Hot Spot 

A doctor's office makes way for the most popular room in the house.

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Editors' Note: The print version of this story contained an incorrect last name for Steve Nuckolls.

When Janice Hall Nuckolls met Steve Nuckolls, his apartment was stark and simple — a big contrast to her house, she says, which was "decorated within an inch of its life."

Now that they're married, it's obvious she's affected him. Through the years, the decorator and former co-owner of Three French Hens antiques has brought color into her husband's life. Just step into their Monument Avenue home for proof.

After renovating a Grove Avenue town house 14 years ago, the two were ready for another project. They spent time searching out just the right candidates, making trips to City Hall to find out the owners' information and write them a "We love your house, let us know if you're going to sell" letter.

One day they received a call from a cardiologist who was ready to retire and sell his Monument Avenue office near the corner of Allen. They bought the house and spent a year doing the demolition themselves. They ripped out all evidence of the many examination rooms, including a set of lead-lined X-ray-room doors, and uncovered pocket doors behind plasterboard and mantels stored in the attic.

"It was really hard to have a vision because it was so institutional and so cut-up," Nuckolls says.

One unusual choice the couple made was to put the kitchen in a large central space that would normally be reserved for the dining room. When planning how to reassign rooms, the couple decided it made sense to give the kitchen the most space.

"We always learned that no matter how big or small a kitchen is, people are going to congregate in it," Nuckolls says.

A Hanover Avenue Oasis

Although Gus and Eileen C. Remppies have lived in more Richmond-area places than most people can name — Innsbrook, Woodlake, The Prestwould condominums, Brandermill and Wellesley, to name a few — the couple has been entrenched in the Fan District for four years.

How does one measure neighborhood involvement? Well, if you live on Hanover Avenue (as they do), an acid test is how enthusiastically you decorate for Halloween. On Oct. 31, the blocks along Hanover near Meadow are an epicenter for trick-or-treaters from all over town. "We had 3,000 trick-or-treaters last year," says Gus, with obvious delight. With the parties taking place inside neighbors' homes, it's difficult to tell whether the revelers or the residents have more fun.

"A few years ago a neighbor built a pirate ship in front of his house for Halloween," Gus says, "so last year we thought we'd create a castle."

"Something simple," adds Eileen, with a hint of irony. She says their project expanded as the designer they'd engaged got increasingly enthusiastic. What was going to be a simple cardboard castle became much more ambitious. But it was a huge success.

That was autumn and this is springtime, the season for house and garden tours. So the Remppies are showing neighborhood enthusiasm and pride once again by opening their home and brick-walled garden for the annual Fan Kitchen and Garden Tour.

What visitors will see at the Remppies' residence is both a kitchen and a tree-shaded garden that have been reworked significantly since the couple moved to their 1909 house.

They reworked the rear garden two seasons ago. "We definitely do not have a green thumb," Eileen says. So they hired Ashland Berry Farm to landscape it.

She says there were three things she and her husband wanted the designers to achieve: plenty of room for entertaining, a low-maintenance design and a space that was lighter in feel.

They kept a number of solid and attractive elements that were already established. These included a handsome brick wall on the backyard's west side and the uninterrupted cascade of English ivy that it supported. And a dogwood and crape myrtle tree were allowed to stay.

But a brick terrace was ripped out and replaced with neat, tightly laid gray paving stones. A similar stone was used to edge the terrace and define the borders.

A half-dozen or so large boulders were placed seemingly randomly along the borders to straddle the planted and paved areas. These rough-hewn, natural stones meet the criterion that many landscape designers follow when considering the placement of stones in landscaping: Never use a stone that a single person can lift. Not to worry -- it's doubtful that five men could budge these rocks.

In addition to the new pavement and landscaping boulders, Ashland Berry Farm added another a fountain/waterfall. This is set in a far back corner of the yard and complements the landscape's other features, but smaller stone was used to accentuate the borders. The constant trickling of the water drowns out occasional city sounds that waft through the canopy of shade trees in neighboring yards.

For plantings there are hydrangeas, a Japanese maple and camellias. Lower-lying plantings include the shade-loving and always-popular-in-Richmond liriope, hostas and impatiens. Potted flora include a banana plant, which will have floppy leaves by summer's end, and bamboo.

The Remppies say they're delighted with their urban oasis: "We'll be sitting out here all spring and summer," Eileen says. She uses the outdoor private space to read, especially historical novels and mysteries. He enjoys periodicals, along with a cigar. They both enjoy grilling outdoors and accompanying their meals with wine. Outdoor speakers channel music into the yard. And their two dogs, Xena and Hercules, both bichon frisés, are usually romping, underfoot or in their laps.

Best of all, the enchanted garden is easy to take care of. "At our first house we attempted doing the landscaping together so it would be a bonding experience," Eileen says. "It wasn't. Everything died. That told us, this is not for us."

"We have no gardening abilities," Gus says. "We know to call good talent." HS




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