By Heather Bonawitz
The year is 1840. It is 21 years before the American Civil War begins. This is the year the French painter Claude Monet is born, the continent of Antarctica is discovered, Samuel Morse patents his telegraph and William Henry Harrison is elected President of the United States. Circa this year, the current home of Carol Saric is also built. Over the years, Bedford, Virginia, has become home to much storied history, but for Saric, it is also home to one of the oldest houses in the town—her home.
Saric’s beautiful house resides in the “Avenel Historic District” of downtown Bedford. The neighborhood is on the National Register of Historic Places and is just a block away from the former Randolph Academy. Over the years, Saric’s home has seen many changes to the original design. If walls could talk, this historic house would have many stories to share. Its resounding theme would be of the many renovations it has seen over the last 172 years.
When Saric purchased the house in 2008 to be closer to family, she quickly began to place her own mark in history upon this special residence. Many beautiful aesthetics have enhanced its features, but one of the initial improvements she made was to upgrade what had aged.
As she put it, “I put in stuff to make living in an old house more convenient.”
Beyond just cosmetics, Saric decided to make some upgrades for safety. She had fire alarms mounted throughout the house and brought all the lighting and wiring up to modern code. Central air and heat were also installed.
“Old homes are built differently than in modern day. There are different building codes and materials. There are challenges to living in an old house,” Saric explained.
Upon entering the foyer, guests are greeted with an elegant, slightly curved stairway. To the left of those wooden treads is the parlor, a sophisticated space with American-made furniture and durable, eco-friendly upholstery. The rug in the parlor belonged to Saric’s parents and was the inspiration for the colors in both the parlor and the dining room. Stacked upstairs above the parlor is a bedroom as well as another bedroom above the dining room. These four rooms would have comprised the entire house when it was originally built; a configuration known as a “two-on-two.”
Underfoot, refinished heart pine floors flow throughout the home, though there are places where the floor has been patched, indicating it was laid over different eras. Due to the direction of patches in the foyer, Saric believes the stairway may have been reversed at one time, meaning the front door would have been completely reconfigured. There are multiple fireplaces throughout the house as well as a large coal bin and shoot in the basement, which undoubtedly were used as the main source of heat when the house was built. This leaves Saric to wonder why the fireplace was covered over in the dining room. There is a cut-out in the floor the exact size of a hearth, suggesting that at some point, someone decided to cover over the chimney. Perhaps the aesthetic of the fireplace was not such a priority when the former homeowner made this decision? Or perhaps new sources of heat were coming into vogue, eliminating the need for this type of heat? Was this the only way to upgrade to a more modern heat source? There are clues of what once was, but the answers remain locked in history.
Shortly after moving in, Saric contracted the help of local interior decorator, Linda Edwards of Decorating Den. She had worked with a decorator before and found the process to be so enjoyable, she wanted that kind of help again.
Together, they dreamed up a sophisticated home that beautifully blends the old with the new, using sustainable materials and American-made furniture. It is evident that Edwards chose pieces which would modernize the house, yet also keep to the tradition of the home’s period. To create cozy conversations, Edwards had a solid cherry, circular dining table custom built by a local craftsman to perfectly seat a party of eight. This crimson dining room showcases color, dimension, texture and pattern by creatively combining fabrics, fibers and woods. The dining chairs uniquely combine a blue and pink floral with a coordinating stripe on a set of Parsons chairs, while cream Queen Anne chairs are also incorporated, introducing a sustainable natural fiber of 100 percent paisley linen. Adorning the nearby windows are gold and red buffalo check silk panels.
In the 1800s, homes would not have had indoor plumbing for bathrooms or kitchens, so Saric’s kitchen is not original to the home. In fact, it wasn’t added on until 1913. Until this addition, Saric believes the original homeowners used what is known as an “English basement.” They would cook all meals at a fireplace in the rough, cold dirt basement below the parlor and then bring it all upstairs.
“These are all clues, but we’re just guessing,” Saric said.
Today, however, many kitchen upgrades abound. The previous homeowner remodeled the dated decor and outdated appliances by building in a double-oven and pantry. They also had the cabinets painted a bold yet enticing red. Complete with farmhouse-style hardware and butcher block countertops, this galley kitchen serves up delicious meals and quaint charm. Interestingly, the floors are partially covered in indoor/outdoor area rugs; a clever solution in a room that gets a lot of use. Carol explained that the rugs have been great for wear and tear and are easy to vacuum and clean.
Adjoining the kitchen is a small sitting area with big impact. This room was added on to the back of the house in 2004 and it’s where Saric spends much of her time. The beautiful fireplace draws guests in with a unique medallion centered on the facing, showcasing a cluster of apples, grapes, pears and leaves. Keeping with simplicity, two boxwood topiaries with a dried hydrangea arrangement were placed on top of the mantel. Roman shades were custom-made in a bold paisley material. Creating the perfect balance of symmetry, two red arm chairs upholstered in recycled fabric rest upon an oval, braided rug, replacing the need for a sofa in this space. An overstuffed ottoman doubles as a coffee table. To blend modern with memories, Edwards paired abstract art on one wall off-set with a collage of family photos on another wall. This grouping of black and white pictures is characteristically in keeping with the age of the house, since it displays Saric’s ancestors, including a photo of her parents courting.
Upstairs, three bedrooms now all have closets, but when the house was built, families would have used chifferobes, a closet-like piece of furniture, which combines a long space for hanging clothes with a chest of drawers. This would have eliminated the need for additional clothing storage in the 1800s. Today, the extent of storage needed is much greater. The master bedroom upstairs is believed to have been built after 1913. Since this room is “newer,” Edwards chose to work in recycled and eco-friendly but also period-appropriate pieces by using an antique trunk at the foot of the bed, a 1940s dressing gown on a mannequin and an evening bag as artwork above the bed that once belonged to Saric’s mother. As the centerpiece of the room, the black iron scroll bed pairs perfectly with the crisp red, pink and green floral and striped fabrics used in the bedding and window treatments.
Saric shared that Edwards “mixed patterns together so well. Once it was done, it came together.”
Numerous families have walked the hallways of this quaint home, and Saric has come to enjoy the many additions to her house, saying that they add to her imagination of what may have transpired there through the years. Each family that lived here placed a special mark upon the house, leaving unanswered questions etched upon its frame. All of this just adds to the rich history and story of owning such an old house. For Saric, this is her time to leave yet another mark by adding to the centuries-long story that is still being written.
Heather’s Helpful Hints for an Old Home:
1. Think safety first! Upgrade electrical. This allows you a chance to also incorporate your personal style into the new designs.
2. Incorporate personal elements. Decorate with items from the time period your house was built. Carol hung black and white family photos and her mother’s old purse as artwork.
3. Create functionality. For instance, when decorating around radiators, consider having trays built on top so they become functional shelves.
4. Mix patterns on your upholstery. Florals, stripes, checks and dots can all work well together—let your eyes be the guide.
5. Combine traditional with modern. Blending the two styles creates more visual and conversational interest.
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