Great Richmond Homes on the Market
5111 Cary Street Road
From the outside, houses might not seem like they’ve changed much in the course of the last century. Inside, though, it’s another story. We live differently than people did in the 1910s – or even in the 1930s. Most of us don’t have servants living in our homes, and we no longer rely on them to prepare our meals. Servants’ rooms and servants’ stairs are features of the distant past. And kitchens are no longer small, unadorned spaces at the backs of our houses. They’re entertainment hubs where friends and family gather to chat.
So even homes designed by the most sought-after architects of the early 20th century sometimes need a little updating.
Consider 5111 Cary Street Road, which is on the market for $3.15 million. When the current owners bought the W. Duncan Lee-designed house in 2003, it was in good shape, and it was definitely in a great location. But it needed a little work to be brought into the 21st century. Still, the owners, David and Jeanette McKittrick, insisted that the renovation be done with the understanding that it preserve Lee’s aesthetic vision.
Lee in his prime
Lee occupies a rarified place among Richmond’s architects. He’s one of only two architects of Richmond’s golden age of architecture whose names resonate today.
The other architect, William Lawrence Bottomley, was a New York native who earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and studied at the American Academy in Rome and the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris.
By contrast, Lee was born in Ashland and attended public schools in Ashland and Richmond. He served an apprenticeship with Richmond architect Marion J. Dimmock before opening his own firm by 1910. Despite his relatively modest pedigree, Lee became one of Richmond’s most prolific residential architects of the 1910s and 1920s, designing homes in some of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods. He designed 14 houses on Monument Avenue, for example. And in 1928, he designed the Tuckahoe luxury apartment hotel in the West End – one of his more extravagant projects.
By the time Lee undertook designing the three-story, 7,105-square-foot home at 5111 Cary Street Road (1934), he had been designing homes for more than two decades, in a variety of architectural styles. “Considering when this was built, it would have been one of his mature works,” said Chris Novelli, an architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
Lee designed the house in the Georgian Revival style, with an elegantly symmetrical elevation that features Flemish-bond brickwork, gauged brick jack arches over the first-floor windows and rubbed brick around the windows and doors.
“The orange color of the rubbed brick accentuates the window and door openings and creates a decorative pattern across the facade,” Novelli said.
The house’s most extravagantly creative exterior feature might be the brick parapet Lee placed over the front elevation’s cornice.
“You see them on Georgian town houses in London,” Novelli said. “They were intended as firebreaks. Having a parapet across the front became a fashion in the 18th century and spread from London town houses to English country houses. You don’t typically see them on large Georgian Revival houses in Virginia, though.”
Inside, the house features generously sized formal living and dining rooms with heart-pine floors and 9-foot ceilings, as well as a staircase made with three different species of wood.
“Lee could have been referencing the main staircase at Shirley Plantation, which is oriented the same way,” Novelli said.
Lee reimagined for today’s homeowner
Soon after buying the house in 2003, the current owners hired Jay Hugo, architect and managing principal of Manchester-based 3north, to update the property for contemporary living as well as to restore some of the house’s original features that had been altered by previous owners.
“When the homeowners purchased the property, the architectural purity was being obscured by a 1970s-era addition that landlocked the dining room, obstructed the axis of the center hall and significantly altered the flow of the home,” Hugo said. “To return the home to Duncan Lee’s original vision, we needed to remove the addition and liberate the original footprint of the residence.”
In its place, Hugo designed a raised bluestone terrace with a pergola that ran the full width of the back of the house. Cedar beams that define the terrace’s pergola continue into a newly built informal living area with bluestone flooring on the back of the house, connecting the outside and inside elements of the renovation. Hugo also replaced the windows on the rear of the house with French doors that open onto the terrace from the adjacent formal rooms. This increased the amount of sunlight in the house, in addition to enhancing access to the terrace.
“The house is great for entertaining,” said Bill Gallasch, a real estate agent with Joyner Fine Properties and one of the house’s two listing agents. (His wife, Ceci Amrhein, is the other listing agent.)
Sunlight was an important design consideration for the terrace itself, as well. “On the east, a bluestone breakfast porch welcomes dappled morning light underneath a Lady Banks rose-covered pergola set on cast-stone columns,” Hugo said. “On the west, a covered seating area with a stone fireplace provides an inviting setting for sunset views of the garden and evening entertaining.”
After the renovation work began, Hugo found a set of Lee’s original drawings of the house and was surprised to see that they showed an unbuilt rear terrace that would have connected the house with the property’s garden.
“That discovery validated our work in a meaningful way,” Hugo said.
Hugo also renovated the kitchen and added a new butler’s pantry. In addition, the homeowners installed an elevator in the former servants’ staircase and removed walls separating some of the servants’ rooms. They also created a three-room master suite on the second level.
“The master suite, which is accessible by the elevator, is gorgeous, with an abundance of natural light,” Amhrein said. “It has its own dressing room and a fabulous master bath.”
In all, the house has four bedrooms and 5½ baths, as well as a studio, a playroom and an office. It also has seven fireplaces.
“Our biggest accomplishment was restoring Duncan Lee’s vision,” Jeanette McKittrick said.
Soon after buying the home, the McKittricks also undertook an ambitious landscaping overhaul of the 1.48-acre property, which included using more than 75 truckloads of soil to build the sloped backyard into a series of terraces, with an elliptical pool at the bottom. The goal was to enhance the space without diverging from the landscaping established by landscape architect Charles Gillette in the 1950s.
Gillette designed the horseshoe-shaped driveway and the brick wall along the front of the property after a homeowner bought the undeveloped lot on the eastern property line, and some elements of his original garden layout still exist.
3north collaborated on the new landscape design with the homeowners.
The renovation of the house and the landscape took three years to complete.
“There is a timelessness about properties like this, and with some finesse, contemporary needs can be accommodated – and celebrated,” Hugo said.