Coming from Chicago, Albemarle County can seem like a different world. When Rebekah and Adam Goldberg were hunting for a local house to buy in 2014, they were trying to strike a balance between rural bliss and the neighborhood feel they were used to. “Adam wanted land and privacy,” says Rebekah. “I also like to have neighbors and not feel like I’m out in the middle of nowhere.” They were coming up short and began to consider building a new house instead.
Eventually, they found a 5.4-acre lot in Ivy where they’d be able to glimpse neighbors but still enjoy a woodsy setting. Bushman Dreyfus Architects would design for them a contemporary farmhouse with lots of windows. “We walked the site and flagged a spot,” says architect Tim Tessier, “looking at sunlight and views. The sun rotates around the main living space.”
The couple wanted plenty of space for their two young kids, a home office for Rebekah and room to entertain. “It’s not formal, but comfortable,” says Rebekah of their entertaining style. “It’s about having a cozy environment for people of any age.” She especially wanted direct access from the kitchen to the outdoor patio and screened porch so that guests, kitchen cook and grill cook could all easily mingle and converse.
Tessier drew up a scheme in which an open kitchen/living space and master suite would receive the best daylighting, with the balance of the rooms found across a central stair hall. “It’s almost like two little buildings next to each other, with the stair hall between,” he says. “We positioned the major rooms on the sunny side, which is also the private side with views into the woods.”
The farmhouse style, he says, “comes easily in Charlottesville.” Here, its updated nature is evident in generous glazing, the solar array on the roof and modern features like a basement theater. Yet a vernacular style is alive and well in the house’s proportions and detailing. The generous front porch, for example, couldn’t be more classic—and it serves the same function such porches always have, to keep summer sun from entering the house.
Element Construction’s Mike Ball says that tight construction methods make this house, finished in 2016, very efficient. “We’ve been achieving great airtightness in our houses,” he says, adding that the house relies on open-cell insulation in the 6-inch-thick walls, a Superior wall basement and an energy recovery ventilator (ERV) to cut down on energy use.
The family and their guests naturally gravitate to the kitchen/living area, anchored by a fireplace flanked by some of the many built-in shelves and cabinets throughout the house. Salvaged wooden posts and beams, and a tongue-and-groove ceiling, delineate the kitchen. Floors are made from reclaimed fence boards.
The capacious kitchen includes two islands—one in the same soapstone-and-white scheme as the wall cabinets, and the other in a contrasting gray-blue color with a quartzite top. “I really wanted a white kitchen,” says Rebekah. “[Interior designer] Wynne Shafer brought soapstone into the design, which grounded it.” A breakfast nook, windowed on three sides, provides an informal place to sit down that’s not at a countertop.
A favorite feature, first suggested by Rebekah after she spotted an example on Houzz, is the window over the kitchen sink that opens out like an awning on gas struts, creating a generous opening to connect the kitchen to the patio. She asked Ball if it were possible. “I found one that was $10,000,” he says, “and I said, ‘I think we can engineer it ourselves.’” It took some trial-and-error on the part of project manager Hayden Yount, and a custom steel frame, but it got done—and the window opening now functions almost as a bar, where guests can pull up a stool and help themselves to appetizers served on the narrow shelf along the bottom of the window.
The patio centers on a fire pit and leads to the screened porch. “I didn’t want the windows to open into the screened porch,” says Rebekah, explaining why she asked Tessier to attach the porch to the garage rather than the house. It is still only a short walk from the kitchen for easy serving.
Across the stair hall—which is almost completely glassed on both ends and walled in shiplap, making it feel a bit like an open-air dogtrot rather than an interior space—are a formal dining room, office and what the Goldbergs call the “reading room.” This is a quiet space for kids to lounge, away from the large TV that’s in the living room, and includes a designated spot for the family’s piano.
The office features a long built-in desk made from on-site scraps by Element carpenter Joel Detrinis, plus much more storage. “We lived in an old house in Chicago,” says Rebekah. “It was important to have character, but there was never enough storage.” The Goldbergs’ new house more than makes up for that, with built-in drawers, cubbies, shelves and cabinets everywhere.
Upstairs, the master bedroom has a balcony and a dramatic vaulted ceiling—an idea that didn’t arise until construction was underway. The attached bathroom features a large double shower, Carrara marble tile and a black granite vanity top.
There are two identical kids’ bedrooms across the hallway, replete with more storage and the same generous windows found throughout the house. The Jack-and-Jill bathroom between them uses a repurposed dresser for a vanity. The Goldbergs say one of their favorite upstairs spots is an unexpected one—a simple sitting area at one end of the central hall. “It’s amazing how much we use this space,” says Adam, often for reading to their kids in the overstuffed chairs.
In the basement is a large play space, a hallway lined with yet more storage, a gym and a home theater. Kids and their friends circulate easily in and out of the theater while parents watch sports and movies.
At the beginning of their house search, Rebekah says, “Building wasn’t something we thought about a lot.” Now, the act of building has delivered to them exactly the house they needed.