As a college student, traveling from upstate New York to The College of William & Mary each semester, John Van Der Hyde would drive down scenic Route 5, passing numerous Virginia plantations along the way. Intrigued by the rich historical landscape, Van Der Hyde developed an interest in Virginia's history. Today, he and his family live at Sabot Hill in Goochland, an elegant country estate with a rich history of its own. On April 23, Sabot Hill will share its stories with the public during Historic Garden Week's tour of five Manakin-Sabot homes.
As visitors approach Sabot Hill, with its 360-degree views of the surrounding rural landscape, the stately Georgian-style house can almost seem imposing. Owner Sarah Van Der Hyde admits that when she first saw the house, it was difficult for her to imagine her family's casual lifestyle melding with the formal elegance of Sabot Hill. But the setting, on 55 rolling acres, presented an ideal haven for the active, outdoorsy family of five. "We have a real love of the outdoors and of nature," Sarah says. "When we did the house, we tried to bring the outdoors in." Working with father-daughter design team Ronald and Tayne Renmark of Renmark & Associates, the Van Der Hydes have created cozy, approachable interiors that respect Sabot Hill's history but are still entirely livable. "With three teenage boys, we want people to be comfortable here," Sarah explains. "When you live here, the house is not stuck up at all."
A Monument to All Things "Virginia"
Sabot Hill was originally the home of James A. Seddon, a member of Congress and the Confederate Secretary of War from 1862 to 1865. Seddon built a Victorian-style house on the property in 1855, but it was destroyed in a fire in the 1920s. In 1937, William T. Reed and his wife built the current Sabot Hill estate.
Designed by architect Coleman Baskervill, the house was constructed using only materials from Virginia, salvaging handmade bricks from the original Seddon home. The house itself is a replica of Chatham Manor in Fredericksburg. The 1719 heart-pine paneling and woodwork in the home's library was salvaged from Mt. Prospect, a home in New Kent County. The main stairs are similar to those at Carter's Grove near Williamsburg, and the entrance is copied from Westover Plantation.
Sabot Hill's formal gardens are more than 100 years old and feature stately boxwood hedges, which create intimate garden rooms. In addition to designing the home's interiors, Renmark & Associates also developed a comprehensive 15-year landscape plan to restore and enhance the gardens. The Van Der Hydes have so far added a fountain, custom benches from Swift Creek Garden Furniture in Richmond and an allée of cherry trees. A dahlia-cutting garden, ornate ironwork gates and four statues depicting the seasons are other charming highlights.
The property's most impressive feature is its collection of 130 varieties of trees, many of which were collected by the Reeds. A large gingko, which was a gift to Seddon, is believed to be the second oldest gingko in America.
"One thing I really love about the property is all the old trees," John says. "It is so painful every time one goes down in a hurricane or ice storm. It feels almost like you've lost a child."
Sabot Hill is as traditional as they come, yet thanks to the Renmarks' design talents, and to the Van Der Hyde family's personal touches, the home doesn't feel like a museum. The dining room features the artwork of Ronald Renmark, an accomplished realist painter. A hand-painted tone-on-tone mural covers the walls, depicting local floral and fauna and reflecting the Van Der Hydes' love of nature. One of Renmark's pastoral landscape paintings also hangs over the unusual sunburst mantel, which came from a nearby farm, Joe Brooke. A round table and upholstery and draperies in rich berry and gold tones create a warm, inviting space.
The light-filled living room, while quite elegant with elaborate linen-floral window treatments, cream-colored paneling and a collection of antiques, is still inviting and used by the family all the time. "When we have parties, we have a lot of dancing and conversation in there," Sarah says. "Every Sunday morning, we come down, light a fire, get the newspapers and magazines, and watch CBS Sunday Morning with our coffee.
John's favorite room is the library, as much for its history (Martha Washington, Mrs. Robert E. Lee and Dolly Madison's sister are all said to have spent time at Mt. Prospect, he says) as for its beauty. The heart-pine paneling has taken on a warm patina over hundreds of years, and the large fireplace gets lots of use. A warm gold-and-green color scheme invites visitors to linger, and a custom rug, designed by Ronald Renmark in these same hues, is a showstopper. Renmark's painting Thanksgiving Day hangs over the mantel and was painted at Sabot Hill during the Deep Run Hunt Club's annual Thanksgiving Day fox hunt.
"What we really love about this house is the history, the architecture, the land and the outdoors," Sarah says. "This is a great house for our family," John adds. "It is the whole package."
Historic Garden Week in the Richmond Region
In addition to the Manakin-Sabot tour on April 23, homes in Bon Air will be open April 22, and houses in Westhampton will be open April 21.
For details, access the schedule page of the Historic Garden Week Web site at vagardenweek.org. A comprehensive 220-page guidebook may be obtained by sending a $6 donation to Historic Garden Week, 12 E. Franklin St., Richmond, Va., 23219. The book provides descriptions of houses and gardens that are open, directions, ticket prices, and the names and telephone numbers of local tour organizers. For more information, call the Garden Club of Virginia at 644-7776 or e-mail email@example.com .