Text: Alice Welslh Doyle
Photos: Kip Dawkins
Even a historic home on the picturesque James River in Williamsburg, Virginia, needs to break out of the past eventually. The homeowner turned to Ashley Hanley to give their abode a full makeover.
“The house was stuck in the past,” says Hanley. “It was full of jewel tones, heavy-handed window treatments, faux-painted walls, maple cabinets in the kitchen, and pink-and-beige bathroom tile.” Some funky design elements were in the mix as well—mermaid motifs, tiles with a wave and checkerboard design in the powder room, an awkward kitchen island with an attached table, and a tropical-inspired painted mural up the staircase—that really aged it.
Hanley focused her creative lens on banishing those elements with white and neutral tones, bright blues and greens, pretty botanical and grasscloth wallpapers, marble for the main bathroom and quartzite for the kitchen, and more contemporary light fixtures—but nothing too extreme. “My client is traditional, so we went with balance—transitional rooted in classic design,” says Hanley.
Her client possessed many family heirlooms and vintage items from both sides of the family as well as pieces she had collected for decades. Hanley appreciated her client’s attachment, so these remained and were updated if appropriate. Hanley and her client also reviewed the rest of her existing furniture and accessories and found that many pieces were in great condition with classic lines, but the colors instantly dated them.
Now, a large sofa in the living room looks timeless in a crisp khaki fabric, as do the dining room chair cushions covered in an off-white and green Kravet fabric. A guest bedroom’s Parsons chair sports a jaunty attitude with its blue-and-white dot fabric, and bedside table lamps in the main bedroom feel new with Fermoie fabric shades.
The project also involved some heavy lifting, so Hanley engaged Virginia Beach-based specialist Louanne Reeks of KWD Home to come up with a plan. Beautiful custom cabinetry, some with glass fronts and elegant scroll details backed by blue grasscloth, aged brass hardware, quartzite, and a Cole & Son wisteria vine wallpaper, speak to the fresh attitude both Hanley and her client desired. A new kitchen island with a much more functional design and graceful bow-front detailing is both practical and pretty, while a second island with seating was added—its distinctive walnut countertop gives the piece distinct character.
A dramatic change also occurred in the main bathroom renovation. Its existing design spoke to the architecture of the times with a high ceiling, giving the space the feel of an atrium. “Most people try to raise ceilings, but in this case, we found a way to lower them,” says Hanley. “It was the best decision we made. Now the bath feels cozier and more intimate while still spacious and open.” All the other baths received makeovers as well—gone is the dated tile and pedestal sink in the powder bath, replaced with Cowtan & Tout blue grasscloth, a custom vanity with brass grill detailing, and a new Wisteria Home mirror.
The client’s favorite changes happened in the main bedroom, but they were met with some resistance initially. “The bedroom is such a personal space,” says Hanley, “and sometimes a client needs a little convincing, especially if it is a big change.” The designer suggested Madame de Pompadour Schumacher wallpaper, a lovely botanical but certainly not a retiring choice. The paper needs substantial wall space for the whole pattern to be appreciated, and the suite had it. A long hallway leads to the bedroom with graceful curving walls and a grand bay of twin casement windows on the opposite end of the room overlooking the garden and river. Crisp white panels attached to cornices with whimsical green trim and a blue painted cove ceiling tie everything together. “It really is a dreamy space, and I think it even exceeded my expectations,” says Hanley. “The most important thing is that the whole redesign makes my client happy, and at the end of the day, that’s why I love what I do.”