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The home’s front entrance enjoys a leafy frame of akebia, while a slate patio designed by M. Turner Landscapes blends seamlessly with the home’s stone walls. Photo by Helen Horsley
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A painting by Wanda Baucus hangs above the dramatic stone fireplace, and a chinoiserie-decorated secretary filled with porcelain, Japanese plates and Chinese mud men flanks the fireplace. Photo by Adam Ewing
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Bacon and Crowder renovated the kitchen in 2009. Photo by Adam Ewing
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Bacon altered her grandmother’s draperies to hang in the dining room. The linen fabric with chinoiserie pattern was purchased in London at Liberty in the 1950s, and Bacon added wide linen panels at the bottom to lengthen them.
Celebrated socialite architect Ernest Flagg was a man well ahead of his time. Energy-efficient construction? Flagg was doing it in the early 1900s, with designs that featured thick masonry walls clad in granite and pitched roofs with dormers to capture cross breezes in the summer.
Socially responsible architecture? Flagg led the cause for zoning and height regulations in New York City and was active in the city's urban housing reform.
But it's Flagg's iconic Beaux-Arts buildings — which include the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Scribner Building in New York, and many of the buildings on the campus of the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis — that earned him a spot in the annals of American architecture.
Toward the end of his career, however, Flagg began to focus more on residential design. And though he was primarily active in the Northeast, Richmond is lucky enough to lay claim to four Flagg houses — the only ones in the South.
All of the homes are located near the University of Richmond, just off Three Chopt Road. One, a charming stone cottage built in 1926, was purchased in 2000 by John Crowder, a vice president for ValleyCrest Golf Course Maintenance, and his wife, Mary Bacon, a partner at investment company Ewing Bemiss & Co.
Owning a piece of history carries responsibility, and for Crowder and Bacon, the first imperative was to free their home from the overgrowth that had engulfed it.
"The landscape was very overgrown, with 12- to 14-foot American boxwoods around and in the front of the house," Bacon recalls. "[They were] completely obscuring the home from the street." The couple got to work immediately, thus beginning a landscaping project that would span the next decade and restore beauty and balance to the grounds.
The overarching goal, says Bacon, was to give the yard a park-like appearance with "quiet plantings" that would complement the grays and browns of the house's stone exterior. "We wanted an understated yet interesting landscape with ample lawns."
After about two years of working on their own, removing trees and unwieldy shrubs, planting, maintaining and grooming, they recruited Meg Turner, of landscape design firm M. Turner Landscapes, to bring in hardscapes that would allow the couple to extend their entertaining outdoors. Turner tackled the front of the house first, designing and supervising construction of a charming slate courtyard entrance. Akebia, a vine that blooms briefly in the spring with small ivory flowers, was strung above the front door, with fragrant gardenias added to both sides. For shrubs, Turner brought in boxwoods, hollies and japonica. Natchez crape myrtle and gumpo azaleas were also added to provide a pop of color in warmer months. Bacon and Crowder were thrilled, not only with the results, but with the working relationship. "[Turner] is very creative and talented, really engaging, and a delight to work with," Bacon enthuses.
Phase two for Turner was taking advantage of the newly acquired space in the backyard after all the overgrowth was removed. A slate terrace was constructed with a small dining area for the family to enjoy in warmer months. Because the area is shaded, Bacon says they chose lush, vibrant botanicals with varying shades of green and interesting foliage. Those plantings include hydrangeas, multiple varieties of hosta, unusual ferns, Japanese maples, boxwoods, coral bells, impatiens, astilbe and begonias.Original cedars and a crape myrtle provide a natural canopy to keep things cool in the summer.
Stroll the grounds of the couple's home and you'll discover different "rooms," or defined areas where you can sit down, relax and enjoy your surroundings. An old dog pen became an enclosed, gravel-floored garden with espaliered apple trees, seating and a garden shed. Turner transformed the side garden into a showpiece — first grading the uneven grounds, then encircling the area with a low stone wall and bench seating. Boxwoods provide screening in the back, while a stand of beech trees, pruned regularly, acts as a elevated hedge. "We had seen this in several botanical gardens and it creates a very interesting effect," says Bacon. To brighten the view of the side garden from a family room added in 2009, the couple chose peonies, Lenten roses, loropetalum, azaleas, hydrangeas, lilies, yarrow and coneflowers.
Completing these individual spaces has enabled Crowder and Bacon to live the outdoor lifestyle they so enjoy. "We use [the yard] constantly and entertain with small dinners when the weather is nice," Bacon says.
But with landscaping, there's no such thing as resting on your laurels. "There's always more to do," Bacon admits. The couple's unrelenting work ethic in maintaining their historic home is itself a form of social responsibility. And that's something that Ernest Flagg could probably get behind.