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Ross creates her own style by layering textures and eras. Antique French sofas and settees mix with mid-century modern tables in a family room that welcomes visitors.
Photography by Todd Wright
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Ross with her husband, Dean, and her two younger children, Paris, 8, and Arden, 5.
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A two-tone kitchen with mix-and-match furniture comes together with marble countertops, custom schoolhouse light fixtures and a subway-tile backsplash. Paneled cabinetry displays Ross’ ever-growing collection of Portuguese whiteware
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The doors of this refinished antique sideboard were removed in order to better display Ross’ copper pots.
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An eclectically decorated office both inspiring and relaxing showcases Ross’ adventurous side with a wall collage of reclaimed wood, antique mirrors and old frames.
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A French dining set brings focus to the dining room.
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Ross finds many of her favorite furniture pieces and decorative objects — like this gilt candy dish — at West End Antiques Mall.
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Ross created the molding frames above the girls’ beds, and her husband installed them.
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Ross’ fondness for designing with a sense of rich history continues into the spaces of her children. An antique wardrobe holds toys and clothes, alongside a birdcage stand.
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Paris and Arden play among the durable antiques in their playroom. “They’re always respectful of the furniture,” says Ross, who wanted the girls to have a place of their own to play and relax.
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Ross designed her master bedroom with neutral colors and soft textures to create a peaceful atmosphere. “I can always add color with a throw, artwork or flowers. This way, I can move furniture between rooms, and it still works.”
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A vanity with a striking antique French mirror is “mostly just for show,” says Ross.
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The family’s brick home in the FoxCreek neighborhood in Chesterfield County.
Monica Ross doesn’t just have an eye for design — she has a feel for it, a head for it and a heart for it. In fact, her eyes are often the last things she can rely on, since she suffers from a retinal disease called Stargardt that’s reduced her eyesight to such an extent that she’s now legally blind.
But Ross, who has been developing a flair for the visual since childhood, doesn’t let anyone waste time feeling sorry for her. “There are a lot of people who are completely blind who do really fantastic things,” she says, without any trace of bitterness. “I look at it like that, like there are people who have it a lot worse. Then I take a deep breath and move on.”
Ross has gotten good at adapting. With four kids to raise and a husband whose career has taken them from the West Coast to Atlanta to Charlotte to Raleigh before finally settling in Richmond, she hasn’t had time to dwell on what life could have been like as a fully sighted person. Instead, she immersed herself in anything and everything design-related.
“Design has been a saving grace for me. I totally indulge myself — I’m constantly studying it, reading design blogs and all the literature I can find.” And when she moved to the South, she realized that there was a whole world of European-inspired architecture and antique furniture that she’d never known much about amid California’s clean lines and open spaces.
Her creative vision grew as her physical vision deteriorated, and she learned how to spot beautiful French and Italian pieces at estate sales and antique malls. It’s not a speedy process — her husband has to drive, and she needs to get very close to an item in order to see it clearly, but the Rosses make it a family event. That support, combined with her own determination, has given Ross the fuel she needs to turn a hobby into an area of expertise.
“I always said that if an opportunity presented itself, I would jump on it,” says Ross, referring to her audition for an episode of HGTV’s First Time Design. But she never expected them to call her within days of receiving her tape. “I was just floored,” she says, and just a couple of years later, she’s still floored at what she describes as an “amazing experience.”
Ross had just three days to completely redesign the living room of a couple with two young children. Not only had she never designed for anyone other than herself, she’d never before tackled a large-scale project within an almost inhumanly tight time frame. Ross overcame her nervousness about this new set of challenges and, three days later, presented the lucky couple with a brand-new, kid-friendly, Asian-inspired room.
Their enthusiastic reaction emboldened Ross to take on bigger and even more challenging projects. Upon her move to the FoxCreek neighborhood in Chesterfield County, she worked with builder Sergio Falcone on her 11-month custom home build.
“When I met him, I knew I’d found the perfect match,” she says of Falcone, whose European sensibilities melded beautifully with her new appreciation of Southern-inspired design. “He pretty much gave me free rein. I made changes to the floor plan, I brought in antique light fixtures. … He understood what I was looking for.” The two agreed to embrace a cozy, vintage feel, rejecting modern design’s tendency toward open floor plans in favor of smaller spaces within a larger framework.
The build was just the beginning. Now that she has the walls in place, Ross continues to fill the home with the design pieces she adores. Salon-style framing, ornate mirrors and even Greek busts provide lively focal points that set off the elegant sofas and hardwood tables. A sweeping staircase curves up from the front hall in antebellum Southern style, while black hardwood floors anchor the vibe squarely in the 21st century.
“It’s modern living with a classic feel,” says Ross simply, although the result is clearly the product of painstaking and often very frustrating labor.
Good design sense is as much a natural part of Ross as is her drive to accomplish more than her disability would seem to allow. The process may take more time, but in the end, her limited eyesight isn’t a hindrance. “People ask me all the time, how do you do it?” says Ross. “I guess it’s just in my head. I don’t sit down and sketch things. I look around the room and get a feel for what it can be."