Built in 1907 and known locally as the Williamson Talley House, this Monument Avenue stunner was designed by Claude Knox Howell. It has all of the elements of a Colonial Revival with a few modern twists that serve today’s owners well.
Like many of Richmond’s “big houses,” the home was once divided into six apartments. The house has been painstakingly restored to a single-family residence, and many features lost when it was subdivided have been recreated and reinstalled.
The current owners have lived in the property for approximately five years. They worked with interior designer Janie Molster who is known for her masterful use of color and passion for antiques.
It took one year to transform the more than 6,000-square-foot space which encompasses six bedrooms, three and a half baths, and 10 fireplaces.
Janie’s clients were merging lives and families and wanted a fresh start that reflected their evolving joint aesthetic and symbolized their new life together.
“It’s a historic house on an important street, so we wanted to honor the owners’ more contemporary leanings while staying respectful of the history,” says Janie. “Our ultimate goal was transitional, which is a word we love to use in the design world when what we really want is just to avoid a pigeonholed genre.”
Revival is known for clean lines, and the millwork in this house is straightforward and strong in scale. It feels good and balanced. Heart pine flooring was the most common material used at the time of construction, and great care was taken to restore the original floorboards.
The house is set close to neighboring homes, which equals minimal natural light. While the structure is not attached on either side, there are only a few feet between houses, so Janie only had a southern exposure (front) and a northern exposure (rear) to work with.
“We took care not to block any light—linen sheers dress the windows on the front of the house and simple shades in the rear. We made sure that table and floor lamp light was plentiful. In many of our historic projects there is no architectural lighting like recessed cans, so we stage table and floor lamps as if ambient light is our only option,” explains Janie.
The entry foyer is what dreams are made of. It’s large and very spacious. When entering the foyer, the stairwell is just past the fireplace on the right, with a wide opening to double parlors on the left.
Janie says, “We stitched together two similar-sized zebra rugs in a funky, organic shape to meet the scale of the foyer. The low-slung Breuer Wassily chairs by Marcel Breuer are surprise fireside perches, but we balanced the height by adding tall custom mirrors above a pair of consoles.” The design team also took advantage of the spacious hallway by adding an antique Biedermeier desk and chair backing up to the staircase.
The galley kitchen is functional, with a marble backsplash, and the assistance of a butler’s pantry for more storage. Janie used bar stools from Palecek and lighting from Circa Lighting.
The morning room is directly off of the kitchen and shines bright with an airy atmosphere created by the mix of fabrics and layers of texture including Quadrille wallpaper and artwork from the owners’ collection.
Not wanting to overwhelm the architecture, Janie designed a neutral color palette. “We used many versions of whites, grays, and greige. We worked with a base and often custom tinted onsite. In the living room we started with Benjamin Moore’s Shale,” says Janie.
But that’s not to say there is not color throughout the home. Bright pops are present especially via the artwork—notably the yellow in the first-floor parlor. Janie says, “We fell in love with the painting first, a large abstract landscape by one of our favorite local artists, Karen Blair. Luckily the owners did as well so that was our yellow launch pad.”
The dining room was one of a few places that the clients wanted to work with some existing furniture. A somewhat conservative dining table meant that the design team had to go on the hunt for more modern elements including the chairs, lighting, rug, and artwork. Janie says, “We tracked down the mid-century Lucite chairs early on and the client signed off on them immediately. The glass chandelier casts the most amazing and flattering amber glow in the evening and gives the room a delicate feel.”
Another room that had the potential to skew formal is the den. Located between the parlors, Janie says, “Many of our clients in this area (the Fan District) gravitate toward these rooms in the center of the house in the winter months. We were aiming for cozy with his and hers sofas. And, we had the fluffy wool rug custom made in India.”
The owners love to entertain. At the rear of the house, the family room opens onto a secluded multi-level wraparound deck overlooking the garden. The nearby catering kitchen makes entertaining a breeze for the large family and visiting friends.
The garden, which also includes a three-car garage, is mostly hardscaped with perimeter and container plantings.
Janie says that one of the things she loved best about this project is “that the interior style feels harmonious, but you can’t really name a design style.” Sounds perfect for a family wanting a fresh start together.