Stylish Country Home

When it came to her own Virginia Farmhouse, architect Bethany Puopolo pulled from the influences of American barn construction—and her Swedish heritage—to give the classic clapboard style a personal twist.
Article: Susan Stiles Dowell

First light finds the chickens stirring and the baby goats gamboling in the pasture at Slate Hill Farm near Charlottesville, Virginia. Homeowners Bethany and Mike Puopolo are up surveying the scene from the front porch of the farmhouse she designed. Bethany is musing on how she, a former suburbanite raised in Minnesota, came up with a Southern farmhouse that turns the traditional model into something new and special. "We wanted to bond with animals and the land, and this house is all about that," says Bethany. "It's different from the original versions you see all over Central Virginia because I introduced barn-inspired construction ideas and Swedish touches I favor from my heritage. The beauty is that nothing is precious or complicated. The design is simple and practical for everyday use."

She and Mike bought the land for their farm three years after she received her graduate degree in architecture from the University of Virginia. Her ideas for tinkering with the prototype came with exposure to tried-and-true models in the countryside around Jefferson's Monticello. "My studies in historic preservation gave me experience measuring old buildings and documenting their details," she says. "I love the simple elegance and classic order of the Virginia farmhouse and the ideas it reflects—of utility and logic—but also the notion of a classic temple to American ideals of individualism and family."

Initially, they leaned toward reproducing this iconic form, but Bethany discovered an appealing alternative to attain its look. "The farmhouse's traditional linear measurements and volume are easily translated into the uncomplicated post-frame construction of barn building," she says about a structural system that embeds treated posts 6 feet into the ground as primary support members. "The wood framing is exposed inside and enables a fully open first floor. It let me substitute the compartmentalized rooms of historic Virginia farmhouses for an open and connected kitchen, dining, and living area that's more modern." Banishing the use of modern drywall, she paneled over the rough yellow pine framing with shiplap siding on the first floor and with board-and-batten on the second. Her barn builders had no problem duplicating the metal roof of the traditional farmhouse, common as it still is to barns in the area, but Bethany's handmade windows and hardware were a splurge. Another bonus delivered by the simple post framing was the ease of adding more porches. Bethany says she doubled the house's square footage with porches that "blur the line between inside and outside." She explains, "The house feels transparent because the outside is invited in, making the landscape part of the indoor living spaces."

Finishing the interior was a process Bethany took slowly and personally. She started to pickle the yellow pine walls but realized she liked the look of raw wood rife with saw marks and stress cracks. "Besides, it's easy to keep, ideal for a farmhouse, and has a mellow patina after just a few years," she says. Instead, she pickled the hand-built kitchen cabinets and inset the upper tier with sash windows, duplicates of the exterior windows she used on the second floor. Although the couple banned anything too precious or formal from the farmhouse—they like walking through in dirty boots—they indulged in craftsmanship. "The things you use every day and spaces you spend time in should move you and touch your heart," says Bethany. Her love for handiwork and pale blue accents is a Swedish influence. "It's my heritage—I can't help it! I'm drawn to the Swedish palette of soft gray-blues and whites," she says. "The colors are timeless and classic and work beautifully with natural wood." A big influence was 19th-century Swedish artist Carl Larsson's illustrations in books about his farm. "His interiors shaped me into thinking of a house as a piece of furniture you handcraft with love, creativity, and fun."