A 1970s Virginia Abode Steps Into A New Phase Of Life

Set on the edge of the James River, this Richmond, Virginia couple knew they had found their family home.

“They always loved the property, but the house didn’t allow you to really see it,” shares local designer Sara Hillery. With their three children grown, and entering a new stage of life as empty nesters years after their initial purchase, the owners turned to Hillery seeking a refresh.

“They had seen a kitchen I had done for a designer show,” she recalls; “so this project started as ‘we want to hire you to redo our kitchen,’ and turned into ‘we’re going to gut the first floor and rip it all out.’”

Built in the 1970s for a doctor’s family, the house had previously gone through a series of renovations. “It had sunken floors and conversation pits, and various features that were very popular in the 70s,” Hillery describes. “We started by basically clearing out every wall we could and leveling the first floor to create an open feel.”

virginia home kitchen

The previously tiled two-story entry foyer got a new patterned floor and paneling for an architectural touch; and the kitchen was opened up with a new island, and walls taken down to allow for easy mingling and family gatherings. “Having young grandchildren, they wanted them to be able to play in the home, and make it really user-friendly and multifunctional,” explains Hillery. The streamlined layout also ensured seamless views of the river from every room. “The whole idea was to keep it really clean and simple. You walk in the door and you can see all the way out to the water, which you couldn’t do before.”

The river’s presence flows throughout the aquatic blue palette, bringing in subtle coastal elements such as oyster shells and a crystal chandelier reminiscent of water droplets. Mirror-topped side tables and high-gloss painted ceilings create a glass-like effect, reflecting the river for maximum scenic impact.

coastal decor virginia home

“Their taste previously was very traditional,” suggests Hillery; “dark and heavy, brown wood and gilt. Then they saw this pink kitchen I had done previously, and we took that as our inspiration springboard – these happy, candy colors.”

Several heirloom pieces remain a nod to the traditional aesthetic, punched up with new upholstery or color. Sweet shades of pink, in particular, pop up in confection-hued textiles and vivacious artwork commissioned from local artists; even the dining room chairs, a family possession, get a rosy coral update from the original brown wood. A layer of femininity is also added with a scattering of dainty damasks and floral blossoms, such as the TV cabinet panel, inlaid with pressed flowers. “There’s a local artist who picks these up and down the East coast and preserves them,” Hillery shares. “They’re not huge TV people, so we did this hidden TV concept that could be an art piece when it’s closed.”

“This was kind of a jewel box project for me,” she concludes. “It really just exudes happiness, and a little bit of sass. The sign of a good project is you wish you could do more!”

Photography by Kip Dawkins.

For more like this Virginia home, be sure to check out this graceful vacation home on Kiawah Island.

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