Heaven on earth: A sophisticated farm samples many styles

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Photo: Paul Whicheloe Photo: Paul Whicheloe

It’s quite a new house—finished less than three years ago—but the home of Monique Maniet has a settled quality, as though it’s perched on this Rappahannock hillside for a long time. A collection of buildings, more “related” than “matching,” snuggles into the slope, looking like a European village. They’re accompanied by plants of many types, including some recently planted but also—significantly—trees that were here well before the structures.

“We worked very hard to work around these sassafras trees,” says Jay Monroe, who designed both the structures and the landscape surrounding them. He’s sitting on a deck made of bluestone, shaded from the late afternoon sun by the trees deliberately saved during construction. Without them, this would be an uncomfortably bright spot, but the sassafras make it a viable gathering space for Maniet, her husband Max Richtman and their guests. “It helps the place to look like it’s been here a long time,” says Maniet.

From the parking court, two stone pillars at the staircase lead visitors to a courtyard between the main house and guest house. Photo: Paul Whicheloe
From the parking court, two stone pillars at the staircase lead visitors to a courtyard between the main house and guest house. Photo: Paul Whicheloe

From here, the view takes in a swath of pastoral beauty, from the distant ridgelines to the horse and goat pastures right below the deck. Maniet, a veterinarian, wanted to be able to look out and spot her own animals throughout the day, whether from her downstairs office where she sees clients, the master bedroom, or the outdoor seating areas.

Monroe’s design for the main house can’t be understood separately from the guest house and garage—nor from the landscape design that connects them all. As a group, the structures are an eclectic yet unified collection, with variation being key. For example, the rear wing of the main house is sided in dark waney-edge cladding and has a shake roof, in contrast to the stucco walls and metal roofs found elsewhere. “It’s meant to look like a separate building,” says Monroe.

A collection of related buildings snuggles into the slope, calling to mind a European village. Photo: Paul Whicheloe
A collection of related buildings snuggles into the slope, calling to mind a European village. Photo: Paul Whicheloe

The details marry Craftsman style (Monroe designed metal railings and outdoor lighting sconces) with touches of the South of France (Maniet requested purple window trim on the exterior). What holds it all together are the relaxed, colorful gardens that unfold around and among the buildings.

“I wanted a lot of pergolas for vines,” says Maniet, and she got them—on the deck, over the garage doors, off the guest house and over a courtyard gate. Wisteria and coral honeysuckle climb them, adding layering and shade.

Pergolas around the property offer shade, and the bluestone walkways and native-stone walls further the impression of the landscape's longevity. Photo: Paul Whicheloe
Pergolas around the property offer shade, and the bluestone walkways and native-stone walls further the impression of the landscape’s longevity. Photo: Paul Whicheloe

The two laugh about their different tastes. “I’m a native plant guy,” says Monroe, “and Monique wanted all these blousy, bloomy garden plants.” As he lists the native species he installed here—Carolina allspice, fringe tree, serviceberry, buttonbush—she jokes, “See, you chose about 75 percent!” He counters, “You got this gargantuan bank of blooming roses”: a sweep of fuschia Knock Out roses on the slope above the parking court.

Color and fragrance are indeed abundant here, but the bones of the design make for satisfying movements around the property. From the parking court, two massive stone pillars mark where stairs lead up to a courtyard between the main house and guesthouse. “It’s an obvious point of entry,” says Monroe. Once up in the courtyard, one can choose among many paths leading to further gates and doorways—or just stay to enjoy the courtyard itself, paved with red-hued flagstones between which thyme grows underfoot. A small fountain burbles from the center of the curving stucco wall enclosing the space.

Photo: Paul Whicheloe
Photo: Paul Whicheloe

Just as materials are mixed to charming effect—stucco, different kinds of stone, wood and concrete—the trees and plants here are a wide-ranging collection. Natives like oakleaf hydrangea, pachysandra and fothergilla rub shoulders with classic ornamentals like peonies, Japanese maples and lavender. Everything has its place. In one spot, Monroe used fast-growing Virginia creeper to soften the effect of a concrete wall. In another, he had calycanthus and Southern bayberry planted to fill in a slope that had been “very exposed and raw.”

One of Monroe’s favorite spots is along the long side of the house, where guest rooms and Maniet’s office line up on the ground level. Another pergola offers shade here, and the bluestone walkway and native-stone wall seem to dance in and out of the pergola’s columns, spilling down steps toward the parking court. Hellebores and epimedium line the low wall. Monroe says the design process here was partly improvisational, responding to issues as construction progressed. “We didn’t want to be utilitarian,” he says, “so we played with it.”

Materials are mixed to charming effect—stucco, wood, stone and concrete intermingle throughout the property—just as plants and trees are of a wide-ranging assortment. Photo: Paul Whicheloe
Materials are mixed to charming effect—stucco, wood, stone and concrete intermingle throughout the property—just as plants and trees are of a wide-ranging assortment. Photo: Paul Whicheloe

As for Maniet’s guests, they surely enjoy the outdoor fireplace and the many nooks that invite quiet sitting. But Maniet says the sleeping pavilion above the garage is the true favorite. “When I have guests from Belgium”—her birthplace—“they fight to sleep there.” Simple and lovely, the pavilion has a screened sitting area, with the bed tucked back between solid walls (whose windows can, in good weather, be unshuttered). An herb garden scents the air just outside.

The gardens will only become more lovely with time. Of her home, says Maniet, “It’s truly heavenly.”

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