At Twin Oaks Tavern Winery, family saw a retreat ripe for renovation

July 11, 2013

You might assume that a high-powered real estate broker like Donna Evers, founder of Evers & Co. Real Estate in the District, would spend her day off at a spa.

Actually, on weekends she plants vines, crushes grapes and serves wine to customers at her country retreat, the Twin Oaks Tavern Winery in Bluemont. Evers, who purchased the property with her late husband, Bob, in 1998, spends each weekend working alongside her grandchildren; it’s a labor of love for the whole family.

“I love being surrounded by a nice atmosphere to work in, so we’ve tried to keep the property more gardenlike than farmlike,” says Evers, who has incorporated decorative elements such as handsome wood furniture, hand-painted designs on the walls and wood-beamed ceilings in her private home, the working areas of the winery and the public spaces.

Evers and her grandchildren, Clay McFarren, 22, Lauren McFarren, 19, and Andrew McFarren, 11, spend as many weekends as possible together at the vineyard, where music plays on a sound system throughout the house and winery. On Saturdays, the family and visitors can enjoy live music in the wine-tasting room.

The Everses bought Twin Oaks after the stone house had been damaged by a fire. Its 6.5 acres, which were littered with dilapidated outbuildings, chain-link fencing and poison ivy, have been transformed into a serene country retreat. The Everses paid $87,000 for the property and spent about $700,000 on capital improvements so far.

“We intended to renovate and sell it, but we fell in love with this place and decided to keep this one,” says Evers, who has renovated more than 20 properties.

Twin Oaks Tavern, in the Bear’s Den Rural Historic District, is one of many stone houses built on the mountain between 1890 and 1920. During those years, there were multiple inns and a large hotel in the area that catered to city dwellers looking to escape Washington’s notorious summer heat. Twin Oaks was a popular inn until it closed in the 1950s.

“We spent our first year sandblasting the charred stone of the house and pulling off the old porches that hung off the building,” Evers says. “We had to replace some of the wood beams of the ceiling and restore some of the others. The upstairs bathtub had fallen right through the ceiling into the middle of the kitchen where we now have our center island. There were rocks and stones everywhere on the land that had to be cleared.”

Today, the stone house is pristine, with a new stone patio and extensive stone retaining walls that define the property and separate the main house from the winery. While the Everses removed many of the outbuildings on the land, they restored one building for storage and another that now serves as the Bluemont office for Evers & Co. Real Estate. About 110 agents in four offices work for Evers & Co., which last year rang up sales of nearly $400 million.

The Everses expanded the main house with a two-level addition, originally with a music room on the lower level and a sunroom on the main level. As the winery grew, the music room was converted to a barrel room. A spiral staircase, hidden under a trap door in the sunroom, leads to the barrel room so that the family can reach the working areas of the winery without going outside in winter. The sunroom faces west with an expansive view of the Shenandoah Valley and the Blue Ridge Mountains.

Evers added a new front door and created a stone-and-glass vestibule modeled on the vestibule at the Bavarian Inn in Charlottesville. An enormous keystone, original to the house, rests above the front door, and the side walls are a mix of clear and stained-glass windows.

“The walls of this place are a couple of feet thick, which you can see at the entrance and in the deep windowsills,” Evers says. “The stone, floor-to-ceiling fireplace was a charred mess when we bought the house, and we had to sandblast it clean to eliminate the smell. We got rid of the worst of the charred pieces of wood and saved what we could for the beamed ceiling.”

The original pine flooring was sandblasted and then covered with oak flooring. The main level includes an open living room with the fireplace at one end and a dining room defined by columns. Evers decorates her home with an eclectic mix of thrift store treasures that she labels “rough and ready” and elegant antiques, many of them reupholstered in soft yet durable materials. She found the multi-leaved wood dining room table for $25 at an antiques store.

“We had 27 people around the table last year for Thanksgiving,” Andrew McFarren says.

Adjacent to the dining room is a sunroom wrapped in windows, framing views of the vines and the valley. The sunroom, like many rooms in the home, has partially exposed stone walls that were the original exterior walls of the house. A glass door leads from the sunroom to the family’s deck.

The central kitchen includes French doors to the dining room and an interior window facing the sunroom so that the family can enjoy the spectacular mountain sunsets while preparing meals. The kitchen includes stainless-steel appliances, white and glass cabinets and gray Corian countertops.

The main level also has a cozy library that can double as a guest bedroom and a full bathroom. A hardwood staircase leads to the upper level, where two more guest bedrooms share a renovated hall bathroom. The bedrooms each have wide ledges that surround the room that match the depth of the stone walls.

“We’re able to have 91 / 2-foot-high ceilings up here because the fire destroyed the original roof,” Evers says. “You should have seen the size of the rooms that were rented to guests when it was an inn. They were so tiny.”

Evers’s bedroom suite features a serene full bathroom and an interior window facing into her sitting room.

“We had to blast an opening through the stone exterior wall to create access to the sitting room when we built it,” Evers says. “I work up here, too, but I try to take time to stop and admire the sunset, too, when it turns this room rosy.”

The lower level includes the barrel room, a workroom and a bottling room for the winery, but Evers has decorated these spaces with stained-glass windows, hand-painted designs on the walls and beamed ceilings.

“I didn’t want this space to look like a factory,” she says.

Scott Hash, who manages the vineyard, is working with contractors on another expansion of the operation, a larger barrel room that Evers plans to decorate with beamed ceilings. For now, the construction site holds a painting of Paris by her grandson Andrew, who has expanded his role from picking the tiniest grapes on the bottom of the vines to running most of the machines in the winery.

The Everses visited Donna Evers’s relatives in Croatia last year, where they operate a vineyard that has been in the family for more than 100 years.

“We planned to sell the grapes after our first harvest in 2002, but then we decided to make wine with it,” Evers says. “That first year, we followed the e-mailed instructions from a wine consultant and made 35 gallons, then we got our license in 2008 to sell our wine. We were bottling one bottle at a time, then got a machine to do six bottles at a time, and now this spring, we’re bottling 6,500 bottles.”

Evers says they don’t distribute the wine; they just sell it at the vineyard and serve it at the many events held at the vineyard, such as birthday parties, anniversary parties and, most memorable, a candlelit rehearsal dinner at sunset. The winery includes two tasting rooms with fireplaces and a dramatic wood-beamed cathedral ceilings, and a wood bar formed from the trunk of a tree on Evers’s daughter’s nearby farm.

“My parents got married under that tree years ago, and then it was struck by lightning,” Clay McFarren says. “We cut [it] into two planks to create a rustic bar.”

Evers’s love of her family, friends and businesses can be seen in the private and public spaces at Twin Oaks.

“In the real estate business, we get a lot of emotional feedback from our clients,” Evers says. “It’s very rewarding to work with people who are grateful for our help finding them the right house or selling their house.

“We get a lot of emotional feedback at the winery, too, because people are happy that we give them what they want: a nice atmosphere, good wine and live music,” she says. “Our visitors come back here often and have become our friends and clients. People come in and play the piano, and then we also have professional musicians who have become our friends, too.”

Lerner is a freelance writer.

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