Text: Tiffany Adams
Photos: Gordon Beall
Rolling hills and wildflower-dotted meadows are part of the idyllic allure of the Virginia countryside. For this young family, a piece of property on the outskirts of Charlottesville had both and more. “They purchased this land years ago and decided the time was right to build on it,” interior designer Melanie Elston says. Along with an assembled brigade of professionals, including architects from long-established area firm Dalgliesh Gilpin Paxton, Elston was brought in to maximize these features while also creating a home that is a perfect blend of formal gathering spaces and cozy, more intimate rooms.
Starting from scratch, the vision was to carve out something uniquely their own from the land. “When I first came to the site, it was basically a jungle, anything that had not been cleared was impenetrable,” recalls landscape designer Rachel Lilly. While she identified trees and plants to save and mapped out plans to do so, architects Roger Birle and Joseph Chambers led a team on plans for the structure. “Our process is to listen to our clients and let them inform the style of the house rather than coming in with preconceived notions—and, of course, we also listen to the cues of the land,” Birle says. In this instance, the property’s natural contours acted as a guide for both siting the house and laying out its floor plan. From the approach drive to the elevation, its presence appears to meld into the surroundings and point to the view of the Blue Ridge Mountains—as if you are immersed once you arrive. From a functional standpoint, it was also discreetly designed as a net-zero energy residence with an out-of-view adjacent solar field supplying their needs.
Playing to their love of entertaining as well as the desire for personal spaces where they could make memories with their three children, the interior is divided into two parts. “There’s a sinewy line that works its way through this house creating a nice interplay of formal rooms with more casual ones,” Chambers says, delineating the home’s bar as the crossover point between the ceremonial entry hall, living and dining rooms, and the relaxed family room, kitchen, and outdoor spaces. “At every level, the design was about thinking through how the family would live here, and the parents continually thought about this dream world for their children,” he adds, noting whimsical features like a slide from the top bunk bed, a secret attic space, and second-floor turret that doubles as a reading nook.
Elston took the same approach for furnishings and finishes. “I think my forte is listening and helping clients to create a home that reflects them,” she says. With the wife having previously worked in the fashion industry, polished, elegant designs were of interest in the living and dining rooms as well as the primary suite. “Everything is high style but still very comfortable,” Elston says, adding that the owners are very congenial and approachable, and the pieces needed to convey this.
As one walks through, fabrics, finishes, and architectural features signal the change from these formal to informal spaces. “There are so many details in this house that really create a beautiful aesthetic,” Elston says. For example, the dining room’s lightly hued wallpaper features peonies, the owner’s favorite flower, in an elevated and elegant way, while the living room’s profuse millwork gives the feel of what Birle calls an Art Deco Parisian apartment. In contrast, the everyday spaces are defined by reclaimed beams, exposed brick, and a warmer overall palette. “This is the more casual, working part of the home, and the house adjusts its concept to a come-on-in feel at this point,” Elston says, pointing to the family room. “It’s relaxed but still put together,” she says—a sentiment that seems to perfectly capture the homestead’s feel in whole.