Dreaming Up a Contemporary House

By Wendy Gooditis

Have you ever thought about what your perfect house would be? Have you designed a house in your head? “Let’s see, I have to have beautiful, natural materials. It has to be spacious, yet cozy. Simple, yet beautiful. Convenient, yet comforting.” And so on.

Jay and Peggy Duvall of White Post have done just that. In fact, they dreamed so long and hard (for a decade) that they magicked their ideal house into existence! I have stood on their porches, walked through the rooms, gazed at the timber framing, so I can attest to the reality of this house risen from a dream.

Really, it is no surprise that this timber and stone, glass and concrete structure has been brought to being out of the marriage of these two minds, one belonging to an architect and gifted artist, the other belonging to a designer and gifted manager. Together they run the Duvall Designs Gallery in Millwood, where Jay’s artisanal furniture, gorgeously rendered from local woods, is mingled with the work of visiting artists invited by Peggy.

Back at the house, I listen to Jay describe the fashioning and joining of the soaring timbers that form the frame of the house (“Tenons, pegs, green oak which is brought into tension as it dries . . .”). I hear Peggy’s laughter as she tells how many strong men (six!) it took to wrestle the immense slab of granite onto the island. I admire the stone fireplace as the Duvalls describe the various heating options—wood furnace in a shed that heats three buildings, another traditional heat source for when no one feels like feeding the wood furnace, radiant concrete floors downstairs. In short, the best of old and new, in a passive solar house with solar panels on the roof which contribute 30 percent of their electricity needs. “Everything about this house is efficient,” Jay says. Peggy adds, “There’s nothing I would change. I don’t think there’s anything lacking!”

In the foyer I gaze at the wall of stained glass, reminiscent of Frank Lloyd Wright in design, but updated and in entrancing jewel tones. “I must have the artist’s name,” I tell the Duvalls. They grin and Jay looks modest. “You’re kidding!” I exclaim. They’re not kidding. Jay not only designed the glass wall, but made it too. He not only dreamed up the sleek walnut cabinets, he fashioned them (along with friend Ammon Kerns, a wizard with cabinetry). It was his hands (along with others’) as well as his design which married the timbers.

The designer in the family takes me up to the spacious second floor sitting room. “We had stayed in a beach house with an upstairs family room, where all the kids could hang out,” says Peggy. And their grown kids and grandchildren did just that over Thanksgiving week, spreading out happily into two upstairs bedroom suites and the family room, while the Duvalls stayed cozy in their first floor master suite.

The house is sited privately on 60 acres carved from Greenway Court where Lord Fairfax had his hunting lodge, “his party barn!” says Jay. Peggy adds “George Washington’s office is still over there. It’s a neat part of history.” Two of the ancient roadbeds from that era still wend their way across the property.

The site was completely overgrown when they first laid eyes on it, and no one was more surprised than they to find they had purchased 60 acres when they had set out to buy one! But with its hills, woods, fields, pond, and old stone walls, plus an atmospherically decaying cabin in the woods, the property had the magic worthy of their dream. The deep, heavenly porches make me long for a hot mug and a quilt so I can be snug in a chair and enjoy the pastoral prospect.

Surveying the house from the outside, I am struck by the unusual harmony of various elements: the old-fashioned tapering stone chimney with clay chimney pots. The timber-framed window in the stone wall, forming a pleasing contrast to the sleeker stained glass of the nearby entry-way. I remark to Peggy that its appearance is almost as antique as it is modern! “Yes, for all the contemporary aspects of this house, it has an old-world feel,” she replies.

I turn to see the sturdy, Craftsman-like 2-car garage with apartment above and attached exercise room and garden room (more stained glass!). Beyond is the huge workshop with a kitchen plus two lovely upstairs offices and bathroom. Nearby is the large greenhouse: “A working greenhouse, not a toy greenhouse!” Peggy points out. Then there’s the big barn, with room for ten stalls plus feed and tack rooms. There are pastures too, including a board-fenced paddock with a run-in shed.

Sadly, the Duvalls are working up the courage to leave this, their idea of heaven, and the property is on the market. Much as they love it, they have other endeavors they wish to pursue, and feel that simplifying their home life would help. But it is certainly hard. “We put our heart and soul into this house,” says Jay. “But this house will outlive us all and it will serve people for generations without a whole lot of grief,” Peggy adds firmly. And I believe it will.

Wendy Gooditus is a realtor with ReMax Roots in Berryville.