A new addition on a more than 200-year-old home creates lively contrast
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 . . .
Photography: Gordon Beall
Produced by Eileen A. Deymier
Interior design: Suellen Gregory, Suellen Gregory Interior Design, 4313 Cary St. Rd., Richmond, VA 23221; 804/359-3100, suellengregory.com 
Warmed by a palette of brown, red, and orange, this gathering place is punctuated by aqua glass vases on the round coffee table (preceding slide). In a corner, a gnarly wood table from a local garden shop is in sharp contrast to the more formal custom Pierre Frey draperies.
The warm hues in the living room are accentuated with boughs of red berries, bringing in some natural asymmetry to complement the geometric painting behind.
In the entry, a Victorian sofa with a carved frame provides instant seating for visitors.
“Faux Bois” wallpaper from Nobilis ties the dining room’s elements together. Meg’s collection of hand-carved bears from Germany’s Black Forest region frolics on the mantel. Details on the following slides.
Wooden hand-carved Black Forest bears are playfully arranged on the mantel in the dining room.
A carved box in front of the fireplace brims with oversized pinecones, while a small chair covered in porcupine skin offers a unique and whimsical touch. “The room just works,” designer Suellen Gregory explains. “It’s a really inviting place to dine.”
More dining room curiosities include blue-and-white porcelain that claims real estate in an antique sideboard.
An old chest of drawers with carved detailing is just one of many carved pieces in Meg’s collection. “I’ve always loved beautiful examples of wood,” she explains. “It all started with a carved wooden bear I received when I was a child.”
Hanging lights from Niermann Weeks illuminate the kitchen island. A heavy-gauge raffia on the walls adds textural interest.
Meg wanted to refinish the refrigerator doors to look like the vintage service doors one used to see in homes between the kitchen and the dining room. In place of glass, the couple settled on antique mirror.
Rescued from John’s mother’s home, a mid-century light fixture crafted by an Italian glassmaker hangs above the breakfast table by Bausman & Co. Side chairs covered in a graphic Schumacher fabric set a lively tone.
Beyond the breakfast area at the far end of the kitchen, the homeowners have designed a home office space. A large window provides a view of the garden while flooding the compact space with light. Details on the following slide.
A built-in desk boasts a custom distressed blue-painted finish. The desk is topped with Kravet’s “Pleather” secured with nailhead trim.
Dating back to 1992, when John and Meg first bought their house, coral wallpaper and a coordinating border by Christopher Hyland wraps the living room in a timeless pattern.
A second fireplace at the other end of the living room anchors a second sitting area. Filled with family mementoes, this smaller space in the original section of the house offers a comfortable contrast to the openness of the rooms elsewhere on the main living level.
Gracing the sitting room is a sofa that was transported from John and Meg’s former residence. Textures of a number of pieces—like a pair of caned chairs and an old trunk that serves as a coffee table—are unified by the faux block pattern subtly painted on the wall. Details on the following slide.
Wolf Kahn’s contemporary painting hangs above an antique chest, energizing the room with its dynamic colors. Details on the following slide.
Meg has an affinity for carved wood, and displays examples throughout her home. This is the back of a 19th-century side chair.
More carved wood: The wooden arms of an antique upholstered chair in the living room display carved dogs’ heads.
The Gottwald house underwent remodeling in the 1920s, and further renovation was completed by the couple in 1992. This 200-year-old home sits on a beautiful property near Tuckahoe Plantation, one of Richmond¹s most cherished historical sites.
Homeowner Meg Gottwald cuddles with Billy Ray, the family’s King Charles Spaniel.