Some say it takes a village, but when it came to remodeling Bethany Brower’s farmhouse, it took her family. In 2015, Brower—a decorator who works with her mother, Nancy Powell, at Powell-Brower Interiors—and her husband, John, purchased a three-bedroom, 2,100-square-foot farmhouse in Warrenton, with the intention of a full redesign.
“Bethany and I joined professional forces in 2012 when she was doing her starter home,” recalls Powell of the mother-daughter team’s first collaboration. “We had so much fun putting together that first house. In fact, we’ve always had a blast working together, feeding off each other’s energy and our different viewpoints. I have one leg in the traditional and she has one leg in the contemporary. It meshes well; we were excited to see where this project would go.”
By the time Brower closed on the farmhouse, she had a strong vision of what she wanted to achieve in the remodel, but first, she wanted to live in the home.
“I had tons of ideas but I just wanted to savor our new habitat and make the right changes,” she adds.
The house had good bones. It met many of Brower’s requirements, including 10 acres of woodland in the heart of Virginia’s horse country for her dogs to enjoy. The couple has two English bulldogs, Wilma and Seamus, and an old beagle called Winston. The farmhouse was also in solid working condition, having been built in 2000, but as Brower is quick to point out: “It was pretty much builder-grade everything, from the stairwell to the kitchen and bathrooms. I saw it as a blank canvas.”
“She wanted to make it her own,” adds Powell. (Her daughter wanted the home to lean more modern and less country.) “In the end, she redesigned it and I helped her with realizing her dream.”
The first project tackled in the house was refacing the heavy red-brick fireplace, whose surround ran up the mantle wall in the living room. Brower—whose aesthetic is clean-lined, contemporary and simple, yet with character and layers—enlisted her husband’s and brother Michael’s help in the project.
“We tore the brick down,” says Brower of the process. “We wanted the look of traditional shiplap siding on a tight budget, so we used 1-by-6 inch, 8-foot pine boards and spaced them with nickels. We painted the firebox itself in a satin black to recede it into the background and then finished the shiplap in the same soft white paint as the walls.” She pauses and then adds, “John and Michael completed the project in one weekend, and between materials and paint, we only spent $168.”
Next on the honey-do list was making the front of the cedar house read less country. There were porch railings and the columns were more ornate—what Brower calls ‘gingerbread-y.’ The men in her family, including her father, who is a hobby carpenter, stepped in again.
“We demoed all the railings and wrapped the existing columns in cedar, adding cleaner moldings to them,” says Brower. “This made a huge impact [on] the front of the house.”
“For Bethany, this was her second home. She had gone from 1,000 square feet to double that. She was no longer trying to ‘make do,’ as one does with a starter home, but planning on executing her vision,” adds Powell.
In her quest to make the farmhouse fresh, Brower wanted to get rid of the old-fashioned staircase (all the bedrooms are upstairs). She began by removing the railings and painting the risers white.
“I knew I wanted to make this farmhouse more modern, so I envisioned a glass wall in place of a conventional banister,” says Brower, who eventually completed the look with a cheetah-patterned stair runner. “That in itself hid a multitude of sins, from dog hair to shoe dirt and dust,” she adds of the pattern that worked well for country living.
The kitchen redo came next. Previously, the cabinets were dark cherry wood, with dated pink Formica countertops. Brower collaborated with Warren Cabinets to reface the perimeter cabinetry with white Shaker-style paneled doors and drawers, and then build a new island with rustic quartersawn white oak cabinets. These have a custom-limed finish, bringing natural wood tones into the space. The new hardware is all oil-rubbed bronze.
“We used the same quartersawn white oak to create floating open storage shelves on either side of the range,” adds Brower.
The countertops and range wall backsplash are of heavily veined soapstone that resembles local Virginia fieldstone. The above-sink window was also enlarged to let in more natural light and to allow the homeowners to enjoy their rural views. A floor-to-ceiling pantry was added to the left of the new fridge for extra food storage.
When it was time to decorate, Brower chose a light neutral palette for the home, which was accented with earthy tones of green, brown and tan to add warmth.
“The house isn’t huge, so I wanted to give it some breathing room with light-colored walls and to keep the larger furniture neutral, while still creating a cozy vibe,” she says. “I hate walking into a dark house that looks shut up, and because we had a fair amount of tree cover around the home site, I wanted to lighten up the insides as much as possible.”
The farmhouse, the main level of which is an open floorplan, is painted (trim work and walls) mostly in Benjamin Moore’s Snowfall White. However, the living room’s shiplap feature-wall, the olive-hued home office and the dining room’s Phillip Jeffries silver grass-cloth wall covering keep things interesting. The window treatments, combining soft fabric drapes and textured bamboo blinds, are custom. That textural blend is also present in furnishings; for example, Oushak rugs are layered atop sisal rugs throughout.
Turns out Brower’s grandmother (and Powell’s mother), Josephine, also had an indirect hand with respect to the home’s eclectic mix of furnishings and its play of textiles and textures.
“My mother was very creative and had a lot of style,” recalls Powell of her mom, who lived with her family in Fairfax County for many years. “She was an avid seamstress and made her own couture clothes. Her love of fabrics and exquisite finishes lit Bethany up as a child. Our home was also a mix of eclectic antiques and midcentury-modern Scandinavian furniture.”
Brower’s love of animals also comes from her grandmother, who was an equestrian and always kept a menagerie, including dogs. These different elements became a big part of Brower’s home and its design.
“Our animals are a huge part of our life, so I’m not one to enforce ‘no paws on the sofa,’” says Brower. “I opt to use leather upholstery, wherever possible, for easy clean-up, and prefer durable and hardy indoor-outdoor fabrics, like Sunbrella and Perennials, for upholstery.”
Though the larger furniture is clean-lined and contemporary, there are vintage and antique furnishings scattered throughout the home as well: some are inherited, such as Josephine’s porcelain zebra tucked in front of the hearth; some are bought, like the round occasional table in the living room. Powell and Brower actually love antique shopping together and have found several pieces for the farmhouse.
“We love to mix vintage and antique with modern in our business too,” says Powell. “One of the big advantages of being a native Virginian is knowing where to look. We spend time on the weekends scouring different areas to find unique spots for treasures. We don’t want to go and get the same stuff as everyone else.”
The art in the home is also one of a kind. Both Michael and Powell are artists—the latter kept a studio at the Torpedo Factory for over a decade—and throughout the house, Brower hangs or places their artwork.
“Recently, when giving a tour of the house to a relative visiting from out of town, it occurred to me that I have their artwork in almost every room,” says Brower. “I also have several of my grandmother’s things. My dad built the sofa table and the dog’s toy chest. These things all have a huge place in my heart and I love to see them throughout the house,” she adds.
Goes to show that home is, indeed, where the heart is.