April ABODE: A teacher makes design a hobby for the off hours

(Photo by Andrea Hubbell)

For the past two years, Catherine McFarland, an elementary school teacher, has slowly gathered an array of furniture and artwork for the one-bedroom Downtown apartment she shares with her husband Nate. The aesthetic is clean and fresh: The walls are painted Champagne and the upholstery is cream; pops of green branches and succulents add cooler tones to the space.

For McFarland, carefully decorating her apartment has been a fruitful creative outlet. “As a teacher, you get so immersed in the world of children all day…Taking care in decorating my home has provided a chance for me to reacquaint myself with my creative side. It’s my adult hobby,” she says.

It helps that McFarland has a natural can-do spirit and a gifted touch with the sewing machine. Doing things frugally was the way she grew up: “My mom has always been a do-it-yourself, or do-it-for-cheaper…I wanted to carry on this way of thinking, and have nice things in this house, but I wanted to make as much of it as I could.”

Examples of her innovation include a chic table skirt she sewed from printed burlap fabric she bought online, and four dining chairs she bought from Circa, which she painted white and reupholstered in a navy velvet. And she’s always scouring the local estate sales and auction house. “I scored a Betty Draper table for practically nothing from a Harlowe Powell modern auction that I had been following. They had forgotten to post the table online and offered it to me for $150!”

The couple has married their sensibilities nicely in the space. Nate, who hails from the West Coast, is inclined towards a sleek, Scandinavian minimalist aesthetic. Catherine, on the other hand, grew up in a traditionally appointed home in Virginia Beach. “We weren’t even allowed to make our beds because we wouldn’t do it right! I mean, my mom would iron our sheets. Can you imagine?” Yet McFarland has started to gravitate towards mixing modern, sleek pieces with elegant antiques. She’s paired a traditional wooden secretary desk with an acrylic Louis ghost chair.

But in this space, there’s a definite emphasis on casual, comfortable surroundings. “Because we only have the one room, we can’t really afford to have anything that isn’t comfortable or functional. Maybe one day I can see us picking form over function, but not yet!”—Cate West Zahl


“I just can’t resist a $50 chair. When I see one I can’t not bring it home with me. I tell myself that I’ll find a reason for it later.

“We entertain a lot in the space, and have had up to 30 people at a time. I kept apologizing to people about the lack of space, but I actually think people preferred being crammed in together. It was fun and intimate! I try to make our home as inviting as possible. The ceilings are 10 feet high, which makes the space seem larger than it actually is.

“My favorite piece is the Kiki Slaughter painting, the first commissioned work we’ve received. It was a wedding present from my aunt and uncle. I love the mix of white, blues and green, and I love having art from local Charlottesville painters in my space.

“When we first got married, Nate just liked that everything was so clean and put together for the first time! He spent so much time on the road from touring with his band, and he was living with a bunch of guys in a house on Rugby Avenue on a twin bed on the floor!

“I’ve grown into gravitating towards more sleek, clean and modern things. I think growing up in a traditionally designed home, you bought furniture and arranged things because that’s what you did, and that’s what everyone else did, and there wasn’t much veering away from a certain look. So I think I have enjoyed the freedom of picking out things that I like, even if they are outside the box, and mixing and matching aesthetics.”

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