Photography by Gordon Beall
Written by Krissa Rossbund
Produced by Eileen A. Deymier
The more than 200-year-old Richmond, Virginia, home of Meg and John Gottwald would spin quite a riveting tale if it could author its own biography.
The preface would commence with the initial construction of the residence, most likely built as the overseer’s house for nearby Tuckahoe Plantation, the boyhood home of Thomas Jefferson. Several chapters of additions, renovations, decorating schemes, and families would be composed before Meg, John, and their children were introduced as leading characters.
Meg and John’s introduction into the plot came in 1992. That’s when the young couple, parents to three boys and a newborn daughter, bought the house. Their extended brood, which included dogs and oftentimes friends of their children, initiated the final (so far) addition and a design redo that would span more than a decade, successfully accomplished by Richmond designer Suellen Gregory.
“I have always liked old houses that needed a family to love and restore them,” says Meg, whose interest in history is evident not only in her home but also in her recent completion of a master’s degree in art history. “The original house was old, charming, and quirky. We gave it new life by basically building another house onto it.”
Meg’s penchant for color, worn wood, fabrics, and artifacts with their own stories made her a hands-on client with a fervor for spirited design that would represent her lively family. For example, she likes to juxtapose her contemporary art collection with old things—like her whimsical assortment of hand-carved bears from Germany’s Black Forest. She wanted her collaboration with Gregory to result in family-friendly interiors with a toasty palette and dynamic focal points.
Unlike many design projects that require a totally fresh inspiration to envision a new aesthetic scheme, there was no need to start from scratch in the Gottwald home. Meg had some pieces she moved from a former residence and saw no need to alter other existing design selections—such as the 19-year-old wallpaper, which she still appreciated, in the living room. “I’ve never been one to follow trends,” explains Meg. “If I see something I like and buy it, it’s because I really like it, and thus it will be with me for a long time.”
The oldest part of the house provides a contrast to the ambience of the open-plan arrangement in the new addition. In the original section, the living room’s low ceiling forms a warm and intimate environment by creating what feels like a canopy over the long space, formerly divided into two rooms. During the first renovation in 1920, a wall was removed to create one large space, and now the room boasts two fireplaces, one at either end, resulting in two separate seating arrangements.
Plump upholstered furniture in neutral tones of brown and ivory is paired with pleasantly imperfect wood finishes on heirloom pieces to complement the robust fireplaces. Old objects, assembled over time, include globes, an armillary, and a Federal-style mirror above one of the fireplaces, all nodding to the antiquity of the initial structure. Separating the living room’s two seating areas are a 19th-century yew-wood pedestal table and an assortment of antique chairs that make this room ideal for playing games and other family activities.
The 1920s remodel of the house produced the dining room. In a space where a feeling of togetherness is key, it benefits from lower ceilings and a fireplace, both adding to the room’s gregarious charm. A versatile drop-leaf table takes center stage under a handsome, imposing light fixture made of antlers. Chairs around the table speak to the other animal allusions in the room, with chair seats and backs covered in a leopard-print fabric.
The entry serves as a grand welcome to the Gottwald home and is the linchpin that unifies the new and old parts of the house. At the base of the staircase, a compass motif painted on the wood floor is a decorative GPS system, cleverly directing traffic to each room.
There are certain elements of traditional design that surface in just about every older home, and something in blue-and-white ranks high on the list. In the Gottwald home, elements of a collection of blue-and-white porcelain show up throughout the house. But a prime example of the timeless color combinations is the sectional sofa in the sitting room. The U-shaped seating unit, first purchased 25 years ago for their former home, predates three of Meg and John’s children. It wears its original upholstery fabric—a gros-point material that wears like iron and aptly depicts blue-and-white ceramics in an unexpected medium. The adaptive reuse of the sofa demonstrates that well-chosen quality pieces endure. “Meg and John made an initial investment that has provided tremendous value,” Gregory says. “The blue was part of their preferred palette, and it has stayed with them forever.”
As kids, friends, and pets fill the house with life in the Gottwald kitchen and family room, there’s hardly a need for conversation pieces, but the two spaces exhibit intriguing visuals anyway.
The updated kitchen is equipped with a central island that has ample room for both food preparation and dining. An arched opening above the sink allows a striking view to the hallway, where art from the family’s collection is displayed in gallery form. Some of the cabinet doors were changed and others were not, but one noteworthy addition is the refacing of the refrigerator’s doors. Wanting to give them a vintage look, Meg came up with the idea of installing old mirrors instead of glass in the diamond-shaped molding. The breakfast area, which is open to the kitchen, features surprisingly practical chairs, slipcovered in easy-to-wash fabrics.
Because the family room is mainly used for viewing television, it was important that the furniture be arranged so the focal point is the TV rather than the fireplace. A U-shaped arrangement includes two rugged leather sofas and a fabric-upholstered one, all reinforcing the warm palette of brown, red, and orange and supplemented by an attention-grabbing contemporary oil painting by Sally Bowring.
A chapter of the Gottwald family story ended recently with the marriage of the eldest son, but perhaps new, smaller characters (grandchildren—hint, hint) will thicken the plot.
“This house was just so livable for the number of people who were here,” reflects Meg. “There are so many memories for me. My kids like to come back, and the house retains that sense of family that I hope will expand.”
To be continued . . .
Interior designer: Suellen Gregory, Suellen Gregory Interior Design, 4313 Cary St. Rd., Richmond, VA 23221; 804/359-3100, suellengregory.com
Leather sofa; coffee table: owner’s collection.
Fabric sofa: R. Jones, rjones.com
Sofa fabric (“Natura Lattice”/Reed, Cognac #9250-09): Glant Textiles Corp., 800/884-5268, glant.com
Area rug: Odegard, 212/545-0069, odegardinc.com
Large painting (by Sally Bowring): Reynolds Gallery, reynoldsgallery.com
Table under painting; chairs flanking table; narrow end table: Kim Faison Antiques, 804/282-3736, kimfaisonantiques.com
Chair; desk items: owner’s collection.