Playroom with a view: Emili Hays’ inspired take on the family hangout


Photo: Andrea Hubbell Photo: Andrea Hubbell

It’s clear that Emili Hays has a natural ability to envision a house’s potential, as she walks through her Locust Avenue home, explaining every detail of what she’s changed since buying it in 2009. “Honestly, we walked in and I wanted to walk right back out, but I just knew it had potential. So we went for it,” says Hays, whose husband, Ben, is a partner in crime when it comes to renovating. “We love to dream together.”

Ben is a structural engineer by trade, and is currently working on a Ph.D. in architectural history. The stay-at-home mom has three young kids under the age of 6; making a purely kid-friendly space devoted to them was vital.

Case in point: the massive sunroom they added to the back of the house, where the family spends most of its time together. The room boasts 13′ ceilings, seven windows, two modern fans, a durable rubber floor, trunks of toys, and a comfortable upholstered sectional: the ultimate playroom. The space is painted the lightest robin’s egg blue, which makes it feel light and airy; the wall of windows overlooks the Blue Ridge Mountains.

“Everything costs so much that we had to be intentional about where we invested our money. When it came time to appoint the space, we kept it simple and I used my secret resources!” Translation: thrift stores, local yard sales, and Craigslist. A Charlottesville native, she attributes her knack for thrifting to her mom, who used to volunteer for the SPCA rummage sale and would find amazing things for Hays’ childhood home, located a mere two blocks away from her current residence.

Her aesthetic is genuinely eclectic; there are touches of midcentury modern décor (like an Eames chair) mixed with a collection of vintage mirrors and traditional porcelain lamps. Hays’ ultimate dream is to buy and renovate houses with her husband. But for now, they’re going to continue to improve the space they live in. “I can’t help myself, I’m always starting new projects!”

“I went back and forth when it came to painting the room blue, because usually I stick with really muted colors. But my husband kept on saying ‘we should go with a color’ and I think he was right in the end. I can do a little color, I just can’t do a lot. I knew that the kids were going to spend most of their time in here, so giving them a cheery color to play in was important.

“I have always been into art. I do remember as a kid, just really paying attention to the surroundings and having that feeling of ‘wow, I really love being here.’ When you’re a child, you don’t really know why you love a space, but I have a clear memory of appreciating properly laid out, uncluttered spaces. They made me feel at home.

“I learned so much about décor from my grandmother, who I actually never met because she died before I was born, but whose house we ended up living in. She had a very traditional, classic aesthetic. I remember staring at the beautiful window dressings that were really simple, elegant long panels. Lots of antiques. Just a classy space, through and through.

“My mom is an avid yard sale visitor and thrift store shopper, and I’ve gotten that from her. I frequent the Habitat store, and my secret resource is Twice is Nice. I’ve found amazing things there at great price points. It’s like treasure hunting, and it can be hit or miss, which is all part of the fun.”