Change is a good thing: An Albemarle family grows with their house

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Photo: Kip Dawkins Photo: Kip Dawkins

Over about a dozen years of living in their home on an Albemarle byway, the couple saw many changes. Their twin sons grew from age 5 to nearly 18, and the family’s use of spaces in the house changed along with the boys. More houses were built along their stretch of rural byway. And the gardens around the house matured and evolved.

So, when the time came to make some updates, the clients possessed an understanding of what they wanted born from years of observation, and from bringing their own sensibilities to bear on what architect Bob Gray had originally designed.

Working with designer Kathy Heiner, the homeowners changed up the interiors in several rooms of the house. In the living room, a new seating arrangement of two long facing sofas and two Italian midcentury-modern armchairs at their ends. Photo: Kip Dawkins

When Gray imagined the house, he and his clients knew it was important to consider the needs of the kids, then very young. Yet they also foresaw the changes that would naturally occur in the family structure. “There was an awareness that time would pass, and the house would grow with them,” says Gray.

With its main spaces laid out on a single floor, along one long axis, the house offers a connected family experience despite being generously proportioned. More formal spaces—living room, dining room—sit at the south end of the house, facing a mountain view. Behind these are the heart of the home, where kitchen and family room flow together with a built-in banquette for family meals.

Another nearby room served, in the beginning, as a play room. “There were Legos everywhere,” remembers interior designer Kathy Heiner. Today, it’s a family office, with desk space for multiple people to work at the same time, and a home for the clients’ extensive record collection.

“They wanted easy access to the kids, and a safe environment, but with some separation between the master bedroom and the kids’ bedrooms,” says Gray. The kids sleep on the second floor, at the top of a curved-wall staircase, while the master suite is found below.

Photo: Kip Dawkins

The layout of the house is activated by one unusual choice: Gray shifted the long central hallway a few degrees off parallel with the exterior walls of the house. “It gives it a dynamic that’s interesting,” says Gray—walls that are slightly off square with the hardwood flooring, and unexpected angles inside rooms.

This hallway serves as a gallery for the owners’ art collection, which includes photography, paintings and sculpture. “There’s a modest architectural vocabulary, but their art collection enriches it immensely,” says Gray.

A farmhouse for now

Truth be told, though, the house itself contains plenty of architectural interest. Barrel-vault ceilings enliven the formal living room and the hallway. At the entrance to the dining room, two beveled columns appear to float between floor and ceiling as they taper upward. Touches like these open a conversation between the “contemporary farmhouse” look of the exterior, and a modern and even postmodern sensibility evident inside.

Photo: Kip Dawkins

“For the overall system,” says Gray of his clients, “they’re very controlled, but they understand the magic of bringing color in the details. It’s textured and has a modern quality.” Natural-finish cherry kitchen cabinets and cherry flooring bring warmth to the mostly white-walled spaces, and the detailing on the fireplace and built-in cabinetry is crisp and minimal.

Lots of windows, including nearly full-height corner windows in the living room, answer the clients’ desire for the house to be “tied to the outdoors,” says Gray. “They wanted it to have a rural sensibility, and to be rooted.”

A new look

Working with Heiner, the clients recently changed up several of the interiors, including the living and dining rooms. The former got a new seating arrangement, with two long facing sofas and two Italian midcentury-modern armchairs, all placed on a lantern-patterned rug from Restoration Hardware. A highlight of the room is the sensual, modern Wendell Castle Sizzle table, with a wooden top and high-gloss sides.

A brightly colored plastic resin sculpture by Thomas Linder stands in one corner window, and a pair of paintings by Casey Vogt hangs near the door to the patio. A Russ Warren sculpture is just outside in the hallway, leading one toward the dining room, where a Roll & Hill globe chandelier takes center stage.

In the powder room, a fresh coat of dark navy-blue paint with a floating metal vanity and glass pendant lights. Photo: Kip Dawkins

One of Heiner’s favorite rooms is the little powder room, which got a coat of dark navy-blue paint and a floating metal vanity cabinet. Two SkLO glass pendant lights and an Amy Stein photograph make the small room decisively modern.

Heiner and the clients plan to make further interior changes in the family room and other spaces, as the house continues to evolve with its occupants. “They’re very good about selecting something they can live with for a long time,” says Gray, referring to finishes and other long-term design choices, “and then changing other things.”


Outside, architect Bob Gray sited the poolhouse to one side of the property’s wide lawn, while landscape architect Anne Pray had the intimidating task of adding in the pool, hardscapes and plantings to complement the garden already in place. Inside the poolhouse, designer Kathy Heiner mixed modern pieces with more ethnic ones. Photo: Kip Dawkins

The great outdoors

With its hilltop, open-meadow environment, the house had always been intended to feel “comfortable on the site,” as architect Bob Gray says. Over time, the gardens—originally laid out by landscape architect Warren Byrd—had become a focal point for the owners, who poured energy into adding and tending plants, especially in a long, deep planting bed along an Eastern red cedar hedge.

The house had generous outdoor living space from the start—a patio with a pergola and a fireplace. Yet this proved to be a hot place for summertime dinners, and as they looked ahead to a pool and poolhouse project—which they’d always known they would add someday—they wanted to include a shadier dining area.

Photo: Kip Dawkins

Gray sited the poolhouse to one side of the wide lawn that spills out from the house. The pool, lying parallel to the house, differentiates the lawn into various outdoor rooms—and the poolhouse interior feels like one of them. “They wanted a garden pavilion that was very accessible to the outdoors,” says Gray, who specified folding glass doors that can open two sides of the poolhouse completely. A dining table sits just outside, in a well-shaded spot.

Gray designed the poolhouse with two distinct sections—a living area with kitchenette and powder room, and a utility area, hidden from the house’s sightline, to hold gardening equipment. The roofline, like that of the main house, is steep, creating a high cathedral ceiling. Shiplap walls and a full-range bluestone floor continuous with the patio outside make for a crisp palette.

Inside, designer Kathy Heiner placed four chairs made from woven seat belt straps and a green ottoman on casters, all of them easy to move for different occasions. A purple bar unit with a brushed aluminum top can also be rolled indoors or out.

Photo: Kip Dawkins

Landscape architect Anne Pray collaborated with Gray to lay out the pool and hardscapes, and then she faced the task of adding plantings to complement the extensive garden already in place. “It’s an intimidating piece to riff off—it’s so well done,” she says. “The new garden had to take a different attitude.”

Whereas the existing garden is about “color, flowers, playfulness,” the newer one looked to the nearby meadow for inspiration. Drumstick allium, autumn moor grass and liatris fill the beds, anchored by sweetbay magnolia trees. Pray designed these to be planted in a matrix rather than rows, lending a mixed, natural feel. “The boxwoods ground the formality and geometry,” she says, “and they’re nice in winter.”

A low fieldstone wall separates the pool from the lawn and helps create a layering of spaces; an opening in its center is aligned with the steps down from the house. The pool is a dark color to create crisper reflections. “It picks up the light in an interesting way; it could be a pond,” says Pray.

Heiner chose a Brazilian table and ottomans made from nautical rope to bring color to the outdoor spaces, along with JANUS et Cie
chaise lounges and Indonesian teak side tables. Richard Schultz settees in a midcentury modern style provide seating on the house’s original stone patio.

Just as in the house, a sense of changeability exists alongside the solidity of the design. The owners hope to add a mural to one side of the poolhouse, alongside the outdoor shower. And they get creative with furniture, recently moving dining tables onto the lawn between the house and the pool. “It made it feel like a room,” says Heiner. “It’s an incredible space for all different types of gatherings.”

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