House Beautiful: Southern Elegance

Inside an Estate with Gorgeous Southern Grace

As a fine-jewelry designer, Elizabeth Locke works on an exquisite but small scale. When faced with the prospect of redoing a vast Virginia estate, however, she didn’t miss a beat. The 100-acre farm and its Federal-style home, Clay Hill, was falling into ruin when Elizabeth first saw it in 1979. “There were 17 giant trees growing into the foundation! It was out of our price range, but I told my husband if we could only buy it, I’d camp there.”

After a few decades and collaborations with an architect, an interior designer, and a “genius painter,” Clay Hill sings with gorgeous rooms and views of the gardens and farm. As for her vision for the ambitious project, Elizabeth struck a balance between American and European influences, remaining true to the home’s 1816 Federal design with a layer of fanciful style that could be straight out of an Italian palazzo.

We came for a tour and got swept away by the home’s many charms, not to mention Elizabeth’s proper but totally fun hostess style, inspiring career, and beautiful way with details large and small. Step into Clay Hill’s stunning take on Southern style.

Restoring Its Original Splendor

Elizabeth describes the house’s former occupants, who had lived there in the 1920s and ’30s, as a “romantic and dashing couple.” They had furnished the house with Federal-style antiques (those early American furnishings with the elegant neoclassical lines that Thomas Jefferson helped popularize in his own Virginia estate, Monticello).

Those antiques came up at auction soon after Elizabeth and John bought the house, and they managed to snag many of them—“we spent every penny we had getting as much as we could”—and bring them back home to Clay Hill. From there, Elizabeth pieced the rooms back together using photographs from magazine shoots from the 1920s.

Turning Up the Color
While the interiors have traditional bones, they are far from somber. Like any other good Southerner, Elizabeth doesn’t shy away from confident, unadulterated color. “It’s a colorful house,” she says. “That might not be fashionable now, but I don’t really care!” As an experiment with a more sedate palette, she’d first painted the sitting room gray, but it turned off guests.
 “Even if you put a full tin of caviar in there, no one would set foot in it!” Working with the designer Alison Martin, they took the room 180 degrees in the other direction. A superradiant yellow—in the form of striped wallpaper, curtains, and upholstery— woke up the space.

Adding Italian Romance
With a schedule that has her all over the globe, Elizabeth savors downtime at home. For that reason, her retreatlike library is her favorite room in the house. Its deep-green color is the result of a stored-away memory of Italy.

Quiet But No Downtime
A devoted cook, Elizabeth spends a lot of time in the kitchen, which has a cozy countryside air, in part thanks to the 19th-century tiles and a pair of lyre-back chairs, both French. She freezes vegetables from the garden so that they’ll have homegrown food through the winter, and when they entertain, she cooks everything herself. This is where she relishes the privacy that comes with 100 acres. “Looking out from the kitchen windows, we can’t see any of our neighbors! I love that, since I travel constantly.”

“It’s a colorful house. That might not be fashionable now, but I don’t really care!”
— Elizabeth Locke

“Dinner parties go on forever and ever and ever. 
Maybe because you know once you leave, everyone else will start gossiping about you!”
— Elizabeth Locke







Getting to Garden
“I always wanted a really, really beautiful garden,” Elizabeth says. During their big renovation a few years ago, she finally got the chance to create one. Now she’s always outdoors fiddling in the gardens—”If I come home from a trip at 9 p.m., the first place I go is the garden, with a flashlight, to see what’s blooming. It’s never boring!”

The white Gothic greenhouse was part of Elizabeth’s garden vision—she’d spotted the design years ago in a book, and an architect helped her tracked it down. On nights when they have garden parties it’s lit up “like a jack-o’-lantern.” On one side of the greenhouse are the cutting gardens, which is Elizabeth’s source for every flower arrangement.


“I can’t just whiz down to the local florist—there isn’t one! I make bouquets with whatever’s growing, even if it’s a bunch of parsley.” Around the corner are herbs and a whole lot of dahlias in all shapes and colors. And then surrounding the greenhouse are Italianate gardens, with lemon trees here and there.

via: One Kings Lane



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