Round several narrow snaking turns and follow the James River west from the Huguenot Bridge. That's the way to Eve Painter's house, a daring and delightful log cabin snuggled hillside on Cherokee Road. Seventy-some years ago, the cabin's owner would paddle across the James to catch a train downtown.
Designed as a hunting lodge, one of four built by John Guy in 1910, Painter's place was in a sorry state when she purchased it two-and-a-half years ago. Two of Guy's other cabins, which sit on adjacent land, have grown in size over the years, and the third was moved to Columbia, Va., but Painter's 2,300-square-foot cabin was virtually untouched when she found it. On the market a year without enticing a buyer, the yard was overgrown, rusted-aluminum screens marred the enclosed porch, and small windows offered poor views. And forget direct access: The only driveway was at the bottom of a hill. Visitors had to scale 20-odd stone steps to reach the front door.
Despite the overt obstacles, Painter quickly took in the site. The warm patina of the log walls, the tumbled river rocks, the exposed beams and cathedral ceiling
in the main room all appealed to her, and she decided to buy it while still standing in the doorway — she just knew.
Some people can see a home's potential, but Painter sees even more. She can see a home's soul, and she had a hunch this cabin could be reborn.
Painter had already renovated and decorated three homes in Virginia, drawing out their personalities and taking full advantage of their sites: a circa-1900 home in Ashland, an elegant 1915 farmhouse on 28 acres in Amelia, and a 1950s rancher on the Rappahannock.
"I reinvent new homes and renovate old ones," Painter says confidently. "Housing is a passion with me," and one she uses fully in her design-consulting business called Clayden House.
Conjuring a Cabin's Charms
Painter, herself a painter and an entrepreneur who founded Amelia Springs Water Co. with her late husband, got to work right away conjuring her cabin's simple but seductive charms.
First, she painted the walls inside and out (all but the original logs) in varying tones of one buttery beige — Duron's "Bauhaus Buff." Its rich and nuanced color provides the perfect backdrop not only for her collection of modern art and antiques but also for views of the verdant outdoors.
Indoors and out blend alluringly. The whole house seems to float, storybook-like, in the trees. With four "front" doors – three with overhangs held up by charming cedar posts and two with covered porches – the cabin feels enchanted.
Quilts draped on benches and chairs outdoors welcome rest. Salvaged wrought-iron fencing purchased at Caravati's is reborn by metalsmith John Meola and connected by wood posts that came from brick mason Richard Bryant's property in the country. Creative Construction helped her vision become reality.
Born and raised in London, Painter has a keen understanding of architectural nuance and scale. Instead of blowing out walls to increase the cabin's space, Painter honored its fundamental footprint and with it, its heart.
She swapped rooms, turning the first-floor bedroom into the dining room and the original kitchen into a lower-level den. An awkward window in the master was replaced with a cottage casement window that now opens to views of the Huguenot Bridge. In the kitchen, Painter exchanged an undersized window with a clear glass door that leads to a cantilevered deck with stairs that swoop below.
And Painter wouldn't think of removing the hinged opening next to the fireplace where past owners stored their guns. It was a hunting lodge after all.
Low profile, High style
Painter's careful selection of furnishings shows a love of design and a keen command of scale. Low-profile leather couches and chairs from La Differénce (whose owners Sarah Paxton and Andy Thornton live in another of the old but now-renovated cabins two houses up the road), keep rooms from feeling cramped and free floor space for circulation. The house has no hallways.
Clear ghost chairs by Philippe Starck almost disappear in the bedroom. A diminutive dining table, counter-height bar and undulating "Fiocco" cocktail table — all made of clear glass — provide drama but not mass.
Positioning elements on a diagonal — from toilets to a kitchen butcher's block and even a stove in the guest cottage — unlocks space in tight rooms.
Nurturing in Nature
Painter nurtures houses and artists. Walls come alive with large abstract expressionist canvases by Ben Barnes, a 21-year-old former Trinity High School student whom Eve befriended and later sold 53 paintings for in one year, including some that hang in Virginia's Capitol. Iconic animal paintings by friend Marcia Germain enthrall. Hefty door hardware and an armillary crafted from machinery parts by local found-object artist Meola demonstrate Eve's deep respect for artists and artistry, too.
An eclectic mix of antiques, many of which Painter purchased with her late husband, Walt, near his hometown in Greenbrier County, W.Va., offer companionship and a grandeur unexpected in a cabin.
Antiques and art, passionately collected and delightfully presented, enliven and invigorate this once humble, much beloved, and now thoroughly revitalized city cabin in the woods.
The house spoke. Eve listened. And more important, she understood.