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If there's such a thing as a serial dream-house builder, J. Lynn Parsons might qualify.
He and his wife, Ann, just completed a stone and shingle manor in a wooded Goochland County neighborhood. They're savoring its comfort and charm, but they tend to move every three years and truly enjoy the process of designing and building their river house near Urbanna is also under construction so no one's convinced they'll stay put in the new place. And that's no matter how much Ann might protest that this is where she wants to retire. "Don't bet on it," her husband says, laughing.
For now and the foreseeable future, the new house is getting plenty of attention. Guests for this month's Fat Tuesday fundraiser for the Richmond Symphony Orchestra League will gather in it to sample Creole cuisine by caterer Kenny Bendheim, listen to jazz by the Jack Winn-tet, and no doubt ogle the elegant woodwork, double powder rooms, granite and stainless-steel kitchen, black-walled billiards room with a second wet bar, screened porch with stone fireplace, and private, woodsy view just past the infinity-edge pool and stone terrace.
It is a house designed for parties, and its entertaining life has begun in earnest.
For Ann's birthday, a tented stage on the lawn held the band, a hundred or so people danced under the stars, and two ladies wearing dresses jumped into the pool by the end of the evening.
Things might be slightly tamer for the symphony benefit, but the Parsonses like their parties to be casual, with guests circulating in the wide spaces between rooms and enjoying generous bar and TV-viewing areas, gas-log fireplaces inside and out, a whole-house sound system, and the full complement of commercial-quality kitchen appliances to serve, store and clean up after crowds.
They even have alternate rugs to pull out for parties, replacing the living room's celadon wool carpet with a stain-resistant red rug that also adds festive color.
They can store fragile furniture in the basement, if needed; everything else is party-ready and welcoming, from porch and patio lounge chairs to sofas throughout the downstairs.
Architect Mark Spangler designed the house using a New England vernacular with wide corbels, Tennessee fieldstone and Hardiplank shingles. It's a historically inspired look drawn from houses of the 1920s in Ginter Park, for example, but using modern materials that require less maintenance.
"Instead of the usual Richmond brick Colonial, this is something different," Spangler says. "My task was to give them a plan that worked, and the house is simple and clean, with good proportions and a nice, historical feel."
Ceilings soar to 22-foot vaults in some areas, and windows are massed to capture sunlight and views of trees and sky. Wainscoting adds a country-house feel, and interior decorations begun by Todd Yoggy and continued with Les Stinson provide warmth, vitality and unexpected accessories.
Lighting fixtures, all from Ferguson Enterprises, are bold in scale, Old World in feel and unified by metallic finishes. Red leather-look walls, faux-painted by Lara Koplin, rev up the dining room, in contrast to the more subdued palette elsewhere. Golds, greens and a shade of blue called rushing river run throughout the house, accenting John Barber lithographs and original oil paintings collected from Ginger Levit Atelier.
There's still work to be done inside, Ann Parsons notes, including window treatments in some rooms and fine-tuning of wall colors and furnishings in others. Always, the family's cat and dogs are a factor, so hard-wearing materials are used wherever possible, including stairway runners and other flooring surfaces.
The animals have their own mudroom and separate entrance, decorated with paintings of dogs and David Schmidt's photographs of bananas-as-humans. "We told Les [Stinson] to pretend we are furnishing a fraternity house with animals," Ann says, "because the dogs are so hard on a house. But we love 'em anyway, so we decorate around them."
Chester, Homey and Lucky have favorite spots for lounging, and the couple's children Cary, 21, and Emily Tatum, 16 also have special zones that are designed with color, comfort and privacy upstairs, away from the party scene.
A six-car garage with room for a golf cart is tucked into sloping acreage that borders a natural area abundant with wildlife. The setting is what first attracted the couple, along with the opportunity to design a different-for-Richmond manor house with architect Spangler.
Lynn Parsons served as his own general contractor during the 18-month project. Stonework on the exterior took a dozen craftsmen five months to complete, and the myriad details that followed were managed systematically and without undue stress, he says, because his firm, The Windsor Company, is experienced in large-scale construction.
"The house has a lot of custom-made detail, and all of the interior openings are thickened-up to give more depth to the rooms," he says. "The ceiling detail was a challenge, but we got it figured out. We wanted something different for Richmond, and it turned out well. The best part about it is that we use every room and there's no wasted space."
Ann, still insisting that she won't move again, agrees with her husband's assessment of the project. "It's a big house with a cozy feel," she says. "It's got a lot of warmth, and the best thing is that our family and our friends feel comfortable here." HS The Richmond Symphony Orchestra League's Mardi Gras fundraiser at the Parsons home is Tuesday, Feb. 20, from 7 to 10 p.m. Call 364-5120 or 740-8930 for details.