The Magic in the Mix

A 300-year-old Powhatan house gets a contemporary update.

Mali Azima

Build in the mid-1720s, Manakin, located in Powhatan County, traces its origins to Pierre Chastain, a leader of the area’s earliest French Huguenot settlers. “In its 300-year history, the house has had only four owners,” says Cheryl Goddard who, with her husband Steve, became the fifth when they purchased it in 2014.

To update the interior while honoring its rich history and classic architecture, the couple enlisted the help of Richmond interior designer  Janie Molster. “I wanted the home to exude warm Southern elegance with light and cheerful modern elements,” says Cheryl. “But as a Virginia native, I also appreciate its history and wanted to respect that.”

Gordon Gregory Photography

She’d never worked with a professional interior designer before, but Goddard found a collaborative partner in Molster. “I’m pretty traditional,” she says. “I didn’t want to go too modern. But Janie opened up a world of possibilities to me.”

No stranger to historic home projects, Molster says the magic lies in the mix—with antiques living happily alongside contemporary fabrics and artwork. “Without a good mix of old and new, a room falls flat,” she says. “With it, you’re intrigued.”

“Once we saw the property, we were thrilled to be a part of it,” Molster adds. “The house is spectacular, with 12-foot ceilings and lovely millwork. They had furnished only a couple of rooms, so we were starting with an empty shell.”


WHERE TO START? “FALL IN LOVE”

(Owners: photo by Adam Ewing)

Armed with photos, Goddard was a dream client who’d done her homework, Molster says. “She knew her taste, so we hit the ground running.”

But where to begin? “When you’re faced with an empty space, you’ve just got to fall in love with something—it could be a wallpaper, a piece of furniture, a painting,” says Molster. “There’s no right or wrong place to start.”

Here, it was the settee in the front hall—which Molster stripped down to the muslin for an informal feel—that got the design ball rolling. “The settee dictated the height of the trumeau mirror, which led us to the wallpaper and the painting,” says Molster. “Everything flowed from there.”

A pair of antique French barometers in the foyer honors the home’s original owner, while an abstract painting by artist Steven Cushner adds a contemporary touch. To invoke the warm feeling Goddard had in mind, they added antique Turkish carpets and velvet pillows in soft shades of pink and salmon. An antique Swedish sideboard anchors the space, while the patterned wallpaper by Nina Campbell unites the gracious front and back hallway spaces.

The carriage lantern in the front hall feels traditional but, historically, Molster notes, these were limited to exterior use. “Interior lanterns are a modern invention that came later. We chose this one as a counterpoint to the crystal chandelier in the dining room. It’s not prissy—it’s an architectural fixture that adds weight to the room.”


SNAP DECISIONS BASED ON TRUST
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Although the homeowners had antique pieces of their own, the formal rooms were unfurnished. “They came to the table knowing that it would be important to add some significant antique pieces,” Molster explains. She scoured antique fairs and markets to find pieces that would look as if they’d been there forever. “When we go on the hunt, we’ll text a photo when we find a great piece and say, ‘now, we need a decision now.’ That takes a lot of trust,” Molster says.

Goddard says that trust was established at the outset of the design process. “When Janie sits down with you, she asks, ‘What’s your vision? What are your colors? What do you want your home to reflect?’ Then she curates a selection of fabrics and wallcoverings and paint colors that fit that vision. She very much includes you in the process, so I developed that trust and rapport with her early on.”

For Molster, forging the client relationship is a critical part of the design process. “Sometimes a ‘no’ is more helpful than a ‘yes’,” she explains. “It helps us zero in on a client’s preferences. It’s so special when you know you’ve nailed it,” Molster adds. “That’s how we got gorgeous pieces like the chandelier in the dining room, the 1920s wheelback chairs, and the Italian mirror. When you’re in sync with a client, they’re prepared to make a snap decision.”


ONE STAR IN THIS SHOW
Mali Azima

For the dining room, Molster looked to capitalize on its grand proportions. “In a room with 12-foot ceilings, you want to enhance that—you always want to maximize what you’ve got.”

She chose a custom wallpaper from Gracie, known for their hand-painted murals. “We picked the color and the pattern,” she notes. But when the wallpaper went up, the mural pattern stopped short on the walls. “The world just isn’t used to rooms with 12-foot ceilings,” Molster sighs.

To remedy the situation, Molster proposed an elegant solution: “Our decorative painters came in and painted directly on the wallpaper to extend the mural pattern a little higher toward the ceiling.” Problem solved.

The mix of periods and styles—from Italian to English to French—works in the room, Molster says, “because the proportions are consistent.” She’s especially delighted with the French chandelier from the early 1800s, which turned up on a market trip. “The beautiful pink and green florets are original, ”Molster notes. “They add a little playfulness to an otherwise formal room.”

A simple sisal rug completes the space because,she  says, “Everybody can’t be a star in the show,” she says. “Here, it’s about the wallpaper. The curtains are luxurious, but they’re solid.”


LIVING COMFORTABLY
Mali Azima

Even for formal living rooms, Molster believes in comfort: “We have a pretty settee in the front hall, certainly. But the club chairs in the living room are comfortable, and the sofa is long enough to stretch out on and take a nap. We don’t want clients to poke their head in and wave at these rooms,” she says. “We want them to live in them.”

Comfort, in fact, is behind her preference for coffee tables with a bit of height. “It’s easier than reaching down to put a glass on a low table. And it’s better suited to the period.”

Perhaps less visible is her commitment to practicality and durability. “We now have beautiful performance fabrics—velvets and linens. We’re no long limited to awning-stripe Sunbrella,” she notes. The goal, she says, is a room that will look fresh, not frayed, for years to come.


MIXING ON THE WALLS
Mali Azima

Goddard has loved Rose Medallion porcelain ever since she received her first pair of plates in the pattern as a wedding gift. “I’ve collected it over the years, buying pieces at estate sales,” she says. “Janie had the brilliant idea of grouping the entire collection together on the living room wall, which made more of an impact.”

But look closely at the portrait medallions hanging in the front hall. “They look old, don’t they? But they’re not,” says Molster, who stumbled across the contemporary works of papier mâché in a Palm Beach design shop. “I love their 3-D quality.”

While the house remains a work in progress, the Goddards feel grateful to Molster for striking the right chord. “She pushed my comfort zone a little bit,” says Cheryl, “but I’m so glad she did. I love the balance she achieved in our home.”


Sidebar: Manakin’s French Huguenot History

They fled France after King Louis XIV outlawed their Protestant faith and, on July 12, 1700, Virginia’s first French Huguenot settlers arrived by ship from London.

Granted 10,000 acres on the site of an abandoned Monacan Indian settlement, they named their new home Manakintowne. Pierre Chastain, a leader in the settlement’s Episcopal church, later built “Manakin,” the original frame house on the Goddard property, in the 1720s.

One year after Chastain’s death in 1728, his son deeded the house and property to Edward Scott, reportedly to pay a gambling debt. The house remained in the Scott family for 200 years. Mr. and Mrs. Collins Denny purchased the house in the late 1940s and re-named it “Monacan” to avoid confusion with the Manakin area north of the James River. The current owners, Cheryl and Steve Goddard, have restored the home’s original name, “Manakin.”


This article originally appeared in the December 2021 issue.

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