Colonial Charm: The keeping room is now Baskerville’s casual living room. He restored the wood floors to the original light pewter color to brighten the room. (Photo by Sarah Walor)
Artist Lee Baskerville approaches interior design much like he composes a painting — with deliberation and openness. “There are rules that you can follow,” he says, “but there also is an emotional response to shapes and forms.”
Baskerville’s style can’t be confined by era or place. And, in his life, Baskerville himself isn’t bound by definition either. While he is best known as a portrait painter, you can find his landscape paintings on display at The Country Club of Virginia, The Commonwealth Club and Chesapeake Capital Corporation. His historic murals line the walls at The Omni Homestead in Hot Springs and his equestrian scenes at Salamander Resort & Spa in Middleburg. He also is an art historian, a furniture maker, a hunter and a safari guide in Africa.
To Richmonders, the name “Baskerville” may ring a bell. His great-grandfather and grandfather were the architects who founded what is now the Baskervill architecture firm in 1897. His father, Henry, a musician and safari guide in Africa, deviated from this path, introducing Baskerville to a life of adventure when he was a child.
Baskerville’s appreciation for architecture has been passed down from his great-grandfather and grandfather. He has restored a Federal-style home on North Second Street and a Greek Revival home on West Franklin. He recently purchased a Georgian home in Powhatan that is almost an exact copy of the Powhatan Plantation home in Williamsburg.
The layers of Baskerville’s alluring life are apparent when you visit his most recently completed restoration project, a saltbox in Midlothian’s Salisbury neighborhood. A New England saltbox is an unlikely find not just in this neighborhood, but in Virginia. Characterized by a flat front and pitched asymmetrical roofline that extends over a one-story room at the back of the house, the style originated in New England and is an example of Colonial American architecture.
Exterior: Builder Doug Woolfolk moved the 1769 New England saltbox house from Holyoke, Massachusetts, to the Salisbury subdivision in 1966. (Photo by Sarah Walor)
“This is a pure, rustic American form of architecture,” says Baskerville, of the post-and-beam structure. “And it speaks to the time. It’s very functional.”
The house was built in 1769 in Holyoke, Massachusetts, and was purchased in 1966 by Richmond builder Doug Woolfolk, of Woolfolk Construction. Woolfolk dismantled the historic home, moved it from Massachusetts to Midlothian, and reassembled it himself, finishing the arduous project in 1969.
The original blacksmith nails in the side of the house are a telltale sign of its rich history. It was built by Captain Joseph Morgan, the great-grandfather of J.P. Morgan. A story in the September/October 1979 issue of Colonial Homes magazine when the Baehr family resided in the home reads, “The house still bears tomahawk scars sustained in a late-1700s Indian raid.”
Baskerville recently brought the old Saltbox back to its grandeur, replacing windows and refinishing the beautiful heart pine floors. When he purchased the house a year ago, the home was in poor condition with missing siding, broken windows and no working plumbing. At the time, it was inhabited by a variety of creatures.
“In every home I have bought, I try to get back to the roots of that home,” Baskerville says, which is where his art history degree comes in handy as he figures out how to properly restore and preserve these houses with accuracy.
Modern Mix: Baskerville designed the powder-coated steel and honed-granite end tables. The sofa is from Thayer Coggin. An antique cobbler’s bench serves as a coffee table, and an apple-green Milo Baughman lounge chair provides a jolt of color. The photograph is by Lee’s brother, Charles Baskerville. (Photo by Sarah Walor)
The walls are painted a cream color and accented with toffee molding, the original color palette of the house. The neutral colors provide a blank canvas for Baskerville’s provocative design sense, mixing furniture from different eras and artwork from different continents.
Baskerville manages to make a home that is nearly 250 years old feel not like a stuffy museum filled with period pieces, but like an inviting modern-day home. “You can have a contemporary lifestyle even using antiques,” he says. “It doesn’t have to look stodgy.”
In the living room, a Duncan Phyfe sofa is juxtaposed with a contemporary cube coffee table that Baskerville made. “If I can’t find it, I’ll build it,” says Baskerville of his furniture designs, which are informed by the early days of minimalism. Neolithic Chinese pottery sits atop an antique bureau, and above it hangs a contemporary print by Jewett Campbell. A hunting spear that his father brought back from Tanzania is mounted above the fireplace. “There is a beauty to the erratic-ness of nature,” he says, “and you can tap into that when decorating.”
A set of Mies van der Rohe MR chairs contrasts with the antiques on display in the dining room, including a mid-1600s gateleg table, a Pilgrim-era coffer, a rare set of English husband-and-wife portraits in their original frames, and a Jin Dynasty vase. (Photo by Sarah Walor)
In the dining room, 16th-century portraits flank a newly restored window, and a gateleg table from the 1600s is paired with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe chairs from the late 1920s. Above the dining table hangs a sleek metal drum chandelier from Restoration Hardware.
“I don’t think you need to be a slave to the period, so long as everything flows and works well together,” he says. “I like pieces from every era.”
Twenty years ago when searching for his first home in Richmond, Baskerville fell in love with a Federal-style home in Church Hill that became his first fixer-upper. “It was an affordable way to get a great home,” he recalls. “And it ended up being profitable.”
Since then he has found the process of restoring historic homes intellectually and physically rewarding. “Richmond has a lot of under-appreciated fabulous homes,” he says, “and when you can take something like that and breathe life into it, and turn it around, it’s extremely rewarding.”