Worthy Martin and Ruby Burt woke up on the morning of August 25 to the sound of a backhoe outside their house in Fry’s Spring. For him, it was the beginning of a new chapter in a 30-year history with the house. For her, it was the first morning of a new life in Virginia.
Martin had owned this house since 1984, but he and Burt had just gotten married, and she’d relocated from Texas just the previous day. Her new home could hardly be more charmingly Charlottesville—a 1920 cottage shaded by mature trees and surrounded by azaleas—but it was sorely in need of a renovation. “We wanted to keep that old style cottage feel, but bring it up to date,” says Burt.
The house had a small kitchen, outdated systems and some odd architectural touches (like a window inside a coat closet). “Worthy had for some time the idea of having a second-floor room, but wasn’t sure how to get it,” says Burt.
The couple also wanted more natural light, since, as Martin says, “This is such a shady neighborhood.” Architect David Kariel designed a rear addition with plenty of glazing, including in the stairwell, so that all the new rooms feel bright.
The renovation, accomplished by builder Peter Johnson, not only enlarged the kitchen and added a second-floor master suite, it improved the front entry and added square footage to the first-floor bathroom. The new back deck is a big improvement over an old back porch that had been in disrepair.
But it’s the new kitchen that really sets the tone for the house as it is now. Its design honors the original by taking a major cue from the arched opening to a former breakfast nook. Johnson and his team made the nook more shallow so it functions as work and storage space, but kept the archway and mimicked it in the dining room doorway as well as several other places around the house. (Johnson’s son Gordon even built a new arched “eyebrow” roofline over the house’s front door, which has a unique semicircular top.)
Original hardwood flooring in the kitchen is another important detail. Burt and Martin had planned to put tile down, until the old linoleum came up to reveal narrow oak floorboards. “Luckily, there were no nail holes,” says Johnson. He had new white oak for the addition specially milled to match the old boards.
Better Living cabinets are finished off with countertops made by Fine Concrete in a cool blue-gray shade. There’s a special touch: polished fossils embedded into the concrete. “I’ve collected fossils for a long time,” says Burt. Martin arranged ammonite fossils in the shape of the Pleiades constellation where the countertop wraps into the dining room.
The sink tucks into a cabinetry-defined corner near a window, leaving more work space below the bar formed by a raised countertop. “We didn’t want the kitchen to go all the way to the back wall,” says Burt. “That would have been too big.” Instead, the rearmost part of the addition, on this floor, houses a dining area, powder room, laundry and the stairwell to the second floor.
Upstairs, the master suite has tray ceilings to allow a lower-profile roofline, and a subtle bumpout on the rear wall to avoid a monolithic exterior. “We decided to leave this open like a loft,” says Burt, pointing out that the master bedroom has no door.
Warm desert tones found on walls, bathroom tile and a sinktop by Fine Concrete give this suite a Southwestern flavor reminiscent of Burt’s former home. “I needed this kind of color,” she says.
It was important to Burt and Martin that the addition not overwhelm the original house—or be overly conspicuous in the neighborhood. “You can credit the architect—he didn’t have something that looked like a tower on the back of a 1920s house,” says Johnson. Instead, careful design by Kariel and clever problem-solving by Johnson allowed the addition to merge its volume gracefully with the original.
While the addition does have Hardiboard siding in contrast to the 1920s stucco, sage green trim unifies the two sections. “Neighbors have commented,” says Burt—“‘Nice job not making it look huge.’” On this historic street, the updated house is a credit to the lovely and leafy surroundings.