Nick and Liane Pace found their forever home in 2012, just after their third child arrived. They fell for the 1938 abode’s Georgian-style façade and grand interiors, not to mention its knoll-top setting above Richmond’s James River Valley. But after living in the house for a few years, they recognized its shortcomings for their young family and decided to take action. “Our goal was to keep the charm and character of an older home, but add some modern amenities and an updated feel,” reveals Liane.
Preservation ranked doubly high, given the property’s historic ties. Robert Merhige, Jr., a renowned federal judge from the 1960s to the 1990s, once called it home. His trailblazing legacy includes opening the University of Virginia to women in 1970 and later integrating Richmond’s public schools.
The Paces faced a challenge: how to honor the home’s past while adapting their stately residence to the present-day lifestyle of a family with three kids, now ages seven, 11 and 14. They enlisted architect John Voight and designer Janie Molster to mastermind a solution.
“They live their lives in a more informal style than the architecture of the house,” observes Molster. “They’re a young family in blue jeans on the weekends. We wanted to be respectful of the structure of their house, but also make it a more family-friendly environment.”
Voight devised a plan to renovate the existing residence and add on a new wing. “The request was, ‘Make this a family house and give us a connection to the backyard.’ That’s what drove the design,” explains the architect, formerly of Charlottesville-based Madison Spencer Architects. The clan moved out for more than a year while the thoughtful transformation took place.
A spacious kitchen with a sizable island topped the couple’s requirement list. “When we bought the house, it had a narrow, galley kitchen,” recalls Nick, a healthcare-industry executive. He adds that they also envisioned “a family hub around the kitchen” for watching TV and hanging out.
A luxurious upstairs master suite—with his-and-her bathrooms—and a lower-level kids’ zone were also priorities. Voight delivered on all fronts by reconfiguring existing spaces and adding 1,300 square feet above ground, plus an additional 800 square feet in the excavated basement.
For the new kitchen, Nick—as the family’s head cook—set his sights on a brass-accented black range and hood from the Florentine line Officine Gullo (so it’s no surprise that Italian classics such as osso buco are his specialty). The team made these a focal point in the space, which now opens to a cozy keeping room that connects to the repaved and expanded rear terrace through French doors.
Across the back of the main block, two additional sets of French doors—one in the living room and one in the butler’s pantry—now join the existing pair in the dining room. “When we have parties, those doors are thrown open and people can move in and out easily,” says Nick.
Most of the original interior architecture, including the stairs, remained intact. The team retained “the rich collection of moldings and profiles,” recounts Voight. “In the new rooms, we used trims that were sympathetic to the originals.”
Molster washed most walls in quiet hues to highlight the home’s classic bones. “The paint colors are made to disappear,” she explains. “We want you to look past the wall color to the really pretty architecture.”
Within the muted envelope, Molster established a fresh, timeless look that is in keeping with the residence’s architectural lineage. “When you walk inside the house, I didn’t want a real shock,” she says. “I want the inside to feel like it talks to the outside. The furnishings that go into such a grand house need to have significance and importance.”
The designer mined a bevy of markets for Swedish antiques with painted finishes and sprinkled these finds, such as the living room’s shapely settée, throughout the spaces. “We used beautiful antiques, but they aren’t dark and heavy,” she notes. “Gustavian-era furniture gives you the formal feeling of a Georgian-style house without adhering to dark English antiques. They’re significant furnishings with a lighter touch.”
Modern elements mingle with these and other antiques for calculated tension. As Molster explains, “Things show up better when they have a contextual rub.” The entryway’s mélange—where an ornate mirror crowns a clean-lined console—illustrates the point.
The team adopted the mantra “Larger pieces, fewer things” in their selection of lighting and accessories. Ceiling heights—some reaching over 10 feet—also swayed the conversation. “Scale was a driving force,” reveals Molster. “In rooms with tall ceilings, we like to go big.” Look to the dining room’s trumeau mirror and the kitchen’s iron lanterns for examples.
Practical considerations came into play. Contract-grade or coated fabrics ensure that upholstered furnishings can withstand wear and tear. “I didn’t want rooms we couldn’t live in,” says Liane.
Now complete, the redesigned nest not only lives easier, but also effortlessly welcomes friends and relatives. Understanding their family’s needs before plunging into the project was key to success, according to Nick. “This is our last house, so we wanted to do it right.”
Architecture: John Voight, John K. Voight Architects, Charlottesville, Virginia. Interior Design: Janie Molster and Robyn Framme, Janie Molster Designs, Richmond, Virginia. Contractor: Tony Pitts, Pitts & Associates, Richmond, Virginia. Landscape Design: Monit Rosendale, VSLD, Gardens by Monit, Richmond, Virginia.