Historic Spaces, Modern Faces

New uses for rooms from bygone eras.

A former carriage house in Albemarle County.

The inherent challenge in any historic home renovation—and Virginia is chockablock with them from Wytheville to Winchester to Williamsburg—is to layer on functional updates reflective of the needs of family life in the 21st century while simultaneously preserving the innate characteristics of a property.

This is challenge enough when it comes to the bones of a home—wiring, plumbing, roofing, etc.—but even trickier when updating throwback architectural spaces such as trunk rooms, butler’s pantries, servants’ quarters and old stables. 

Architect Mimi Sadler, of Richmond’s Sadler & Whitehead and a specialist in historic renovation, says, “We see people buying rural estates and converting carriage houses into party spaces and art studios,” among other adaptations. She has had clients convert trunk rooms into bathrooms and exercise rooms, and butlers’ pantries into elaborate bars and spaces to house collectibles. 

H. Adams Sutphin, principal of an eponymous architecture firm in Charlottesville, says “The key is to find what makes the space intrinsically interesting and then determine which of those characteristics can be kept in order to retain as much of the original character of the space as possible.

“If you have a specific element, you can implement a contrasting material or timeframe element. Or, you can layer in similar materials in order to maintain a certain continuity.” Sutphin is currently converting a 6,000-square-foot former carriage barn for a client in Albemarle County into an entertainment/office space. The structure has original rolling-wood doors, which Sutphin has in-filled with contemporary glass-and-steel elements to weather-proof and add more natural light. 

Another recent project, in Upperville, updated a large butler’s pantry to create a linked kitchen and casual dining area, retaining period elements such as a silver safe, original cabinetry and an antique German silver sink. SadlerAndWhitehead.com, SutphinArchitecture.com

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