Feature: fields of wry 

Subtle humor weasels its way into the renovated farmstead of a Caroline county artisan.

His place celebrates all that is handmade and thought-out and reinvented; it glorifies the use of natural materials to craft an exquisitely personal environment.

It is a quiet, quirky showcase for the man who would walk into a house with holes in the floors and decide to take on — in his off-hours — a major renovation.

And though it may appear to be a man's world on this homestead, Smith's wife Laura McDonald supplies the so-called feminine touches — flowered slipcovers on the dining chairs, a picture of Frida Kahlo in the living room, a pretty assemblage of laces and objects that soften all the wood and angles.

This is a family home encompassing the Smith children, now young adults, and a menagerie of pets. And it is filled with whimsy and warmth and a decidedly hand-hewn charm.

Unusual features are everywhere: A cast-iron, cast-off bathtub becomes an ornamental water garden in the side yard. Old wooden columns salvaged from Virginia Union University give unpredictably Greek emphasis to a handful of interior and exterior projects. Scrap iron and galvanized steel and fragments of wood find their way into a new life here, adored for their cost-effective nature and their rugged patina.

And there's the humor. Smith has booby-trapped the house with little spring-loaded knobs, on the newel posts and elsewhere, that bend when touched. "You can serve someone a drink," McDonald laughs, "and they might lean against it — it's a startling effect. That's Sonny."

Smith's office, a separate structure with generous windows, sits upon a rotating platform that allows him to push a button and change the view from trees to fields and back again. "There was an old picture of George Bernard Shaw's writing house, and it rotated," Smith explains. "I needed an office that was separate from the shop, and so this is what I got." He operates John Smith Architectural Interiors from his Doswell location, doing design and cabinet-building for residential clients. His neat, air-conditioned office is a quiet escape with a variable view, all beneath the gaze of Einstein.

Visitors step from the quaint front porch directly into the kitchen. "There was some discussion about doing it this way, but the kitchen is the center of the house and everybody gathers here," Smith says. Cobalt blue tiles form an arresting backsplash framed by Smith's pine cupboards and cabinets. All show the distinctive touch of a craftsman who's known for creating pieces of simplicity and strength. "Pretty much everything here I had to make," Smith says.

Down a few steps from the kitchen is the great room, a comfortable gathering spot for music, reading. Upholstered pieces share space with bookshelves and art, including a painting from Smith's VCU days. The dining room features a table he created while a crafts department student. McDonald considers this space her emotional center, as it's filled with family memorabilia, photos, objects from her grandmother and the "frou frou" that is dear to her heart. Dearer still is the admiration she lavishes upon her husband.

"He's really a very modest person, he doesn't toot his own horn. He's an extremely creative, artistic person who is very joyful in his work. And it comes out in his professional work as well as how he lives and breathes. He loves creating and making, so it's a joy to be with someone like that."

Just beware of the newel post. HS




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