One of a kind

An eccentric Charlottesville house welcomes new owners

Andrea Hubbell

Upholstered walls. A bright red hallway. Gilded chandeliers. When Holly and Kevin Davis bought their house in Fry’s Spring in 2012, it was, in an endearing way, over the top.

“The house just evoked so much color and charm,” says Kathleen Conroy, a designer with Kenny Ball Design. Along with her colleague, Chloe Ball, she had a history with this sprawling home, known as Snug Harbor. They’d helped the previous owners with many design projects and had come to know the place inside and out.

Meanwhile, they’d also worked with the Davises, who were living in an antebellum Orange County farmhouse where they melded their taste for modernism with a killer collection of antiques.

Andrea Hubbell

So, for Conroy and Ball, it was a full-circle moment when the Davises bought Snug Harbor. As the parents of two young boys, the couple had immediately felt a connection to this 1932 stone colonial. “There’s a neat energy in the house that we responded to,” says Holly. Ball concurs: “You knew this house was lived in and full of love.”

The interesting task at hand was to make the house—which for 19 years had been occupied by former UVA spokeswoman Carol Wood and her husband, Bill, the founding director of UVA’s Sorensen Institute for Political Leadership—suitable for a much younger family. “We were trying to take a house that was formal and turn it into a place for two rambunctious boys,” says Holly.

Andrea Hubbell

Fitting in

Not only would rooms need to change functions in order to accommodate the needs of kids, there was a larger design challenge at play. “Holly respected [the previous owner’s] aesthetic, but could see beyond it,” says Conroy. Exuberant yet formal, the house as it was included a number of eccentric touches.

For example, there was the first-floor bedroom suite, where Wood’s taste for chinoiserie was given free rein. Doors to the bathroom, for example, are made of Chinese screen panels that Conroy had helped locate at Oyster House, then fitted out with mirrors. The walls are covered with black wallpaper in a chinois pattern, and the double vanity is constructed from repurposed Chinese vanities finished in black lacquer. Trim in the bathroom—and the walls in the bedroom—are painted a color that Conroy calls “peanut butter.”

It works—in a lovably flamboyant way. But it’s not for everyone, and didn’t immediately align with the Davises’ prevailing tastes. Rather than going for the quick redo, though, they decided to take their time.

“We tried to take more modern things and figure out how to make them work with the chinoiserie,” Holly says. “I feel like it’s a neat marriage. It makes me do things in a different way than I would have.”

In this bedroom, for example, the existing décor is now offset by a serene Abby Kasonik painting hanging over the contemporary Crate & Barrel bed.

As for the raucous bathroom wallpaper, the Davises have found it more livable than they expected. Kevin Davis, an architect and UVA professor, is “metal and glass, modern modern modern,” says Holly. “But he says he doesn’t even notice it anymore.”

Photo: Andrea Hubbell

Making it their own

Adaptability aside, the Davises did make some needed changes. In the living room and central hallway, red walls and bookcase backs had created a bold mood, but the new occupants craved something more toned-down. “Red is the one color I have a hard time with,” says Holly. In the hallway, “we pared down the furnishings and tried to open it up.”

With a rich gray on the walls and few objects to block the kids’ frequent high-speed travels through the space, “It’s cleaner, fresher and younger,” says Conroy.

Another big change: What was once the dining room now serves a different purpose. “I had a big list of things I wanted in a house,” says Holly, “and this house had every one of them except a playroom near the kitchen.”

There are still clues that this was once the spot for dinner parties: A gilded tole metal chandelier remains, and glassware fills a pair of built-in corner breakfronts. But with a sturdy patterned rug, a chocolate-colored couch from Jayson Home and mustard-brown upholstered chairs from Circa, the room is now ready to serve as kid central, just off the kitchen and breakfast room.

“We spend most of our time in here,” says Holly. “Every morning they’re in here with a bag of Legos.”

The family eats many meals in the cozy breakfast room, at a white Ikea tulip table. As for formal dining, it’s now officially located in the slate-floored sunroom off the living room, where plentiful windows admit garden views and silver teapots contrast with Bunny Williams lamps.

As imagined by the Davises, with help from Conroy and Ball, the house now balances many elements: bold strokes by the previous owners, modern art and objects, and stately antiques.

Some of the padded, upholstered walls have remained: The master bedroom is resplendent in green and white stripes, plus a green toile print sofa that was here before the Davises. In the corner is Holly’s diminutive Italian fruitwood writing table, “so beautiful it makes me cry,” says Conroy.

A new Lacanche stove updates the kitchen with its glossy black cabinets and open upper shelving. Holly’s added a ghost chair at the bill-paying desk, but left the toile fabric covering the bulletin board that hangs above it.

Everything from plaid fabric deer heads (found at Target) to an exquisite olivewood dining table finds a place here.

Holly has come to see herself as more of a steward than an owner. “It feels like the house is its own thing, and you’re the inhabitant,” says Holly. “It welcomes you.”

Andrea Hubbell

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