Sometimes, buying your dream house comes down to a couple of things: knowing what you like and being willing to act quickly.
Four years ago, Charles and Laura Hicks decided to sell their Windsor Farms house and move to Richmond’s Fan District. Then, one morning, they discovered a Fan house they’d admired had come on the market.
The 3,400-square-foot, Georgian-style house, at 1536 Park Avenue, had been designed by Richmond architect Carl Linder Sr. in 1929 and built in 1930. In 85 years, it had had just three owners.
“When it showed up on the internet early on a Saturday morning, we called our agent, Lynn Pritchard, and she met us at the house that morning,” Charles Hicks said. “By that evening, we had purchased it.”
Quick, yes. But it’s the sort of house that turns heads and leads buyers to act swiftly.
It might also look a little familiar.
With its hipped-roof dormers, paired chimneys and Corinthian pilasters flanking the front entrance, it’s a condensed version of Westover, the 18th-century plantation mansion built by the Byrd family in Charles City County, said Chris Novelli, an architectural historian with the Virginia Department of Historic Resources.
“Even the front steps are similar to the ones at Westover – they splay out,” Novelli said.
In the 1920s and 1930s, as the Colonial Revival style gained national popularity and Virginia’s Tidewater plantation houses became more widely known, Westover inspired a plethora of new houses in its image.
“Westover was like Helen of Troy,” Novelli said. “Instead of having the face that launched a thousand ships, it had the facade that launched a thousand copies. It was so popular as a model, it almost became its own revival style.”
Even in a crowded field, though, the house at 1536 Park Avenue stands out. Lindner often designed modestly scaled houses for middle-class residents, but when the budget allowed, he was capable of producing exquisitely detailed designs in a variety of styles, including the Georgian and Tudor Revival. And he pulled out all the stops for 1536 Park Avenue.
For the Flemish-bond brick exterior, Lindner placed gauged-brick jack arches over the windows and a modillioned cornice under the eaves. He also installed a decorative water table – made of several projecting courses of bricks – along the house’s foundation as well as a brick string course between the first and second stories.
Lindner even had a false chimney built on the eastern side of the house, to balance the house’s front elevation.
“It’s a very academically correct representation of the Georgian style,” Novelli said.
Inside, the Georgian details continue. In the dining room, for example, Lindner had twin corner cupboards with concave, scallop-shell tops installed. They were modeled on ones that once stood in Marmion, a plantation house built in King George County in the mid-1700s, Laura Hicks said. (Today, the original cupboards are on display in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.)
Likewise, the study at the back of the Park Avenue house features full-height wall paneling, and the dining room has Colonial-style, solid-panel doors separating it from the study and the front parlor, instead of the French doors you’d often see in the 1920s and 1930s.
“In its academic detailing, quotations from known Georgian houses and standout architectural features like the dining room cupboards, the house resembles some of William Lawrence Bottomley’s work with much larger houses,” Novelli said.
A renovation, with a light touch
Edmund Strudwick Jr., one of the founders of Anderson & Strudwick, a regional brokerage firm, commissioned Lindner to design the house in 1929. By then, the 1500 block of Park Avenue was mostly finished, with three houses designed by Duncan Lee among its standouts. (Five houses on the block, including 1536 Park Avenue, were featured as a part of this year’s Historic Garden Week, which was presented by the Garden Club of Virginia.)
Strudwick and his wife, Caroline Strudwick, lived in the house until sometime around 1945, when they moved to the Millwood plantation house in Powhatan County, according to Laura Hicks’s research. (Millwood had been in Caroline Strudwick’s family since its construction in 1757.)
It wasn’t the couple’s last interaction with the Park Avenue house, though.
The Strudwicks returned to the house circa 1971, and Edmund Strudwick lived there until his death in 1980. (His wife died in 1976.)
The house changed hands one more time before Charles and Laura Hicks bought it in 2015.
They didn’t move in immediately. Instead, they stayed in their Windsor Farms house while new HVAC, plumbing and electrical systems were installed. They also had the floors refinished. Then, after moving into the house in April 2016, they undertook complete renovations of the kitchen and the master bath. But they kept the rest of the house unchanged from the original 1930 construction.
“We wanted to maintain the architectural integrity of the house, so we left the foyer, front parlor, dining room, study and the bedrooms upstairs as is,” aside from painting the walls, Charles Hicks said. “The millwork in the house had survived extremely well over almost 90 years. Even the maids’ bells that exist throughout the house still work.”
Perhaps the most striking new element is the glossy coat of peacock-blue paint Charles Hicks chose for the study.
“Choosing a high gloss for the paint is quite authentic,” Novelli said. “During the 18th century, when candles were the only light source, glossy finishes would help reflect the light. Bottomley was known to use high-gloss, painted finishes in some of his houses, as well.”
The Hickses continue to renovate and improve the property. Most recently, they installed a new hardscape in the backyard, including pavers, raised beds, a pavilion, a fire pit and a water feature.
Although people have expressed an interest in buying the property, the Hickses have no plans to sell.
“We love the house,” Charles Hicks said. “Someone would have to offer us an absolutely crazy sum to get us to even think of moving, and I doubt even that would make us budge. It is just a beautiful place to live.”
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