From Williamsburg to the White House (Part I)

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, has a penchant for the past.

“I’ve always loved beautiful old homes,” said Pat, who is now retired. “I used to go to the Southwest Virginia Museum in my hometown [Big Stone Gap] and be fascinated by the wood and the beauty there, especially the staircase.”

In 1981, Pat and her husband, Jack, decided to build a new home in the Canterberry Estates subdivision of Fairfax Station. They chose their 2-acre lot and watched as its trees were felled. They chose a four-bedroom Colonial from among the builder’s available models, and made some limited allowed changes. But they knew that to get the house they wanted — one with the “beautiful old house” features that Pat loves — they would eventually have to renovate.

They waited a few years. “We wanted to live in the house awhile while we decided how to renovate it,” Pat said. By 1983, they were ready to start the first of a long string of remodels. Some of their modifications focused on adding Colonial design elements and others involved more extensive, structural changes, but all of them helped to create the manor-style Colonial home they have today.

Back-Dating the Master Bedroom

The Howards’ first renovation, which also included work on their yard and garage, brought a more authentic Colonial character to their second-floor master bedroom suite. The remodel, done in 1983, included changing all of the wood trim and adding crown molding in the bedroom and sitting area. “It’s a Colonial style trim, one that is as close as possible to the Williamsburg style —and that I liked,” Pat said. In the master sitting room, the couple also added custom built-in cabinets with pine, raised panel doors.

Pat finished the bedroom with 18th-century style Pondicherry wallpaper, a multi-colored floral. “It’s a design that Colonial Williamsburg staff found during one of their renovations,” Pat noted. That wallpaper then became the inspiration for a custom-made, Colonial-style quilt that tops the Howards’ canopied bed.

With wallpaper sample in hand, Pat traveled to the Bell Buckle, Tenn. shop of nationally renowned professional quilter, Mildred Locke, to look for a quilt that would complement the Pondicherry design. When Pat found none of the quilts were what she wanted, she spoke with Mildred. “At that time, Mildred had stopped designing quilts for individuals,” Pat said. “But Mildred looked at her husband, said “I can’t believe I am doing this,” and then said she would design one for me.”

Pat said she later learned Mildred agreed to do the design because she “fell in love with” the 18th-century design of the wallpaper and looked forward to researching it. The finished quilt, called Floral Fantasy, won several top awards, including best original design, at the 1988 Smokey Mountain Quilt Show and Competition, and was featured on television programs and at quilting events. Mildred, now deceased, even had the pattern patented.

Williamsburg Tavern Style in the New Sunroom

In 1984-85, the Howards made a more extensive interior change: the addition of a sunroom and a deck off the back of the house. Although the informal room includes some modern features — skylights and a ceiling fan among them —much of it was finished in the style of Colonial Williamsburg taverns.

The sunroom has a vaulted, pine plank ceiling and built-in wood cabinets flanking windows that overlook the deck.

“We had the windows custom-made with true divided light glass,” said Pat, noting the work was done by Stephenson Millwork Company in Wilson, N.C. “We also had them glazed, like they would be in the 18th century. We wanted them to be authentic to that style.” Doors in the room include custom-made French doors to the deck and a raised panel side-door to the garden; both include Colonial-style H and L black metal hinges.

Also inspired by the Williamsburg Tavern style was the room’s wide planked pine flooring, which Pat had stained but not sealed. The trim work is also pine.

“All of the woodwork in the room is not mitered, but cut so that pieces of wood are flat against each other,” Pat added. “That was to stay authentic to the Williamsburg Tavern style.”

Pat used a Williamsburg-style botanical fabric on the upholstered seating and furnished the room with different styles of custom-made Windsor chairs. “The Christiana Campbell [historic tavern in Colonial Williamsburg] mixes styles of Windsors,” said Pat. “I like to mix things and it gave me the courage to do it, too.”

Since Pat did not want a country look, she chose a streamlined style of Colonial period Windsor chairs from “A Windsor Handbook,” by Wallace Nutting. She hired a Richmond, Va. woodworker to recreate the design with chairs that combine maple, oak and ash woods.

To complete the Williamsburg homage, Pat bought silk-screened, wood signs from two Williamsburg taverns, Chowning’s and Wetherburn’s, and placed them above the door that connects the sunroom to the home’s breakfast room.

Finishing the Lower Level

Over the decade of the 1990s, the Howards gradually finished their walk-out lower level to include a wet bar, pool room, sauna, gym, wine cellar and general-purpose rooms. They continued the tradition of melding modern amenities with unique, Colonial period custom features.

The wood-paneled wet bar connects to a wine cellar with an unusual, etched glass door panel created by Karen Pierce, an Annandale glass artist. The sand-blasted, etched glass panel depicts grape vines, leaves and a Jefferson Column. “It was an anniversary gift, so Jack asked that we etch our initials and wedding date on the glass,” Pat said.

Inside the cork-walled wine cellar is a mural created by Gretchen Brown of Oxford, Md. It depicts an arbor at Monticello, and a view looking down on the Shenandoah River.

The Billiard room features a stained glass panel hung above the pool table. The glass panel, which originally came from Artie’s restaurant in Fairfax after a restaurant renovation, depicts a bowl of fruit.

Gutting the Study

In the mid-1990s, the couple also gutted their first-floor study. They installed mahogany floors and new mahogany crown, chair rail, and baseboard moldings, using traditional Williamsburg trim profiles. They also got some help from two White House friends when creating art for the study’s exposed brick wall.

“I had my Dad’s map from World War I that depicts his 1918 combat tour through France,” said Pat. “A White House cartographer helped me identify the map. Then a White House calligrapher wrote the description on it.” Pat had the work framed in French burl wood and hung it on the brick wall.

The study also reflects Jack’s history. Two paneled glass doors in the study are from the 1928 house that Jack grew up in. Pat said she also chose the study’s window treatments — a Jefferson swag and jabot — because Jack loves Thomas Jefferson.

Although these remodels gave Pat’s home a more authentic Colonial character, she had some even bigger changes on her wish list. Tomorrow, Patch will feature two other major renovations, including a 13-month reconstruction that created a dramatic two-story foyer and parlor-like living room embellished by the plaster work of master plasterer John Giannetti, whose work is in the White House and other historic buildings.

More photos of the Howards’ home, which they have placed on the market, can be seen in their listing with Bruce & Tanya and Associates, ReMax Choice.


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