Cottage Charm: This 2,000-Square-Foot Virginia Home is Filled with Vintage Style

Architect Madison Spencer adds some giddyap to a horse country house.

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Madison Spencer Virginia Cottage with Fall Leaves
Working on a sprawling 18th-century horse farm, Spencer drew inspiration from the picturesque setting, adding the illusion of age to an otherwise modern home. Dane Tashima; Styling: Elly Poston Cooper

There's something magical about beautiful light," says architect Madison Spencer, who fell for the luminous lure of this Virginia foothills property. Call it a job hazard. A Charlottesville-based specialist in classical architecture, Spencer had been working on an assemblage of buildings on his client's 18th-century horse farm in Keswick, which included this nonhistorical, nondescript 1990s spec house. "It was a fun rescue, a wreck with zero character that we gutted and gave lots of personality," says Spencer, who collaborated with London-based designer Serena Williams-Ellis on the project, which was envisioned as a guesthouse for the larger farmhouse estate. But, he says, "I loved it so much that I moved in."

In addition to the way the golden afternoon light douses the countryside, Spencer appreciates the simplicity of the barely 2,000-square-foot cottage, renovated on a budget. "People can tell when a home really exhibits a sense of personal character," says Spencer, who layers family memorabilia with consignment store and antique finds. "The goal was creating a place where foxhunt guests could shed their boots, throw Barbour jackets on a peg, light a fire, and fix a drink." To maximize natural light and views, they removed some interior walls and doors, pulled drywall off the ceiling to expose beams, and replaced deteriorated windows with two-over-two panes "more in keeping with an old farmhouse," he adds. Remilled oak boards from about 6 miles worth of paddock fencing got repurposed for the walls and kitchen cabinets. Salvaging this old wood demonstrates that "doing things less expensively doesn't necessarily mean doing them cheaply," Spencer says. "The trick is to deal with what you have, set a stage for yourself, and then get the party started."

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