Sited on a piece of land just beyond the back edge of a cornfield is the Volgenau Cottage. Its gray cedar-shingled siding and sprawling, asymmetrical design let us know we are on Virginia's Eastern Shore.
At first glance, you might assume the cottage is a typical 1890s farmhouse commonly found in nearby Nassawadox. However the style was merely the inspiration for the home, built in 1997. A few years earlier, the Virginia Coast Reserve, a program of The Nature Conservancy, teamed up with The Volgenau Foundation, a family-run, private-operating organization, to build a model home on Phillips Creek Farm. The farm was a prototype for compatible economic development. "We wanted to preserve the natural resources and their ability to function productively," says Michael Lipford, Virginia director of The Nature Conservancy. Phillips Creek Farm is only one of several farms in the Reserve's Seaside Farm Program, created to ensure protection of coastal bays and marshes.
The Reserve uses the cottage to house and educate its guests who are curious about the program, namely leaders from across the country interested in conservation. "Our goal was to create a model of residential development so that it could be replicated elsewhere," says Lynn Badger, associate director of the Reserve.
Traditional and Contemporary
The cottage masterfully combines modern design with a classic feel. Siting was the first task. So residential designer Corbin Tucker and landscape designer Vladimir Gavrilovic followed the lead of early settlers and placed the house on the highest point.
Corbin, who designed both the exterior and interiors, used the lighthouse keeper's cottage on nearby Smith Island, an Eastern Shore landmark built in 1892, as a model. The new house is appropriate to the period, but modern conveniences and building materials were also implemented into the design.
"We wanted it to fit in and feel like it had always been there, and it does," Corbin explains.
The Phillips Creek Farm Project
Phillips Creek Farm covers almost 250 acres and only 9 of those are reserved for homesites. "Instead of seeing how many houses we could cram on the farm, we wanted to see how few we could put there and still make it viable," says Lynn Badger.
The core of the Reserve's mission is community-based conservation. Lisa Volgenau, executive director of The Volgenau Foundation, says, "My family has made a long-term commitment to working with The Nature Conservancy to protect the coastal ecosystem."
For more information: Contact the Virginia Coast Reserve, P.O. Box 158, Nassawadox, VA 23413.