ARCHITECTURE: Barry W. Starke, FASLA, Earth Design Associates, Casanova, Virginia. BUILDER: Tom D. Rice, T.D. Rice Inc., Middleburg, Virginia. STYLING: Charlotte Safavi.
THROUGHOUT Hickory Flooring: cochranslumber.com. Windows: marvin.com. Skylights: abundantenergyinc.com. Front Door Hardware: historichousefitters.com. Sliding Door & Stable Hardware: lucasequine.com. Custom Beams & Millwork: mikethomascarpentry.com.
FOYER Antique Chest: Owner’s Collection. Mirror: holyhunt.com. Antique Zebra Rug: Owner’s Collection.
DINING ROOM Dining Table & Leather Side Chairs: Custom by marlenedennisdesign.com. Chandelier: rosetarlow.com. Host Chairs: hickorychair.com. Wool Plaid on Host Chairs: fschumacher.com. Sideboard: chaddockhome.com.
KITCHEN Cabinetry: Custom. Island Countertop: Reclaimed Oak through shenandoahfarmtables.com. Leather Island Chairs: Custom bymarlenedennisdesign.com. Lantern: danacreath.com. Marble Countertops: marblesystems.com. Backsplash: marblesystems.com. Range & Fridge: subzero-wolf.com, subzero-wolf.com. Sink: rohlhome.com
LIVING ROOM Sofas: kravet.com. Sofa Leather: ralphlaurenhome.com. Cocktail Table: chaddockhome.com. Four Club Chairs: hickorychair.com. Round Cocktail Table: arteriorshome.com. Rug: dmikc.com. Throw Pillows on Sofas: hollandandsherry.com.
BEDROOM Bedstead: hollyhunt.com. Rug: elikorugs.com. Bedside Table: Owner’s Collection. Table Lamp: visualcomfortlightinglights.com. Club Chair: hickorychair.com. Club Chair Fabric: room.com. Rug: elikorugs.com. Bench at Foot of Bed: Owner’s Collection.