When the editors at Southern Living chose Charlottesville, Virginia as the site of their next Idea House, there was only one person to call: Bunny Williams. The all-star designer returned to her hometown to design the ultimate modern-day farmhouse that exudes quintessential southern charm. Nestled in the rolling hills of Bundoran Farm, a 2,300-acre conservation community, the home is full of light and life with an outdoor area perfect for entertaining and taking in the amazing views.
We got together with our newest partner in design, Bunny Williams, to talk about the home and what inspired her.
Ballard Designs: With this project, you returned home to Charlottesville, Virginia. That must have been a fun experience for you.
Bunny Williams: I felt completely at home. It was very nice that they asked me to do this, and I could go back and stay with my family and enjoy a place I grew up in.
BD: Did being in your hometown inform your design at all?
BW: Oh sure. I know the place. I know how people live. I have a sense of where I am, which makes it easier to design to a house for people to live in. It’s not a stretch to imagine living in Virginia and coming home down the country road and living that relaxed lifestyle. So I’m designing a house to suit that person.
BD: And what kind of person or family do you imagine living here?
BW: I pictured either a family with two children or someone who had retired and had gone to the University of Virginia and was maybe moving back to Charlottesville from New York or another place. They wanted a place in the country for their family and grandchildren and friends to come.
BD: That really shines through. From the first step into the entrance hall, it feels like a real home.
BW: It’s in the details. For the entrance hall, I used an antique Persian carpet that has a red clay background, because Virginia is covered in red clay. You put your spade in the soil and it is red. Growing up here, there was always a red rug in the hall, so if you tracked the red clay in, it doesn’t show. Of course, you’ve got the other items to make a welcoming entrance — a mirror over the table, so you can check your hair and makeup and a bench to drop your things.
BD: The floorplan puts the kitchen in the center of the house, so you walk into it from the hall. It makes sense, considering it’s typically the center of activity. We can imagine friends and family gathering here.
BW: It’s the perfect way we live today — a real family kitchen. It’s a wonderful workspace with tons of storage, and it has these beautiful views overlooking the countryside, so you don’t feel that you’re suffering because you’re in the kitchen. And you have the dining table at the other end of the kitchen rather than a separate formal dining room. Between Ballard Designs’ Windsor Stools around the great island and the dining table, there’s plenty of places for people to hang out and keep the cook company.
BD: We love the blue and white statement you’ve made with your Campbell House Dinnerware and upholstered chairs.
BW: Well, you know I love blue and white. And if you really want people to be comfortable, use upholstered chairs. You can sit in these chairs for hours.
BD: On the wall, you’ve practically made the TV disappear by making it part of a gallery wall with your garden images and the Britton clock.
BW: When we were working on the house, I said, “You’ve got to put a television in here.” Everybody is going to be in here, and they’re going to want to watch the news in the morning or even a cooking show while they’re doing dinner. But the trick in not letting it become intrusive is hanging pictures around it so that it becomes just another object. It doesn’t say, “Here I am.”
BD: In the pantry, you’ve got dramatic navy blue open cabinetry with a graphite black splash. What was the creative direction for this room?
BW: It’s really kind of a bar/pantry. I loved doing it in that dark, snappy color. I wanted it to look less kitchen-y and more like a bar, so the door can stay open. I wanted it to be a place where people can walk right in and help themselves. You’ve got trays and your bar is set up and there’s a refrigerator underneath.
BD: Right off the kitchen is the living room, and it’s quite expansive.
BW: The exciting thing about this house is that there are rooms of different scales, and that always makes the house more interesting. This living room has very high ceilings, a big fireplace and huge windows with a beautiful view of the countryside. It’s a large room with a couple of seating areas, so you can cozy up to the fire just by yourself, or if you’ve got more people, you can fill up the rest of the room.
BD: You have this beautiful palette of tonal oranges and mustards. Was there a starting point or inspiration for the color palette, such as a fabric or art?
BW: No, the color for me is a subtle color. The walls of the room are natural plaster and the Moroccan rug is neutral. So you have these splashes of color instead of oversaturated colors, and I don’t think you get tired of it as much. There’s a little bit of orange, and a very pretty print on the chair that has some orange and green in it. And, frankly, if you do get tired of it, it’s easy to change. If you took that chair and the accents out, you’d have a fairly neutral room.
BD: Is that the secret to creating this cohesive flow throughout? Each room has its own distinct color palette, but it is more subtle and you do have this neutral foundation.
BW: Yes, and it makes the house seem bigger. If you go from a red room to a blue room to a purple room it’s very confusing. The background of the walls are tonally the same — the flow from the entrance hall through the kitchen into the living room is all fairly neutral. But I do use different textures, so you might have a paint finish or a plaster finish.
BD: You have such a great mix of art, in this room in particular, but also in other rooms. What is your personal philosophy about collecting and displaying art?
BW: I think that you should buy things individually that you like when you’re out hunting. You might find a drawing of a flower you like, because you’re a gardener or a painting of a hound because you have a dog. And I also think you should look at contemporary art. And when you hang this art that you’ve collected — and you hang it together — each piece stands out, because it’s not exactly like its neighbor. It makes each piece so much more interesting.
BD: There’s also a traditional library, complete with paneled walls.
BW: The library, or tavern room, as they call it is a tiny, cozy room. The walls are all wood paneled with Virginia hard pine. It’s got the big screen television in case the husband wants to watch the football game, or you can sit in there at night as a couple and watch a movie. It’s a wonderful nighttime or winter room — and this is what I mean by having different rooms of scale rather than all large rooms or all small rooms. You want to go in them at different times of the day for different reasons.
BD: One thing we’ve noticed, even in here with these paneled walls, is that every room feels light and bright, and there are few window treatments. Why is that?
BW: I didn’t use a lot of window treatments because I thought the view was enough. I use the window treatments in the bedrooms where you want to filter the light. In the library, particularly, because it’s a small room, I felt that curtains would just close it in. Curtains often can make a room feel smaller. The living room has a huge window with a ledge in front of it that I used as a table for books and objects. I didn’t use any curtains, because I didn’t want to detract from the view.
BD: In the master bedroom, you’ve got this lovely pale blue color scheme. Why blue?
BW: When I was standing there and looking out the window at the beautiful view, I came up with the idea that I wanted it to be a blue room. And I had been doing this fabric collection with Lee Jofa, so I had that wonderful toile that I thought would work beautifully. Sometimes you just walk into a room and either because of the light or the view it strikes you that a room should be a certain color. Also, men don’t mind blue. It’s not too feminine a color, but it’s not such a dark blue that a woman wouldn’t be happy with it. It’s a nice gender-neutral blue.
BW: Again, if you just did a room with nothing but botanicals it would be boring. But I think the contemporary art and the botanical art complement each other because of their difference.
BD: And you’ve put your Nesting Baskets with Scalloped Liners to work in the dressing area. They make it look perfectly organized.
BW: I love those! We always need storage baskets.
BD: Moving upstairs, there’s a mini-living room that connects the bedrooms. How did you envision a family using this space?
BW: I immediately saw it as a sitting room. I got the architects to build in a spot for the television. It’s such a fantastic space, because whether you have guests or whether you have children, this little spot gives them a place to hang out and get away. Imagine if you have two kids, and they could go up there and play games and be away from the living room. And if you have guests, they can stretch out on the sofa and watch television or read a book. So it’s your upstairs living room and it functions for whoever is there.
BD: There’s a boy’s and a girl’s room that could really be for any age. They look so different, yet all the bedroom essentials are there.
BW: So you really think about what’s needed in a bedroom first. Both rooms have a desk. And you need a chest of drawers, you need a mirror over the chest, and you need benches at the foot of the bed to put luggage on. Both also have window seats. The color palette and details come later. The boy’s room has this smart blue-and-white palette with a hand-blocked Indian quilt over the rattan bed. The round shape of the mirror breaks up the width of the bed and creates a pretty reflection.
BD: We love the soft lavender of the girl’s room. Can you tell us about that great upholstered valance behind the bed?
BW: By taking the fabric and and crown all the way to the ceiling it draws the eyes up and makes the ceiling look taller. These are dormer rooms, so the center of the room is about 8 feet, but they drop down on the sides, so I wanted to make them feel taller. And then I hung a mirror on top of the fabric.
BD: The bunk room is so fun.
BW: Yes, we did have a little fun in here. We added extra storage beneath the bunks. It’s a great store room. I added a funny little playhouse in there in case there were children.
BD: There’s a bonus room with a huge workspace and bookshelves. What was your intention for this room?
BW: I call this space the studio. This was a room over the garage, and I was thinking that everyone wants a room that you can make a mess in and not have to pick it up. This could be the project room, the office, the wrapping room — we all need rooms that you can be doing something and get up and leave and not worry about what it looks like. If someone works at home or if you like to paint or sew, you have a space that’s yours, and you don’t have to pick up when someone’s coming over.
BD: The impressive thing about this home is that it really does feel like a family already lives here. How do you build rooms that truly feel as if they’ve evolved over time?
BW: If you go into a store and buy everything from that store and have it delivered to your home, that is exactly what’s it’s going to look like. If you decide you’re going to buy Mid-Century and everything is Mid-Century, it’s always going to look like that one time period. But if you are willing to buy an Early American table and combine it with a modern coffee table, it transcends time. You have to buy things you love and mix textures and finishes and put it all together in an artistic way so that they make sense. It’s harder to do that than if you buy everything the same, but the end result is much more appealing. It’s not formulaic decorating; the minute it becomes formulaic, that’s when it becomes boring.
BD: Let’s move outdoors. This is a dream space for entertaining! And the view is amazing.
BW: It’s really astounding. The views are so beautiful and when you live in this climate, you can be outside a lot. Ballard Designs’ outdoor furniture looks so good here.
BD: How did you approach outfitting this outdoor space, because there are very distinct areas — the patio and the covered porch?
BW: The covered porch to me is the sitting area and we’ve loaded it with seating. That woven wicker of the Laurel Collection looks so natural — like twigs and vines formed the furniture. They’re comfortable and weatherproof, which is fantastic. Then you go down the steps to the outdoor area where you have your grill and dining table and some more seating. You could put your umbrellas down there if it’s a sunny day. That’s where I would grill out and eat, but then I could come up and sit on the covered porch, and on cool nights sit near the fire. Whoever owns this house is going to spend a lot of time outside.
BD: What are other essentials for creating a comfortable, party-ready space for friends and family to enjoy?
BW: You need a table to put food on and other little tables for guests to sit their drinks. The Teak Ice Chest from Ballard Designs is a copy of an old one that I have, and I use it all the time. You fill it full of ice and add wine, beer, water and soft drinks. It’s accessible and people can help themselves. If you’re entertaining outside, you want to keep it casual, so go for melamine plates and plastic glasses and you don’t have to worry about them breaking. You just want to make it easy for guests.
BD: Let’s talk about that potting counter and sink. This really speaks to your love of gardening. What is the story behind this piece?
BW: Believe it or not, it was a pleasant surprise to me. There’s a young man who is local and makes these tables from local stone. When it came, I was dying to have one for my house in Connecticut. It’s a great place to arrange flowers and do some potting or to wash the dog. They call it the dog run. If you’ve gone on a long walk with the dog, you can wash him off before you go inside.
BD: Thank you for giving us a virtual tour of the home. We just have one last question: what are the most important details of every Southern home — the kind you simply can’t leave off the list?
BW: The most important thing to remember is to make a house stylish and comfortable at the same time. Don’t over-decorate or over-style your home so much that people stand at the door and are afraid to come in. A good house is about feel. Everyone likes different things and that’s okay. What you want is for people to come in a house and their first instinct is to think, “This is great” without even knowing what it is. And if we get too narrow and too perfect and everything has to match and be perfectly placed, then no one is going to want to go in it. Another component to that is to add your personality and family belongings, such as photos. Make it feel like your house and not a hotel. The more you are engaged in your house and really opening your eyes to what you like, the more interesting your house is going to be.
That’s the best advice yet! Thanks, Bunny.
Learn more about the 2015 Southern Living Idea House, or shop all of the products for the Southern Living Idea House. Additional information about the resources in the house, like paint colors and fabrics, can found here.
Browse all of Bunny Williams’ products designed for Ballard Designs, or learn more about Bunny Williams and her decorating style.