I think of Charlottesville as the biggest small town in Virginia. I’m not the first to say that, but it’s probably true. On the one hand you have a thriving city center, beautiful architecture, a diverse citizenry, and the pulse of a world renowned University, and on the other, you have an iconic agrarian vastness surrounding all of it. 29 North aside, there isn’t much of a gradient between those two distinct conditions. When I came to Charlottesville 14 years ago, the first apartment I looked at was a small place on the third floor of a building on the Downtown Mall. I was excited, and it was cheap. For $300 a month, it had no windows, but it overlooked a bookstore through an internal light-well whose skylight above was the only source of sun. It was indirect and dim. I turned it down promptly, and found a spacious walk-out in a classic older home off Rugby. It was full of light, and overlooked a park-like back yard with a slate patio. It had a real fireplace with bookshelves, two bedrooms with east facing windows, and a kitchen that seemed huge to me then. Most of all, I knew I could live there in the truest sense, and I could even walk to the architecture school. So I moved in.
A lot has changed since then. I lived in Pittsburgh for a year after UVA, then moved to Richmond and lived on the Boulevard in the heart of the Fan District. I could walk to the museums, to coffee, and to the river. But then things always change. I’ve spent the last nine years making a family life in a house just miles southwest of town. It is surrounded by old growth woodlands, quiet neighbors, and yet it’s only minutes to the center of Richmond. The moment we saw it, I knew it was home. In each place, the common denominators were sunlight, access to nature and the city, a view of some kind, and enough space to feel I could live there for a while if I chose to.
What I love about Central Virginia is the ability we have to live a life of both purpose and leisure. We’re not so remote as to be removed from interesting things, nor so entrenched in busyness that we forget how to live. There is an enviable sort of freedom that breathes life here. In ABODE this month, we’re touring a modern urban loft with a walk-out roof terrace garden, large windows, white walls, warm woods, and custom furnishings. It is certainly sophisticated and precise, but it is a place to live in and displays a nice collection of books and artifacts. And south of town in rural North Garden, a blooming and colorful summer landscape beckons with varied textures of honed and rough cut stone, native plantings, and a refreshing poolside terrace. In town and country, Virginia is a great place to come home to this summer. —Josh McCullar, Editor-at-large
Josh McCullar is the publisher of vamodern.com and practices with SMBW Architects in Richmond.