It took about 18 months for the dream house of Geri Schirmer to become a reality, but the project had its roots in a much longer period of, well, dreaming. “It was the culmination of 30 years of planning in my head,” Schirmer says. “I did the Parade of Homes constantly. I’d walk in and start rearranging walls.” Building this house on a ridge overlooking Ivy finally gave those ideas life.
The home takes full advantage of an enormous Blue Ridge view, and while it’s not overly grand, it’s certainly dramatic. That’s fitting for an occupant who’s also a seasoned Live Arts actor—she’ll play Flora Van Huysen this March in The Matchmaker.
Schirmer and her husband Bruce raised two daughters in a house in Charlottesville, and they are now grown. For Geri, the process of building was a joy (“no horror stories,” she marvels). When the house was done, she threw a “wrap party” for all the pros involved, from architect to roofers to kitchen designer.
The great room, with its vaulted ceiling and abundant glass facing the mountains, is the center and heart of this French-influenced house. A painting of Normandy, made by the father of Schirmer’s soon-to-be son-in-law, graces one wall, and objects from European travels fill the shelves.
The room’s ceiling beams are spanned by iron tie rods made at Clay Hill Forge, simple forms with restrained ornamentation. “That’s acanthus leaf,” Schirmer explains, “and the little bird is a nod to my sister. Her name was Robin. I live with her memory there.”
“I’ve always been a Francophile. I think it was a romantic ideal from my teenage years. On our honeymoon we went to Quebec; I thought that was the closest I would get to France.
“I wanted the stone terrace [off the great room] because a wooden deck off a French house just didn’t seem right. In the summer you can’t see any other houses. It feels really private, but I don’t feel isolated.
“[On fall mornings] I wake up and everything below the yard is clouds. It looks like I’m at a lake. The color of my bedroom is the color of the Blue Ridge Mountains.
“[In this room] I read, knit or do needlepoint, watch TV or movies, sit and talk with friends, practice my lines for the play, or just daydream and look out into the mountains. It’s the only sitting room in the house. I made sure the furniture was comfortable. My dad is 87; he lives in town. He comes every Sunday if not more. He sits in the recliner and we watch our sporting events.
“It’s also a great party room. That wasn’t on my wish list, but it works great. It doesn’t feel cavernous. The beams and tie rods bring the space down to being intimate. You’re not going to play hockey in here. We went with [a great room] instead of a formal living room and [separate] family room because our children are grown.
“Sometimes I’m reluctant to go do my chores in town because I really like being here. I like when it’s noisy and full of people, and I like when it’s quiet and just me with a cup of tea.
“It feels soul-satisfying to be this close to nature, with the trees and mountains and sky. I don’t want to say I feel peace. Maybe it’s contentment.”