Seeing daylight: Keith Scott brightens up an Albemarle farmhouse

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Photo: Bud Branch Photo: Bud Branch

To hear Keith Scott tell it, the house his client started with was almost worse than no house at all.  “It was one of those early-’80s, quasi-farmhouse suburban houses that lack any charm or interest,” he said. “My client was really debating a tear-down.”

So why had she bought it? The major reason was that from this level, open lot in rural Crozet, the Blue Ridge views are just about perfect. “It’s the right distance from the mountains,” she said. And there were extras that fit her interests: a pool for lap swimming and a large outbuilding just right for her art studio. The property even boasted a few dozen fruit trees.

All that aside, she found the house dark, its interior “chopped up into small spaces.” Instead, she wanted something more light and open, with a look that would land somewhere between Virginia and Scandinavia (she’d lived a few years in Norway). Ultimately, she decided to see if the existing house could deliver. Scott, whose firm is Rosney Co. Architects, had his work cut out for him.

Before. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects
Before. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects
After. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects
After. Photo: Rosney Co. Architects

 

“We looked at all these options,” he said. The initial urge was to make the two-story house bigger with additions, but everyone came to the realization that it wasn’t square footage that was lacking; it was volume and natural light. “We said, let’s work within the footprint of the existing house,” he said.

Many of the rooms shifted position in the new floor plan, as did the front entrance. Built-in shelves, along with deeper cased openings between rooms, add solidity and character.

But the center of the design is the new double-height great room. Seeking to break up the compression caused by uniform 8′ ceilings, Scott borrowed former attic space to create a cathedral ceiling, and added clerestory windows. “Let’s have that one room really try and capture some light,” Scott said.

Everything about the room contributes to that effect. Walls and ceiling are covered with white-painted shiplap poplar boards, which feel clean and bright without being boring. “It’s texture and character, to get out of the ’80s drywall box,” said Scott.

French doors on one side and a pair of windows on the other bring in the views. Two doors on each of the interior walls mean that this room flows easily into adjacent spaces, and the flooring—reclaimed heart pine—unifies them all.

“The old floors were carpeting and linoleum,” the homeowner said. “I thought I would do an engineered floor”—but the distressed finish she sought would have made that option too expensive. Instead, she found reclaimed lumber through Rivertown Architectural Resources in Waynesboro, and tried various finishes until she found just the right, not-too-dark hue.

A mix of antique and contemporary furniture (with a few modernist classics, like a pair of Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chairs) enlivens the room, and saturated colors are vivid against the white background.

The fireplace makes a quiet but alluring focal point. The homeowner had found an antique fireplace surround at Caravati’s (an architectural salvage paradise in Richmond)—the perfect style with its clean, linear design, but not exactly the right size. “It was made for an enormous firebox, so it was one of those moments—‘O.K., what do we do with that?’” said Scott. “The firebox we had ordered was much smaller.” The clever solution was to fill the gap with soapstone tiles from the Alberene quarry in Schuyler.

In the adjoining kitchen, the aesthetic is very similar: white cabinets, uncluttered lines and some salvaged pieces as accents. A reclaimed 19th century French shop counter serves as an island (and can roll into its custom-built niche along one wall, making the space even more light and open).

Despite the scale of the project, he said, much of the design work came down to basics. “A lot of it was simple moves,” he said.