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Copeland Casati relaxes in her 400-square-foot bedroom. The tribal mask above the window was an anniversary gift from her husband. Both the 19th-century brown horsehair armchair and the lamp from the ’20s on the dresser are family pieces passed down to her.
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LEFT The Casatis’ dog, Khan, lounges on a rug found at a yard sale and in front of an antique credenza topped with a pair of midcentury “exotic” lamps. RIGHT The Casatis’ china cabinet, purchased from Oyster House Antiques in Charlottesville, was originally used to hold Chinese burial urns.
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LEFT Howard Smith is an African-American artist who gained international fame with his designs for Finnish ceramics maker Arabia. The white bird is from his Parvi collection. RIGHT The tile floor in the dining area, originally buried under wall-to-wall carpeting, makes indoor art projects possible year-round.
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LEFT The model boats mounted on the wall were built by Christoph, who sailed them growing up in Hamburg, Germany. The glass case holds a model of a merchant vessel designed by his great-grandfather. RIGHT Below the Marimekko screenprint hang the family’s stockings. Copeland’s is the original, made by her mother, while the rest were made by Copeland for her family.
"I grew up in Richmond," says Copeland, founder of Copeland Casati Media, a new-media marketing company. "I love very modern or very traditional architecture. My husband showed me a blurry picture on the Internet of this brick rancher, and I said, ‘Sweetie, I know you're from Europe, but this is not what you want. '"
He convinced her to walk inside. The previous owners, who were the only owners prior to the Casatis, added an extra half-foot to the traditional ceiling height when they built the house — a seemingly small change that effectively gave the home an open and airy feel. The Casatis were intrigued by the house's u shape, which created an easy flow throughout the li ving areas, as well as the abundance of windows that allowed for ample sunlight.
Copeland immediately fell for the large yard, perfect for a garden for her growing family, which now includes Jacob, 9, and Lila, 7.
"It was an oasis in the middle of the city," she says. The 400-square-foot master bedroom sealed the deal.
"You're talking to a girl who lived in New York City with three [roommates] and a Dalmatian in an apartment half the size of this bedroom," says Copeland. "That's when I said, ‘Put in a bid.'"
Once the house was theirs, they set about restoring it to its original state. Since 1951, the home had acquired carpeting in every room and layers of paint over the natural tile and wood surfaces. They decided to turn back the clock.
"We regard the house the same way we look at our furniture," explains Cristoph, a software engineer with PAETEC. "When we buy something, we refinish it and restore it. It's a different attitude than taking it and gutting it."
For six weeks, Christoph went to the new house from 6 p.m. until 2 a.m. pulling up carpet, refinishing floors, stripping paint and patching walls.
While the couple strives to live as sustainably as possible, they first considered the house's aesthetic roots when making design decisions.
"We made the decision not to replace the windows because they're a feature that's inherent to the architecture of that day," says Copeland, who founded Green Modern Kits, a company that sells energy-efficient, passive-solar prefab homes. "They're irreplaceable. We sealed them up more to make them more energy efficient instead. You have to balance function and efficiency with staying true to the vision."
Though they had been living in a turn-of-the-century North Side farmhouse, their furnishings and décor perfectly suited the new house. The Casatis began acquiring mid-century furnishings shortly after getting married in 1996, starting with a Knoll couch acquired for $70 at an antique store. The collection grew from there.
"Furniture, for me, is similar to the way you treat your clothing," says Cristoph, who designed a line of furniture that was mass-produced under his name in Germany in the 1980s. "It's a way that you express yourself."
The couple's décor is intens ely personal, representing a mish-mash of family pieces, thrift-shop finds and "rescues," including a huge wooden wall sculpture that was salvaged during the renovation of the old CSX building and now adorns a living room wall. Among the family relics scattered throughout the house are an oil painting that Christoph's grandfather cut from its frame as the family escaped the Russians during World War II and a model of a merchant vessel that his great-grandfather, a German engineer, designed prior to the war.
While the Casatis have enjoyed adding familiar names to their midcentury collection — Copeland particularly prizes ceramics by Howard Smith, an African-American artist from New Jersey who designed for Arabia, a giant of Finnish design — they don't shy away from pieces without known provenance.
"A lot of times it's falling in love with something unrecognizable that calls to you," says Copeland.
Each piece seems to come with an anecdote: a canvas hanging over the living room couch that was found in the garage, a marble-based coffee table that was given to Cristoph on one of his scouting trips to Diversity Thrift, a set of vintage dishes that only comes out on the first snowfall of the year.
"That's the fun thing about buying furniture like this: Every piece has a story to it," says Cristoph. "You relate to how you found it, who you met, what you know about the previous owner."
"We could walk into any store and buy something, but where's the fun in that?" adds Copeland. "Where's the story? Where's the history? Why not celebrate reuse?"