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Mimi Sadler and Camden Whitehead's Woodland Heights home (Photo by Ansel Olson)
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A 1930s photo of the home (Photo courtesy Mimi Sadler and Camden Whitehead)
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Sadler and Whitehead transformed an outdated, dark kitchen into a modern masterpiece clad entirely in poplar wood Sadler salvaged from a casket maker years before. The room was inspired by a Nova Scotia cottage designed by architect Brian MacKay-Lyons. (Photo by Ansel Olson)
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White cabinetry and sleek finishes give the bathroom a modern vibe. (Photo by Ansel Olson)
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A dank and dark basement was transformed into a light-filled, modern family room. Light wood again plays a starring role in the design. (Photo by Ansel Olson)
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The back of the house reflects its eclectic, modern character.The couple’s home backs right up to Forest Hill Park. (Photo by Ansel Olson)
Nestled on a leafy half acre in South Side’s Woodland Heights, an 1895 cottage captured the attention of Mimi Sadler and Camden Whitehead. Together, they own Sadler & Whitehead Architects, a practice known for its innovative and sensitive approach to renovation, and for their work mixing old with new.
They purchased the house in 1998, and Whitehead recalls that there was “nothing elaborate about it when we bought it.” Sadler adds, “Just a vernacular raised cottage. … We wanted to reinvent it because we both believe in adapting historic architecture to contemporary design. We knew we wanted to adapt it to our vision.”
The first phase of their renovation centered around structure and systems. The wrap-around porch, roof, heating and air conditioning all needed upgrading or replacing. Asbestos siding was removed to reveal the original clapboard still in good shape. Then they moved in and stopped making improvements.
For almost 10 years, they pondered how they would treat the interior, doodling on a set of floor plans and considering various options for the 2,000-square-foot house. Even with double the creativity and knowledge swirling about, Sadler says, “We generally agree on style issues, and we have a great time debating the merits of different ideas.”
“We both believe in adapting historic architecture to contemporary design.” —Mimi Sadler
Finally, says Sadler, in 2009, “I had a plan, was ready to redo and not drag it out.” Adds Whitehead, “She also knew that we could have an impact on the bottom line with the use of historic tax credits.” Sadler, an expert on the subject, explains, “The tax-credit rules require that when you alter a part of the house that has been previously altered, the new treatments must be ‘compatible with the house’s historic character, but be clearly contemporary.’ That’s what we were aiming for.”
The result is a spectacular reflection of their mastery of combining then and now. The front three rooms of the house — a 28-foot-wide living room flanked by two little bay rooms — remained original and true to its turn-of-the-last-century roots. But on the back side of the house, where a hodgepodge of walls, doors and a porch spanned the rear of the structure, Sadler and Whitehead worked their contemporary magic.
A constant scavenger, Whitehead had collected all kinds of building materials over the years. The moment had come to put his stash of treasures to use, and the couple called on carpenter Chris Chase to make the most of the lumber Whitehead had accumulated.
On a visit to Canadian architect Brian Mac-Kay-Lyons’ Nova Scotia “cottages,” Sadler and Whitehead fell in love with his use of wood for all surfaces. “We don’t like drywall, and we’d been trying to figure out what to do in the kitchen. When we saw the way he used wood, we said, ‘Yes! That’s it!’ ” Sadler says. Chase crafted cabinetry out of Whitehead’s collection of poplar that he’d salvaged years ago from a casket maker’s shop in Callands, Virginia.
Behind the kitchen, they fashioned a light-filled master suite from what had been a porch. Reconfigured into a bedroom, walk-in closet, bath and stairwell to the basement, the space features clean lines and surfaces that are all wood.
“She knew that we could have an impact on the bottom line with the use of historic tax credits.” —Camden Whitehead
Below the master suite, opening out on the yard at grade level, are a cozy guest room, bath and sitting room. The basement space under the front original part of the house is what Sadler affectionately calls Whitehead’s “Chaos Corral,” storage for some of his beloved collection of architectural elements.
For two people who have spent their professional lives devoted to thoughtfully tying together old and new, their home is a perfect reflection of that passion. It’s historic and modern, comfortable and uncluttered, understated and captivating.
“In Richmond, you’re always in the historical context,” Sadler says. “[Our house] is not pretentious — just vernacular, local, simple, and that context made it fun, and we weren’t constrained by high-falutin’.” Whitehead adds, “I’d much rather deal with humble.”
Because their house qualified, Mimi Sadler and Camden Whitehead were eligible to receive tax credits for the renovation work they did. As a historic preservation consultant, Sadler has a thorough knowledge of how tax credits can be used to mitigate the overall cost of restoring a historic property. Here, she offers the basics:
What are tax credits? “Virginia’s historic tax credits allow the recipients [the owners of historic houses] to reduce their state income taxes by a dollar for each dollar of tax credits. Virginia’s tax credit program provides a credit equal to 25 percent of the qualified rehabilitation costs.”
How can homeowners use these credits? Homeowners use tax credits if they can meet the following criteria:
- Their house must be certified by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR) as historic. The house must be listed on the Virginia Landmarks Register, be eligible for listing on the Virginia Landmarks Register, or be a contributing building in a historic district.
- The qualified rehabilitation costs must exceed 25 percent of the assessed value of the house, as determined by the city’s assessor.
- The owner must plan and complete a rehabilitation project that meets the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation.
- Usually applications for historic tax credit projects are submitted for review and approval to DHR when the project is in the schematic or design development phase. It can be helpful for the owner to hire a consultant to assist with applications.