From Williamsburg to the White House (Part 2 of 2)

String of renovations inspired by historic buildings transforms a 1981 Fairfax Station Colonial.

Pat Howard, a former assistant to the White House Social Secretary under presidents Nixon and Ford, lives in a 1981 Colonial in Fairfax Station, but loves the fine architectural details of Colonial homes. For nearly 30 years Pat, an avid remodeler, has made a series of renovations to bring 18th century styling to her 20th century home.

Yesterday, . Today, we highlight Pat’s most striking renovations, which required the help of a fine woodworker and a master plaster artist who has worked on such historic buildings as the Capitol and the White House.

“Sometimes I feel like we have been under renovation since 1981,” said Pat Howard of the numerous remodels she has done on her 1981 Canterberry Estates Colonial. In fact, Pat said she took early retirement in 1995 in order to spend more time working on her house.

“I like to make the house as authentic as possible,” she said. “So, I get very involved with the renovations.” That included her most ambitious and dramatic renovations, one that recreated her dining room and the other a 13-month remodel that transformed her foyer and formal living room.

Re-do of the Dining Room

In 1995-96, Pat revamped her dining room from top to bottom.  She replaced the floors with reclaimed heart pine  from Mountain Lumber Companyin Ruckersville, Va. “They said the wood came from a 100 year-old warehouse, and that the wood was probably already 200 years old when it was put into the warehouse,” Pat noted.

Pat also installed Colonial style wood moldings in the dining room. “Mount Vernon allowed people to order profiles of moldings from its rooms,” Pat said. “I chose the East Study Hall profile for our crown molding.”

Perhaps most unusual is the dining room’s walls: they are upholstered. “I got the idea from parlors in the White House and other historic homes,” Pat said. “I love the acoustics with the fabric.”

Pat brought the burgundy damask fabric to an Old Town upholsterer who created a pattern for hanging the fabric. “It was magical to see how it looked when it was installed,” Pat said. Drapes were custom made from the same fabric.

The dining room also features an orchid design stained glass panels on two windows. Pat found the first panel at the Waterford Festival in Waterford, Va., and had the artist, Mike Owens of Maid on the Moon Studio, make a matching one. “It’s not necessarily a Colonial style, although the design reminds me of colonial gardens. But it is lovely to look at,” Pat said.

The Big One

In 2004 the Howards began a 13-month renovation that transformed their one-story foyer into a soaring, two story entry with a Juliette-style balcony, a remodeled staircase inspired by Pat’s White House experiences, and elaborate arches and architectural and ornamental trim work.

The Foyer

To create the two-story foyer, the couple removed part of a second floor bedroom above the foyer. They also created a small balcony above the front door that is bowed across the front to mimic the arch in the elliptical window above the front door. “I went through Colonial books to get ideas for the balcony,” Pat said. “I was inspired by the Colonial Williamsburg buildings that have balconies, including the Breton Parish Church in the Settlement of Colonial Williamsburg.”

The balcony, which has recessed lighting and offers aerial views of the foyer and into the living room, is where Pat often places her Christmas tree. Beneath the sides of the balcony, flanking the entry door, are two paneled coat closets.

“Everyone asks me how you get to the balcony,” Pat said. “It’s from a hidden door in the second floor reading room in the front of the house.” Pat said the idea of having a door that could not be seen from below the balcony came from her experiences at the White House, where some doors, many leading to utility closets, are camouflaged in columns or column walls.

The stairs from the foyer to the second floor also were modified, again with inspiration from White House architecture. “I was inspired by happy memories of the Grand Staircase during state dinners,” Pat said. “A certain part of it is wider, almost like a balcony landing.” Pat used a similar approach with her home, creating a landing that extends slightly into the living room. Beneath that landing are panels concealing a storage closet.

The Howards also removed the wall between the foyer and living room to create an ornate wall of arches and Corinthian columns. The arches were built “through trial and error,” Pat said.  “We cut plywood out on the deck and then put it up against the wall until we came up with the right angles. Once we got it, the real materials were cut and put in place.” The elaborate design required the help of a structural engineer.

“I didn’t get the idea for the arches from any one place, but I did use a book to guide me,” Pat said, pointing to the arches on the top of the Capitol as among the influences.

Tony Haun of Front Royal’s Little Valley Woodworks LLC oversaw the renovation project, and did the woodworking, including the fluted wood columns. The tops of the columns were finished with plaster Corinthian capitals, and the completed columns were finished with textured paint to look like concrete.

Pat also enlisted the services of master plaster artist John Giannetti of Giannetti’s Studio, Inc. in Brentwood, Md.  John, whom Pat met while working at the White House, has done plaster work for the White House, the Capitol, Monticello and other historic buildings.

Pat had John create ornamental medallions and panels for the remodeled space, including a delicately patterned plaster work that frames the elliptical window above the front door and continues along the paneled sidelight windows.  The design, which includes vines and leaves, and a shell design in each corner, was one that Pat chose from a book and samples that John brought from his studio.

John also provided eggs and dart style molding along the foyer’s ceiling and two ceiling medallions for the foyer’s chandeliers, which have a motorized lift to facilitate cleaning. The medallions are Colonial period designs from one of John’s books.

The Living Room Becomes a Parlor

“I used to relax in the Green Room Parlor near the East Room of the White House, and soak up everything in there,” Pat said. “I always wanted a parlor, and it certainly was an influence when we were renovating.”

Pat decided to give her formal living room a facelift to make it more parlor-like. The original living room had a vaulted ceiling, but Pat changed it to create a more dramatic cathedral ceiling. She also re-imagined the fireplace, which was originally black slate with no mantel, to one with a granite surround and an ornate Colonial-style mantel.

“Tony first built the mantel in supply wood to see how it looked,” said Pat. “Then he worked with John on the plaster [details] to see how they would go together.” Pat chose an Adam’s period urn design with swags.

Another of John’s projects was to create an ornamental plaster panel around the living room window; it features arabesque side panels and a shell design in the panel center. “John told me that this was one of his favorite panels in his studio,” Pat said, noting the design was by John’s father.

Pat furnished the room with period furniture, including Chippendale and wing back chairs, a breakfast table from the British National Trust collection, and a Williamsburg style tea table. Above the fireplace she hung an ornate mirror, another common feature in a parlor. Pat said the mirror is an Adams period style made by Friedman Brothers, which makes mirrors for Colonial Williamsburg.


“This is definitely a home with every room influenced by the more formal side of the 18th century,” Pat said. “Each room in my house was decorated to have the warmth of an 18th century home, yet be comfortable at the same time. I also try to make things to look like they were born that way.”

Some have suggested to Pat that she share her unusual home. “Many of our friends have suggested that we start a B and B,” Pat said, laughing.

In fact, the home will be shared with one new family, since the Howards plan to downsize and move to Tennessee. They have put their home for sale for $1,099,000 through Bruce & Tanya and Associates, ReMax Choice.

One thing that has not changed, though, is Pat’s love for renovating in the Colonial style. Already, she is planning on making changes to her new home, she said. “I’ve already called John Giannetti about doing Colonial plasterwork for me there.”


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