From the moment you turn off Garth Road to the home of Jennifer and Tim Smith, you will feel the pull of an invitation—in the gently ascending and curving drive to the house, in its warm exterior colors and sprawling landscape, in the wide front porch and seeded-glass front door. And you’ll certainly feel a warm welcome from Jennifer, who loves her new home down to the last nail. The Smiths and their three children relocated here from Charlotte, North Carolina in August 2015, and have no intention of ever leaving.
“It was always our dream to end up in Charlottesville,” says Jennifer. She and Tim both grew up in Virginia (they were high school sweethearts!) and Tim, a UVA graduate, is a passionate fan of all things Cavalier. Their previous home in Charlotte was part of a busy, bustling community—which was fine at the time, but they were ready to make a change. They had always wanted to return to Virginia to be closer to family in Richmond and Jennifer’s mom in West Point, as well. The timing felt right based on the ages of their three children (a son starting college, a son starting high school, and a daughter in 7th grade) so they decided to make the move. After searching for homes in Keswick, Earlysville and other pretty and pastoral spots, Jennifer’s real estate agent found the perfect house for them in the Garth Road corridor and the rest, as they say, is history.
The house, with its traditional Colonial-style exterior and set on 26 acres, initially had everything the Smiths wanted—space for their family, a great layout, lots of land and a prime location. They brought in friend and designer Gary Mathis of Gary Mathis Interiors in Charlotte who had helped them on two previous projects. They knew he could determine how to transform what was a great house into their family’s forever home, infused with their personality and aesthetic at every turn. A top to bottom renovation included everything from major structural changes—a full kitchen remodel, gutting the master bath—to cosmetic things, like fresh paint throughout, changing every light fixture, new furnishings, and painting every door in Benjamin Moore’s Dark Bronzewood (“A great example of how you can take something like a hollow-core door and paint it, change the hardware, and really elevate it,” says Mathis).
Jennifer and Mathis have the easy rapport of old friends, giving each other credit for the design in a way that is charming to behold. “It’s all Gary,” says Jennifer, while Mathis says that he’d “never want the house to reflect myself—this is all Jennifer.” Whatever it is, it is a relaxed yet elegant blend of crisp and comfy, old and new. Mathis calls the look “farmhouse sophisticate.”
And you can tell that fun is part of their design equation. The two love to treasure hunt—whether at retail (Greenfront in Farmville is a favorite), in boutiques, salvage stores or antique shops. “Our rule of thumb is—we don’t have to like something, we have to LOVE it.” Conversely, if they find something that they love, it’s coming home with them, and they will find a spot for it.
The Smiths credit Whit Graves and his team at Evergreen Construction with handling this massive project with great professionalism and care. And Graves will tell you that working with Mathis made the process go so smoothly (and enjoyably) because of all the selections and other hard work he put in prior to and during the project.
The hub of this home is undoubtedly the kitchen, which underwent the greatest transformation of all—a down-to-the-studs redo. While the previous kitchen was indeed functional, the current space is Jennifer’s dream kitchen. Jennifer and Mathis explain that the granite—“Fantasy Brown” in a matte finish—was the inspiration point for the design, informing all their other selections. Jennifer and Mathis worked extensively with Karen Turner of KTK Designs, whom they credit for making it the beautiful and hard-working space that it is today. “Karen’s expertise is placement,” says Mathis. “She brought all the functionality to the space.” It has all of today’s luxurious conveniences: custom cabinets (painted Benjamin Moore’s Coastal Fog) in a family-friendly layout, the best in appliances, a veggie sink, a hidden beverage fridge, even a TV over the cabinet-faced refrigerator.
The center island is the literal and figurative heart of the room, less about work and more about gathering with its part-granite, part-wooden top. “We wanted it to feel casual,” says Jennifer, so they moved the cooktop to the kitchen’s perimeter and made the focus of this island all about people and conversation. The wooden end of the island reads like a table, with turned legs and upholstered counter-height chairs. Unique bowtie-shaped wooden joinery connects the tabletop to the granite/cabinet end of the island for a truly custom touch. Close by is a distressed-wood round dining table with additional seating for family meals, next to a window seat filled with plump and stylish pillows for pops of color.
Dark salvaged wood beams overhead add that rustic touch that Jennifer says her husband craved in the design. Custom light fixtures from Charlotte—oversized lanterns crafted from a mix of seeded glass and antique brass—illuminate the island. “Lighting is one of the most important parts of design,” says Mathis. “We had a lot of natural light to work with here, but we wanted to bounce it around the space.” This is accomplished with an artful mix of these fixtures and recessed lighting overhead, undercabinet lighting, sconces by the sink—and even a fun lamp on a sideboard that belonged to Jennifer’s mother.
A gleaming chrome range hood adds another design statement, softened by the look of the backsplash throughout, which is crafted from Tabarka tiles from their “Shapes” collection. Installing this intricate backsplash was not for the faint of heart; Jennifer calls installer Johnny Swaim of Custom Creations Tile and Stone “a true artist.” All of these organic elements, varied in their finish and tones, speak to the playful, eclectic feel of the space. “We love mixing finishes,” says Jennifer.
Just off the kitchen is a light-filled great room in soothing tones, with lots of texture and hints of color. A wall of windows—the sight that greets visitors from the foyer—features mullions painted in Dark Bronzewood (like the doors), which actually frames and blends with the stunning views outside in a way that standard white mullions couldn’t dream of doing. In furnishings, you’ll find current looks in timeless neutrals, but always with hints of color. “Jennifer and Tim are not ‘gray’ people—they call it ‘the G word’,” laughs Mathis. But he was able to mix them the perfect greenish-gray paint for this room; it changes with the time of day and even the weather. He couldn’t tell you what it’s called other than “Gary’s Green.” The room features generous seating, custom built-ins with sliding barn doors that reveal a large TV, and the piece de resistance: a towering stone fireplace. An engineering feat, the corner-set fireplace once featured a flat wall all the way to the top of the high ceiling; now, thanks to the ingenuity of contractor Whit Graves, it is faced with soft-gray stacked stone, providing interest and a focal point to this large but cozy room. They also added trim to the top part of the back wall for interest on what would have otherwise been a large, flat expanse of wall. Elegant sconces mounted on shiplap add to the rustic-chic vibe.
Just off the foyer is a formal dining room featuring a casual-elegant design first inspired by the wallpaper—“Dotted Pirouette” by Candice Olson’s line for York Wallpaper. “I love blue—so Gary conceded,” says Jennifer. Mathis quickly adds, “It had to be the right blue.” The rug followed, and everything fell into place from there. An antiqued brass chandelier by Currey and Company with a farmhouse-style table, simple upholstered-backed chairs and a creamy sideboard create that signature blend of farmhouse chic. Here too Mathis altered what was a standard fireplace set on an angle into something with a lot more interest: antique corbels, a more generous mantel and added trim. He also found the perfect piece of furniture for an existing alcove—a display cabinet in dark wood featuring a mix of old and new cream porcelain pieces. The dining room connects back to the kitchen through a butler’s pantry with a Fantasy Brown granite countertop, painted cabinets below and display cabinets above.
Across from the dining room, on the other side of the foyer is Jennifer’s office, painted in Benjamin Moore’s Nantucket Fog and accented with two inviting white and blue upholstered chairs facing a cheery white corner fireplace. To this Mathis added shiplap as well as a brick hearth and surround to add interest to what was a builder-grade fireplace. “This is where I sit with my coffee and watch the kids walk down the drive to the bus,” says Jennifer. Here she can place her coffee cup on a table that belonged to her grandmother, for whom she holds a sweet nostalgia. A weathervane on the hearth comes from Tim’s family – another nod to their love of the outdoors and cherished family history. Behind this seating arrangement is Jennifer’s desk, the wall behind it featuring two salvaged shutters and an eclectic mix of white plates and platters for a pleasing vignette. Of the shutters, Jennifer says, “Gary and I looked at each other and both agreed that we had to have those. We didn’t know where they were going, but we said—‘We’ll find a place!’”
Just off the great room is what the Smiths fondly call “the little library,” a cozy, wood-paneled room lined with bookcases. “To paint or not to paint, that was the question,” says Mathis. Jennifer really wanted to keep the warm wood tones, so to liven things up, they added plaid wallpaper and antelope-patterned carpeting. Two leather chairs, an ottoman upholstered in a creamy houndstooth and soft, tailored drapes make this a spot where anyone would love to curl up. Tim’s an avid reader, and Jennifer says this room is his “ode to Thomas Jefferson.” A harness from Jennifer’s grandfather that would have been hooked to a horse and plow is alleged to date back to George Washington’s era, and has been cleverly repurposed into a mirror. A hole in the side “might be a bullet hole” according to family legend, she says.
The library leads to Jennifer and Tim’s master suite. Jennifer fondly recalls glass doorknobs throughout her grandmother’s home, which they have incorporated here. The walls are Jennifer’s “Happy Blue” – otherwise known as Benjamin Moore’s Palladian Blue. Plantation shutters provide privacy and light control. The custom upholstered bed, with sumptuous white and blue linens and an animal hide bench at its foot, is the place of respite from the rest of the world; off this room is also a secluded screened-in porch where Jennifer says she likes to sneak away and relax.
The master bath is U-shaped, with a doors to it on either side of the bed where Jennifer and Tim can each enter their own area. Here they painted existing cabinetry “as dark a gray as they would let me,” says Mathis with a laugh (it’s Benjamin Moore’s Chelsea Gray), and added new overhead lighting and mirror-mounted sconces. A dresser in the middle delineates the space, overlooking a bay where a Jacuzzi tub was removed and replaced with a pristine white soaking tub. The shower was gutted and now features multiple heads, a steam feature, and tile work that is yet another example of Johnny Swaim’s artful expertise. The floor, which has the look of soft-gray reclaimed wood, is actually tile with a honed finish, to wear beautifully in a bathroom environment. White tile in a crisp herringbone pattern surrounds the tub area.
Stairs leading up from the great room are carpeted in a soft geometric-patterned runner, turning at a landing which boasts an 8-foot mirror flanked with long and lean sconces, allowing light to reflect in many directions. The upstairs hallway overlooks the great room, loft-style. Here is home to the latest acquisition: a mirrored cabinet to house the linens for the upstairs rooms. Footsteps are cushioned with an antelope-print runner. The first bedroom you’ll encounter at the top of the stairs is a guest room, perfectly appointed with an upholstered bed and crisp white matelasse. Down the hall is another guest room, where Jennifer’s mother bunks when she comes to visit, lovingly dubbed “the Virginia room” with its cherry four-poster bed and rich navy and orange-toned bedding. This room shares a bath with the Smiths’ daughter’s bedroom—perfect for a young teen with its playful yet sophisticated corals and pinks, off-white furniture and framed art of her own making. Their son’s room too is outfitted for a teenage boy—navys and taupes, an en suite bath, and a large bank of metal-and-wood shelves to hold sports memorabilia and other boy treasures.
Many families like to relegate the lower level to the kids’ domain; in the Smith family, however, Tim “may be the biggest kid of all” quips Jennifer, so naturally, he provided a lot of design input here. Essentials include a comfortable den with overstuffed seating, a fireplace, a large TV, a pool table, a bar area made of reclaimed wood and faced with corrugated metal, and a “Golden Tee” video game. Perhaps the most special area is the wine cellar; what was once a storage room now feels like it could be found in a medieval European castle (but for the two wine refrigerators): rough-hewn planks on the walls, a cabinet made of reclaimed barrels, a brick-tiled barrel ceiling and even a small soapstone-topped tasting table make this a very special getaway.
Also on the lower level are a bedroom and small den for their eldest son when he’s home from college, an arts and crafts room for their daughter, a workout room, and Tim’s office. Framed Steve Martin movie posters are a whimsical touch and a nod to Tim’s Steve Martin fandom, and a blown-up print of the 9th tee at Royal County Down golf course in Ireland recalls one of Tim’s favorite golfing trips—another one of his passions.
French doors on this level lead out to a pool area, which overlooks a gorgeous forest view and, on a clear day, mountain vistas. Plans are in the works to renovate this space as well—perhaps refurbishing the whole pool area and adding an outdoor kitchen. For now, the Smith family is content to bask in the feeling of an interior that is perfectly appointed for their family and friends.
“I was happy before,” says Jennifer. “But I’m really happy now.” It may take her a bit longer to get to the grocery store than it did when they lived in Charlotte, but when she catches a view of the scenery in her rearview mirror on her way in to town, she’s struck by the magnitude of her blessings. “Mountains, pastures, sheep, cows…this is truly God’s country, and we’re lucky to see this every day,” she says.