The Renovation of Hollymead House

Decades of burnt-on grease, popcorn ceilings, mummified rats, and meat hooks in the basement—this is what waited for William and Pam Calary. 

Entering this scene would make anyone turn around and leave, but not the Calarys. They bought the place. 

They’re just wrapping up several years of renovation at Hollymead House, their bed and breakfast in Charlottesville. Elegant and comfortable, the house now reflects the aesthetic of its smart and sophisticated owners, hardly resembling the wreck they first walked into. 

Neither had actually eyeballed the property before they placed an online bid and bought it site unseen. William recalls watching the auction clock tick down as it began to close, realizing theirs was the winning bid. “It was a bit of a surprise that we weren’t outbid,” he recalls. “We looked at each other and said, ‘I guess we bought ourselves an inn.’” The couple had recently moved to Charlottesville from Tampa. Pam is a UVA alum and William, who went to N.C. State, hails from Winston-Salem. Both have strong ties to Virginia and a deep affinity for the area. “We were ready for something new,” says Pam. 

Sera Petras

Hollymead House

Tracing History

Hollymead dates to 1780. The rambling Federal-style farmhouse was first a home for Hessian soldiers captured during the Revolutionary War, then a boys home, then a working farm. Dee Runk—Benjamin Franklin Dewees Runk, UVA’s dean of students and possibly Hollymead’s most famous owner—bought the house in the 1930s and lived in it for three decades. 

A planned community—Hollymead—sprung up around the house in the 1970s, mostly single-family homes. But a series of owners continued to reinvent the historic property. It became an inn in the 1980s, renamed the Silver Thatch Inn, and was also a local butcher shop. Layers of grease coated the walls and windows from its many years as a restaurant before the whole operation closed down. The Calarys purchased it as it stood. 

This Old House

It’s hard to imagine this genteel pair doing anything but reading The New Yorker, playing tennis, and sipping wine over heady conversations. A mummified rodent and grease-coated walls can’t possibly be in their repertoire. In a nutshell, the Calarys had their work cut out for them.

“We went from room to room to room,” says Pam. “William took down all the wallpaper, ripped up the carpeting—it was down and dirty work. There were a lot of window units, woodwork, drywall over original plasterwork that we ripped out. Each room had its own little issue.” Little issue is an understatement. 

Sera Petras

Hollymead House

Other than the plumbing and electrical work—and repairing the metal roof—Pam says that she and William have done all the restoration and renovation. This she tells us in the parlor, circa 1813, where she and her husband spin out the details of their story. 

As the couple ripped and peeled away layers of shoddy renovating, they discovered the bones of an historic home just waiting for its next chapter. She continues, “In the hallway that goes toward the library, where there are three doors, my husband figured out it used to be a broom closet, and women’s bathroom, so we restored those.” 

In the kitchen, more surprises were in store. “When the drywall came off, we saw it was a log cabin,” says Pam. “so we exposed the logs. We also found a fireplace that was covered over.” Plus, 40 years’ worth of commercial kitchen equipment had to be torn out, like walk in coolers and freezers. Now the room is cozy and quaint, with original chinking that only needed minimal repair.  

For anyone who has renovated an historic house, a mummified rat is a familiar episode. A meat hook and a cleaver, perhaps not. Pam says they may have been used in Hollymead’s restaurant days, and when it was the local butcher shop. “That was another cool thing that was uncovered when we took off the front facade,” she says. “We discovered outside stairs that went down to a basement and found the big hook that the meat used to hang on. It’s still down there. It was a little scary to find. 
At first we weren’t sure what was going on.” 

Designing Couple

William’s attention to detail is evident in every square inch of Hollymead. “We didn’t hire an interior designer or decorator,” Pam continues. “We scraped the floors and sanded the woodwork. We handled the priming, the painting, the mudding. We picked out the antiques, the colors, and decorations. If there was an interior designer, my husband would be it.” 

Sera Petras

Hollymead House

They’re a handsome couple, impeccably dressed. William is clearly a student of design and especially loves fine antiques. He knows the provenance of every single piece he’s collected over the years, much of it purchased from a cadre of auction houses and dealers. He’s furnished Hollymead with beautiful, old, character-filled pieces—from secretaries to chairs, bureaus, tables, beds, rugs, sideboards, and paintings—mostly English and American from the 18th and 19th centuries. Fabric on upholstery, slipcovers, and window treatments beautifully complements each room. 

Historically accurate paint colors are on the walls and door hardware like rim locks, escutcheons, and hinges have been either painstakingly restored or sourced. William used Fine Paints of Europe, known for its ultra high gloss sheen—and matching price tag—on some of the exterior doors. There isn’t a paint roller in sight. Ever the purist, his preferred method is painting old-school style with a six-inch brush for the nuance it creates.

Hollymead House

Today, the house is a welcoming inn, where libraries, comfortable chairs, and roaring fires await those who book a stay in one of its six guestrooms. There are perfect nooks to cozy up with a book and a glass of prosecco, while reading an original edition of a rare book that William found on one of his antique auction runs.The big reno projects are behind them, but the Calarys still have a few tweaks in the works. The former Mistletoe Lounge will soon be rechristened as one of the inn’s epicenters, with a bar and fireplace where guests can gather and relax. 

The backbreaking work that went into the property is something that renovistas understand completely, “You start literally from underneath the ground sometimes,” says Pam. “We knew we’d have to look at the pipes and everything else in tiny pieces. We’re both workers, and we’d much rather do stuff like this than a corporate job.” 

And this sentiment is something else that echoes in the minds of anyone who has tackled a project of this magnitude. “Some people ask if we’ve done this before,” says Pam. “I think if we had, we’d have never done it again.” 

Sera Petras

Hollymead House

Do they miss their 9 to 5 lives in Tampa? Absolutely not. “It’s definitely been a labor of love,” she says, “but it’s been worth every second.” HollymeadHouse.com 

Meredith Lindemon is the managing editor of Virginia Living. She has ripped many houses apart in her free time.

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