written by David
pictures by Stephanie
Telegraph Springs Road is a classic Virginia Country Byway following the roll of the land from Philomont to Purcellville. The graded gravel travel way is lined by three and four board fencing that enclose grand equestrian estates, small well maintained “Gentlemen” farms and a mix of modest to grand single-family homes. The house that stands closest to the roadway is, Four Oaks. It is so much more than just another address, this small well-lived in house was once home to a family of 14 and over the years the house had become a community eye-sore of epic proportions. Constructed in the early 1900’s as one of four “Farm-Hand Houses” to a nearby Quaker farm, Four Oaks had seen more than its share of life and through that life paid a heavy price. The once proud clapboard exterior was now clad in a sad dingy aluminum. The once stately standing seam metal roof had been replaced by tired asphalt shingles. The roof above the screened front porch was rotted through and in danger of collapse, as was the shed roof above the kitchen and enclosed rear porch. The state of the six-room, center-stair interior was in a word, shocking. In general, the house (and I use the term loosely) as well as the one-acre property on which it was sitting, was indeed a horrific mess. Yet, there was something about the place that screamed…SAVE ME! Somewhere, beneath a cocoon of grime, dust, decay and the over-growth was a diamond. A spectacular, multi-faceted butterfly waiting to be released.
…and so, just after the New Year 2013 the task of unraveling the cocoon began.
Now, taking a two-story; two-bedroom, one bath hovel and transforming it into a three-bedroom, two and a half bath jewel is without a doubt both an exciting and daunting prospect. Completing this metamorphosis without the benefit of being able to expand a tiny 590 square-foot foundation…a horse of another color.
I reminded myself that “Form Follows Function” as the pencil went to paper and a simple, efficient and very livable floor plan began to materialize. Gone, the center stairway. Relocated to a corner wall, opening up the main living area and providing space beneath for a powder room. Across the entire back of the house a cooks kitchen complete with semi-custom cabinets, a 5 foot-wide aisle, custom mudroom closets and built-in banquette seating with lift-top storage. To make the house live and feel larger, the ceilings on the upper level were vaulted to 9 feet. At the top of the new stairs, within the walls of the original structure, a slightly over-sized full bath and a pair of small yet comfortable bedrooms. Above the kitchen, the only option for additional square footage, a new and amazing master bedroom with a fabulous in-suite bath. I could go on…but I will save it for later in this post.
As you can see in the photo above on the surface, Four Oaks was indeed in deplorable condition. In the end, the sheer number of layers, may have been Four Oaks salvation. There were four layers of material covering the floors, essentially “protecting” the original Heart-Pine. The several disgusting layers of material on the walls, both interior and exterior, truly served to protect the underlying elements.
As originally constructed, the interior walls and ceilings were finished with tongue and groove Heart Pine installed on the horizontal. Talk about some serious lateral bracing! This method of construction kept the building square and level, helping the foundation resist the ravages of differential settlement. It was the very solid “bones” of this house: the stout foundation and intact balloon framing, that made this a restoration project instead of just another tear-down. I wish we had been able to restore and expose some of the original wall finish. I think it would have been a beautiful, warm and unexpected treat. Unfortunately, heart pine walls had not been treated kindly over the years, they were riddled with holes, nails and cut-outs, and so they were instead treated to new drywall and fresh paint.
From the start of the demolition through framing resurrection… the plan for the interior and exterior finishes of the project was dynamic. While the real nuts and bolts of the plan remained static, that is to say the kitchen remained the kitchen, the stairs would be relocated to the corner wall and the new master suite was going in above the kitchen. Dynamic were the elements and “opportunities” discovered or uncovered during the frame-up that could and would go on to become focal points. Constantly thinking and planning as the project evolved to ensure that no “stone” was left un-turned with regard to creating those much anticipated unexpected features. From preserving a rough sawed beam that frames and anchors the stairwell, or imagining old window framing (now interior walls) as shelves or wine racks, to salvaging flooring to be re-purposed as a back for a custom shelf unit or the rehabilitating of the shed over the cellar access.
The true joy of this project was that it was always all about finishes and unexpected details. The exterior was to be as maintenance free as possible. Hardi-Plank with vinyl trim and new Lincoln Windows of full wood construction with a vinyl clad exterior colored to coordinate with the final trim color. Big, bold yet simple square edged trim. Including the water-table and freeze, give the house presence…a sense of place. The vertical break in the siding was planned and matches on both sides to give the finished structure a feeling that it had grown and evolved over decades not just over months. The porch roof line was changed from a “shed” to a “hip” giving the porch the stature it deserved, a fitting place to sit and enjoy to view of the Blue Ridge to the west . The new roof is anchored by tall square posts square trimmed with eased edges completing the classic look.
The solid wood entry doors are by Lemeaux; custom stained, finished with Sikken’s Window and Door (simply the BEST exterior finish ever!) and fitted with beautiful Oil-rubbed Bronze Hardware. The entire house was crowned with a new standing-seam painted steel roof, in Dark Bronze, by Piedmont Roofing of Middleburg, Virginia. The ceiling above the porch is tongue and groove beaded Fir, left natural, and finished with Sikken’s Window and Door to allow the beautiful rich golds and reds of the Fir to show through. An unexpected detail: the small overhang above the back door was finished with same treatment as the front porch and was fitted with small recessed lights, down lighting the back stairs.
One of my pet projects was the shed that provides access to the cellar. It was literally falling off the house in January when we started. I painstakingly re-framed the tiny structure adding the shed roof and trimming it to match the house. I insulated and finished the interior. The roofers fitted the piece with a new painted steel roof and I built, stained and finished the door, from scratch, to mimic the other two exterior doors. The carriage lamp, matches the front door. It looks every bit the “big boy” entrance to what would make a very, very cool stone lined wine cellar!
If the exterior is a reflection of my overall aesthetic then the interior is the embodiment. Boasting full six-inch baseboard with cap and shoe as well as full six-inch picture framed window and door trims. All of the interior doors are solid wood two-panel Shaker-style with substantial oil-rubbed bronze hardware. They really feel like a door when you close them. All of the bathrooms are fitted with electric radiant heated natural stone floors. The floor in the main room of the house is the original Heart Pine flooring and all the other floors in the house, with the exception of the bathrooms, are new Heart Pine. All of the floors were sanded and then hand-rubbed with a custom mixed stain before being finished with three coats of Tung Oil.
The kitchen is a statement in simplicity. White cabinets, black granite and stainless steel. The white Shaker-style semi-custom cabinets with soft close drawers and doors are from Wolf Classic Kitchens and are made in the USA. I absolutely love these cabinets and have used them on several other jobs.
I’d like to think that the kitchen cooking and prep areas not only comfortable and well planned but that we were also able maximize use and storage in the entire space. There is a “mud room” area with a custom built-in closet at the back door. The eat-in area features custom built-in banquette seating with piano hinged tops that lift for storage. Above the banquette, in what was once a window, a custom built-in wine or spice rack. There was still a little room left so I designed and built a custom closet to hold a full-sized stacked washer and dryer.
The floor in the galley style kitchen was feeling a little long so I decided to break up the run of flooring by inlaying a slate-like tile in the travel way between the sink and range. The frame had to be perfectly square, the perfect length and width to complete the install without needing grout. I guess even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and then!
The Powder Room
The powder room is full of unexpected details. If the exquisite sink and faucet are not enough perhaps the extraordinary rusticated and heated slate floor is of your liking? Maybe it’s the wonderful oil-rubbed bronze light fixtures? For me, the CHERRY is the base that the sink sits upon! I shaped the front using a log salvaged from an 1850’s log home. The side pieces were salvaged from the cutoff of a rough sawed floor joist from this very house. The plugs I used to cover the screw fasteners were cut from salvaged Heart Pine flooring. I hand sanded the piece until it was smooth and splinter free and finished it with a hand-rubbed custom stain topped by Sikkens Window and Door.
The Living Room
The main room of the house is unbelievably warm and welcoming. The once rough and very scary floor is finished to perfection. The panelized wall that greets you when you walk through the front door was laid out to highlight art and conversation. The maple and wrought iron stair rail was designed and finished to illicit comments and thoughts of a bygone era. Again not wishing to let any space be wasted, I constructed a hidden door, on a piano hinge, in the paneled wall for access to storage under the stairs. One of my thoughts for this space, other than storage, was that with a slightly reconfigured door it would make and awesome dog house or playroom.
Oddly enough, the stairwell is one of the most interesting places in the house. Flooded by light from a window on the landing this space possesses four of my favorite unexpected features. The rough sawed beam above the window revealed itself during the framing of the new stairs. I protected it from the tradesmen, drywallers and painters until it was time to apply finish. I think it truly completes this space. Above the header at the start of the stairs I added the small display shelf…you know, it just seemed fitting. The custom built-in stepped book shelf, ROCKS! The taller area of the shelf is an old window location. I captured the adjacent area between two studs in the wall framing to give the shelf some life. In the back of the bookcase.. .the old flooring from the landing at the top of the stairs…I let nothing go to waste. Finally, for me it is the chandelier that finishes the space and really makes you stop and say, “WOW!”.
Upstairs, in the original house you will find an over-sized full bath and two small bedrooms. While small, I again want to believe well planned and sized with both an empty-nester and a growing family in mind. Each room, with their interesting nine and one-half foot vaulted ceilings, are large enough to hold a queen-sized bed as in guest rooms for an empty-nester or a set of bunk beds in one and perhaps a loft bed with a desk beneath in the other for the growing family. The full bath is bright and airy even though there is no window. The bathroom door opening outwards was planned to provide the maximum amount of internal space in the room.
The Master Bedroom
The Master…ah yes, the Master Bedroom with its fabulous in-suite bath…this just might be my favorite room in the entire house and…the only room that did not exist in January. Where to begin…three windows letting in copious amounts of light and views of the magnificent trees. The room was sized to fit a king-sized bed placed against either of two walls depending on your feng shui consultant. Custom built-in closets a full nine feet tall…his and hers…designed and constructed with two purposes in mind: One…fit the overall aesthetic of the room and house. Two…provide separation/privacy for the in-suite bath. Sliding between the two custom closets is the final unexpected feature…an 8 foot tall paneled door rolling on barn door hardware (darn, Stephanie can’t find the picture of it)! BAM!
The Master Bathroom
The Master bathroom is a Travertine Marble clad oasis. The floor…heated Travertine. The shower…ah yes…the shower… Travertine Marble from floor to ceiling. A carefully planned mosaic pattern mimics a waterfall on the far wall before merging with the mosaic on the shower floor. In the end…it is hard to believe, even for me and I did it, that all this grandeur is shoehorned into a six and one-half foot by nine and one-half foot space!
For the record, this once old and ravaged home was an unbelievably comfortably place to work and it is now in a condition to last for generations. The neighbors and the neighborhood are amazing, welcoming and protective. Telegraph Springs Road: where residents stroll, walk their dogs and… yes, even ride their horses. These same neighbors greeted me daily, monitored my progress, thanked me for what we were doing and advised me that our work was a fitting tribute to the former owner… a much loved local fixture.
And so to you Four Oaks, I raise this glass! Live long and remain PROUD!
In closing, I must first thank my good friend Brice Leconte and his beautiful wife Stephanie. Brice purchased this property and funded the renovation. Without him this jewel may have ended up as just another pile of rubble at the landfill. Brice’s wife, Stephanie Leconte, is a gifted and talented interior designer with a bright future ahead of her. Stephanie chose all of the colors (interior and exterior), fixtures, tile and hardware throughout the house. She was also the sounding board for my design ideas. Additionally, I would like to thank my beautiful and patient wife Stephanie, as well as our children, Easton and Scarlett. My Stephanie helped me set and grout every single piece of tile and marble in this house. She was also with me, side-by-side, over several late nights hand rubbing the stain into the floors and mopping on the Tung Oil finish. Thanks also to our loving children who watched much of their first month of summer vacation from the inside of a house under construction. Finally, last but not least my gratitude to the new homeowner. This home was sold at the beginning of this month and the new owner, who from what I can tell, might just love this place as much as I do, was kind enough to grant me permission to release this post. Mazal Tov!