A Lasting Legacy

Meet a family that has built both a home and an equestrian preserve in Aldie.

Robert Radifera Photography

It’s not unheard of for a family to relocate from coast to coast to pursue an employment opportunity, but it’s more unusual that they would choose to stay. Such was the case for Jim and Melissa Pankas, who moved from California to Virginia with their children Colby and Maile (now 17 and 14, respectively) in 2008 for Jim’s job with the federal government. Melissa says, “We thought it would be a two-year stint, but we ended up falling in love with the area and decided to stay on.”

Toby Reidway/IrishEyes Photo by Toby

While looking for their “forever home,” the Pankas family spent their weekends driving around different Virginia neighborhoods, until a colonial-style house set on eight acres in Aldie captured their heart. The five-bedroom, 6,556-square-foot house had been built in 2004 by Wetherburne Homes. “We instantly fell in love with the house and its surrounding land. It was quiet, peaceful, and would make a great family home,” says Melissa.

One hitch: The house wasn’t for sale. Not one to be deterred, Melissa wrote to the homeowners to ask if they’d be open to selling—which, it turns out, they were. The Pankases purchased the house in 2010 and set about making it their own. Between living, working, and raising kids, the process took almost a decade.

One of their first projects was converting a detached carriage house into a 552-square-foot woodworking shop for Jim. His hobby of designing and building one-of-a-kind wood furniture and furnishings has evolved into a thriving side business called Ohana Aina Woodworks. “I focus on building what the block of wood presents—its natural figurations and shape—to create what I hope is a unique heirloom piece of furniture that will last for many generations,” Jim says of his craft. 

Meanwhile, a pair of sisters worked on the most recent interior design and exterior landscaping work for the home, completed between 2017 and 2019. Theresa SeGuine of River’s Edge Landscape oversaw the renewal of lush plantings around the house. (“We also redid the roof and the pool, and added stonework to the façade of the house,” says Melissa.) Liza Jones of Liza Jane Interiors, now deceased, worked in close collaboration with the homeowners on the interiors to “pull all our décor and taste together.” 

Robert Radifera Photography

Of course, as is often the case, the project became so much more. Fresh paint, pretty wallpapers, new rugs, updated lighting, and a warm, neutral palette infused with sea glass hues transformed the home’s décor, creating an organic flow from room to room. The soft blues and greens pay tribute to Melissa’s background—she’s a native of Hawaii with Filipino and Russian parentage—and her love of the ocean, as well as Jim’s Greek heritage. “Mostly, we wanted the redesign to be true to the traditional colonial style of the home, while also reflecting us,” says Melissa. “We had furnishings and collectibles we’d collected from all over, as well as handcrafted pieces by Jim, that we wanted Liza to integrate into the whole.” 

Robert Radifera Photography

Melissa loves glass and crystal—which she calls “bling”—so Jones helped her select a variety of beautiful light fixtures for the main living areas. The most elegant is a crystal-beaded dining room chandelier, which hangs above a live-edge walnut dining room table that Jim handcrafted for the space. The ceiling has a silver-patterned wallpaper finish, adding to its layered sophistication. The room is completed by walnut dining chairs made in Vermont and custom upholstered host and hostess chairs.

Robert Radifera Photography

Jones went through the house room by room, pulling together existing furnishings, refreshing furniture with upholstery, adding new pieces, and lending the home a cohesion that had been missing. In the kitchen, Melissa says, Jones selected marble countertops and backsplash, and suggested repainting the cabinets in pewter grey while adding new hardware and a hammered nickel farmhouse sink. In the sunroom, the sea glass green walls echo the home’s theme, while a quartet of Thomas Moser chairs surround a game table that Jim made and a pair of new armchairs and an existing sofa are grouped in a comfortable seating area. It’s become one of Melissa’s favorite rooms.

Robert Radifera Photography

Over the course of the project, Jones became a dear friend, so she augmented the family’s collection of accessories and home accents with several of her own choice pieces, including decorative boxes, bowls, and coffee table books. “Every day, we walk around our house, remember her, and feel so incredibly blessed to have had her in our lives,” Melissa says. 

Meanwhile, another big change occurred in 2015: A neighboring landowner reached out after hearing the Pankases were interested in acquiring more land. “The owners approached us because they were planning on retiring, and we ended up purchasing their 25-acre property without it being listed,” recalls Melissa. “When we bought the land, it had no electricity, an old well, and a four-stall horse barn. The prior owners had used the property for keeping and riding their horses. We decided to continue to use it as a horse farm, even though we knew nothing about horses.”

Over the next couple of years, Melissa and Jim added electricity, a new well, and a new septic tank to the property. The old barn was absorbed into what eventually became a much larger, state-of-the-art commercial equine facility. The Ohana Equestrian Preserve now comprises a training barn, including an indoor riding arena, a viewing room, and 20 horse stalls; an exterior dressage area; multiple riding pathways; and 19 paddocks equipped with hydrants and electricity. 


In Hawaiian culture, ‘ohana’ translates to family, and the concept carries with it a certain responsibility, an obligation to take care of those in your community as they take care of you. —Melissa Pankas


 “We added more acreage in 2019,” says Melissa, “making our land parcel approximately 80 acres, which we are in the process of placing in a permanent conservation easement. The Ohana Equestrian Preserve was always intended to preserve land, support community programs, and share the intrinsic beauty and healing power of horses with others.”

Robert Radifera Photography

Ohana Equestrian Preserve barn.

Today, the Ohana Equestrian Preserve is open to the community, while also leasing spaces to a variety of related businesses. For example, Capital Area Premium Sporthorses, founded by international show jumper Kama Godek, sells and trains elite horses and offers equestrian instruction. North Light Coaching is a private therapeutic practice that partners horses with clients to work through personal issues. Three Sisters Micro Farm sells hydroponic microgreens, and Jim is still active in his woodworking shop. In addition, the Jubinsky Fund—named for Melissa’s parents, John and Tess Jubinsky—offers onsite programs for abused children, military families, veterans, hospice centers, and caregivers. 

“In Hawaiian culture, ‘ohana’ translates to family, and the concept carries with it a certain responsibility, an obligation to take care of those in your community as they take care of you,” says Melissa. Little did she know, when she moved here with her family, how special their home and eventual nonprofit would become. “It’s perfect. There is nowhere else we would rather be. We have no words to express how special our home and community are to us.”


This article originally appeared in the February 2021 issue. Learn more about the Ohana Equestrian Preserve at VirginiaHorseback.com.

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