It’s all in the mix: A traditional house gets a modern facelift

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Charlottesville artists' work can be seen elsewhere in the home, too, as in the dining room, where a landscape by artist Dean Dass dominates a wall and a table by furniture maker Michael Keith grounds the space. Photo: Kip Dawkins Charlottesville artists' work can be seen elsewhere in the home, too, as in the dining room, where a landscape by artist Dean Dass dominates a wall and a table by furniture maker Michael Keith grounds the space. Photo: Kip Dawkins

A 1942 Marshall Wells-designed home in tony Farmington: What could be more traditional? Except when it isn’t. For the last three years, designer Kathy Heiner of KLH Designs has been transforming this home in collaboration with its owners, making it a showcase for an eclectic, unfussy style.

“This house is all about friends and family,” says Heiner—meaning, first and foremost, it’s comfortable. While it required little in the way of actual renovation, the cosmetic changes began soon after Heiner came on board: refinishing floors, painting and refacing all the kitchen cabinets. Meanwhile, Heiner was mulling what, for her, is a delicious challenge: furnishing a big houseful of rooms, with her clients’ contemporary art collection as a major inspiration.

“They don’t like things too fussy,” Heiner says of her clients’ preferences. “They like touches of contemporary, mixed with antique or vintage pieces. One of their biggest interests is the artwork.”

In the home's grandest space—a sitting room with a double-height ceiling—artwork takes center stage thanks to display shelves by local blacksmith Cory Blanc. Photo: Kip Dawkins
In the home’s grandest space—a sitting room with a double-height ceiling—artwork takes center stage thanks to display shelves by local blacksmith Cory Blanc. Photo: Kip Dawkins

Thus, in this house replete with crown moldings, arched windows and paneled wainscoting, a painting of sheep by local artist John Borden Evans can take pride of place. In the house’s grandest space—a sitting room with a double-height ceiling—artwork, not the oversized stone fireplace, becomes the focal point.

“We were trying to figure out what to do with this massive wall,” says Heiner, referring to the one across from the fireplace. One of the owners proposed shelves that would allow a number of paintings to be easily displayed, and Heiner envisioned adding LED lighting to cast a glow beneath each shelf. Corey Blanc of Blanc Creatives, in Belmont, fabricated three shelves from wood and metal; they are works of art in themselves, and currently display 10 pieces, many by local artists like Clay Witt, Richard Crozier, Isabelle Abbot, Abby Kasonik and Anne Massie.

The other elements in the room are a mix of styles that typifies Heiner’s design work. A Timothy Paul rug, Cisco Brothers chair and Mitchell Gold + Bob Williams sofa set a serene mood in grays and aquas, while the wall is an earth tone to complement the stone around the fireplace.

Photo: Kip Dawkins
Photo: Kip Dawkins

“We talked about mixing styles and genres, and about mixing high and low,” says Heiner. “We have CB2 and Restoration Hardware next to fine Italian and French pieces.”

Custom work by local artisans completes the cocktail. The dining room, for example, is dominated by a large, moody Dean Dass landscape—and by a Michael Keith table with an ebonized finish. Both are Charlottesville locals. A saturated blue on the walls and cheeky lime-green upholstered chairs pop out from the neutral ground of a natural-fiber Restoration Hardware rug.

Photo: Kip Dawkins
Photo: Kip Dawkins

“Natural rugs are good for scooting chairs in and out,” says Heiner. “Oriental rugs don’t weather as well.”

Often, a rug or a wall color is Heiner’s starting point for conceiving of a room’s design. She then builds from there, adding furnishings and artwork, usually opting for low-key window treatments, like linen Roman shades or roller shades that “don’t overwhelm the space,” she says. And there’s often room for a touch of whimsy, like floor lamps from CB2 that look great but don’t need to become heirlooms. “You can always change that stuff out,” she says. “There’s a playfulness.”

Photo: Kip Dawkins
Photo: Kip Dawkins

Subtly pulling things together throughout the home are lighting fixtures that repeat, like sconces from Visual Comfort. “We all like to minimize transitions,” Heiner says of herself and her clients.

One special challenge was the master bathroom, a lovely space but intimidatingly large. One of her clients suggested a Saarinen table, and Heiner found a round rug from BDDW to place in the center of the room, anchoring the space. Carrara marble on the tub surround and shower walls matches the sinktops on the tall, built-in double vanity that the clients requested to replace a pair of pedestal sinks.

Photo: Kip Dawkins
Photo: Kip Dawkins

Most recently, along with architect James Rowe of studio Agoos Lovera, Heiner helped her clients renovate the garage. Standard garage doors were replaced by carriage doors that open outward; this eliminated tracks on the ceiling and made way for reclaimed granary oak to cover the ceiling and both side walls. Built-in storage and workbench by Cabinet Solutions, recessed firewood niches and a polished concrete floor make this a utilitarian space that’s so pleasant it’s slated to host a rehearsal dinner in the near future.

Because the home sits on a nearly seven-acre plot, designer Kathy Heiner created outdoor spaces with an eye toward connecting people and landscape. Photo: Kip Dawkins
Because the home sits on a nearly seven-acre plot, designer Kathy Heiner created outdoor spaces with an eye toward connecting people and landscape. Photo: Kip Dawkins

The home sits on a nearly seven-acre plot, and its gardens and mountain views were a major draw for its owners. Heiner has helped to furnish outdoor spaces—decks, patios and a parterre garden—with an eye toward connecting people with landscape. She mixed JANUS et Cie and McKinnon and Harris outdoor furniture with a Restoration Hardware dining table and large industrial-style zinc planters. A custom porch swing by Cory Blanc hangs from the pergola next to the pool.

“They have a really strong sense of style and enjoy the process,” Heiner says of her clients. “It’s been a ton of fun doing this with them.”

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