On a quiet point overlooking Tabb's Creek in White Stone, the branches of a nearly 400-year-old white oak tree shade a Richmond family's weekend retreat. With a metal roof, large stone fireplace and white clapboard siding, the rambling house is reminiscent of the farmhouses that are common to the Northern Neck, but even a passing speedboater would notice that there's something different about this house. With large expanses of windows, an impressive bluestone terrace and simplicity of form throughout, the home is made for modern living.
"We love the language and variety of clapboard-sided farmhouses on the Northern Neck, and we wanted to give a nod to that tradition while creating a newer, cleaner interpretation that was more appropriate for today's living," explains architect Jay Hugo of 3North, who was the principal in charge of the project. "We also wanted to give the house a more additive, organic quality to suggest that it had evolved over time."
Drawn to the area by its remoteness, the homeowners bought the 7-acre property about a decade ago, and for years they and their three daughters spent weekends in the small cottage that came with the land. Eventually they built a swimming pool and dock, and continually thought about renovating and adding onto the cottage. But every architect they consulted said it would be too difficult to get the space they wanted from the existing cottage, so they began to think about what they would want in a brand-new vacation home. The answer: a house that looked like it had been there forever, but that was built for the 21st century and beyond.
"We wanted to have a perception of an older house," the homeowner says, "or an older house that had been built onto or remodeled. We also wanted to somehow tie the house to the land."
When the owners met Hugo of 3North they were struck by his vision and with 3North's interdisciplinary approach, which combines architecture, interior design and landscape design.
The house is oriented toward Tabb's Creek, and all of the main indoor living spaces flow out onto a broad bluestone terrace that faces the creek. The lot is fairly flat, "and we deliberately held the ground-floor level of the house down so that the interior spaces had even better flow to the outdoors," Hugo explains. The terrace is positioned between the house and the old oak tree, taking full advantage of its shade. They are popular gathering spots when family and friends visit, which is often.
"That's something we hear over and over again when we do vacation homes," says 3North interior designer Kristi Pipes Lane. "People want a place where they can gather extended familyand friends."
The family spends nearly every summer weekend enjoying the new retreat, whiling away the hours gardening, barbecuing by the pool and boating to nearby islands. They spend little time in town and instead enjoy a relaxed lifestyle centered on the water.
The floor plan of the home is open and comfortably accommodates houseguests. A large kitchen serves as the centerpiece of the first floor, with a huge island, Shaker-style cabinetry and a charming built-in banquette. A large farmhouse table anchors the adjoining dining area, offering seating for 10 and a view of the creek.
The great room adjoining the kitchen has a soaring ceiling, walls of windows and a dramatic, two-story stone fireplace. A small but memorable powder room was carved out of the fireplace masonry. With its stone walls, wooden counter and copper vessel sink, the space is entirely unexpected, a 3North special touch.
Another signature is an open staircase with a nautical-inspired metal railing. Surrounded by two stories of large single-pane windows, it is a dramatic feature that perfectly melds modern with traditional. The wooden stair treads and bluestone first-level floor soften the hard edges to create a warm, livable space.
Old-fashioned push-button electrical switches, solid-wood, custom-made doors and heart-pine floors salvaged from a Rhode Island mill add additional character to the home. Little drywall is used in the home. "Most of the walls are painted wood board paneling, in a variety of simple patterns, and there's a subtlety of relief and texture that's very appealing," Hugo says.
The home's furniture is simple, with slipcovered sofas and chairs in soft shades of white, off-white and blue. Natural materials such as wood, stone and sea grass abound. "There is nothing formal or fancy, yet everything is pretty and nice," says Lane. "It's definitely not your city house."