While inspecting an array of tall boxwood shrubs on a property in the town of Orange last year, Grelen Nursery founder Dan Gregg discovered more than he bargained for. The 1891 farmhouse in the center of the ring of shrubs was for sale, and Dan immediately saw its potential as a lodging and event space, complementing the Greggs’ ventures in nearby Somerset.
Though well-kept, the house’s interior was dark and constricted, and needed a major overhaul to become a viable venue for larger groups. Luckily, Dan knew the perfect person for the job: his wife, Leslie. “My husband knows me and knows my favorite thing in the world is renovation,” says Leslie with a smile. “He does the outside and I do the inside.”
“Doing the inside” is often a heroic undertaking, but for Leslie, it’s also a creative thrill. In re-designing the farmhouse, dubbed Boxwood Villa, Leslie dispensed with an architect and instead worked closely with her builder, Lance Clore, a veteran of several previous projects with the Greggs. “I stand in the space and draw it in my head,” says Leslie. “Then Lance and I get together and bounce ideas around. We have a similar vision.”
A masterful jack-of-all-trades, Clore does everything except plumbing, electrical and drywall, and he prefers to work by himself. For Boxwood, that meant longer hours as he finished the project in only nine months. “I love the creative side of the job,” says Clore. “I can see what it’s going to look like before I even start. It’s like a puzzle, working out how it will all fit together.”
Several puzzles kept things interesting along the way. A steep, narrow back stairway to the third floor had to be torn out, and Clore extended the wider main staircase upward, incorporating matching spindles, newels and caps to make the whole structure appear seamlessly original. The extra space from the demolished stairway helped solve another problem. “The biggest challenge in old houses is bathrooms,” says Leslie. “There are never enough.” A clever L-shaped bath was added to a bedroom on the second floor, and below that a powder room, accented with exposed brick and beadboard, was tucked in off the kitchen.
To improve flow on the main floor, superfluous walls got the axe. “I always design to be group-oriented,” Leslie explains, pointing out where barriers between the kitchen and dining areas had been removed. She and Clore also dismantled a tiny vestibule in the front hall, allowing the large double front door, surrounded by windows, to highlight the entryway.
The attic, a dark, junk-filled space when the Greggs first saw it, proved an inspiration to Leslie. “We cleaned it out, insulated and carpeted it, and now it’s a beautiful place for meetings and small group events,” she says. Four huge, round windows at each point of the compass allow natural light to play on the soaring wooden ceiling beams and fresh white paneling. Yoga retreats, led by Bridget Baylin of Charlottesville, will be held here beginning this fall.
The five-bedroom, four-and-a-half bath house can sleep up to 10, and the front lawn, lush with Dan’s landscaping handiwork, could host a day wedding, family get-together, or corporate event. Leslie’s cheerful, intentional attitude toward decorating her renovation projects means that the interior spaces are never stiff. Mixing pricey antiques with bargain finds, she aims for an overall relaxed vibe. “Aesthetically, I want to be in rooms that make me happy, where people are comfortable and can just enjoy being together.”