After meeting in college, the couple got married and pursued their respective careers—she as a librarian and he as a patent attorney—living for many years in Delaware. About two years ago, when the time came for them to retire, there was little question they’d end up near Keswick, specifically, on a piece of land connected to her mom and dad’s farm.
“I distinctly remember when I first came to visit her family,” says the husband. “I thought, wow, what a nice area. There’s a lot of nature, and yet it’s not far from Charlottesville.”
Many years ago, her parents had bought the land where the couple’s new home now stands to protect the views. But having a few acres to situate a house and having one built for you are two very different things. “I had never worked with an architect—that’s just not me,” she says. “I’m a librarian!”
Ah, but librarians are good at research, and after many hours of looking at architects’ websites, she discovered Charlottesville’s Peter LaBau of GoodHouse Design, which specializes in residential design. “I talked to Peter, and we had a comfortable rapport,” she says, adding that LaBau’s co-principal, Jessie Chapman, was also a key player in the project.
“We agreed on that point,” he says. “And my personal preference just happened to be to live in a house in the woods—so that’s what we have.”
The home lives up to its nickname, A Walk in the Woods.
“It’s in the woods, but there’s a lot of light,” she says. “Every morning I wake up and look outside, and the fields and the forest present different colors. It makes me want to go outside, but because of the openness of the design and the large windows, there’s a feeling of being outside without having to go there.”
Also, having grown up in the area, she had spent time in many local friends’ houses, historical ones that had been added onto over the years. “There were a lot of different levels, steps up or steps down into different rooms,” she says. “I knew we didn’t want that—we want this to be our last house, so ease of movement from one room to the next was an important consideration.”
The rooms on the main floor sit on the same level, easing transitions as one moves from one space to the next. But the house isn’t uniformly horizontal. It presents three primary upper volumes—the garage, the bedroom wing, and the loft above the main living area. “We wanted enough space where, when everyone came to visit they could have some alone time and close a door,” he says.
Guest bedrooms on the first floor and in the loft accommodate frequent visits by the couple’s sons. “One is married, one is engaged, and one is dating,” she says. “No grandchildren yet—but we have plenty more room.”
Before construction began, LaBau and associate Victor Colom staked out the proposed position of the house. “So, we knew the direction the front of the house would be facing,” the husband says. “Peter is deep in thought. Finally, he says, ‘Wait a second. We need to rotate this whole thing 10 degrees to the right—that is the view you want.’”
The couple agreed that the architect was right—just like he was about many other technical and design considerations. “It is a house designed to look like it evolved out of the site,” she says.
Because of that organic feel, the couple considered cladding the exterior in reclaimed pine or cedar. Then the husband asked colleagues at work about the materials. “They said, ‘Oh, the woodpeckers! You’re going to attract every one from miles around.’”
Also rejected was a roof made entirely of raised-seam metal, even though the couple both liked the sound of rain falling on such a surface. But after the husband visited a friend in North Carolina who had a home with a metal roof, and overhanging oak branches, the couple backed off of the idea. “When the acorns were falling, it sounded like gunshots going off,” he says.
Regardless of the roof (it’s shingled, by the way), the couple still loves the secluded feeling of living among so many trees. “It’s zoned rural, and it remains rural,” she says, noting that the closest neighbors are a quarter to a half mile away. “When the trees leaf out, you don’t see light from the neighbors’ houses at all.”