Now in its third century, a handsome Virginia country home called Orlean House has seen its share of residents. Some just won’t leave.
At least three ghosts linger, according to owners Jack Krumholtz and Kevin DiLallo. There’s the one who kept some guests up all night after knocking on their door, there is the wandering chambermaid, and then there is Florence Love. If a room is suddenly perfumed with rose scent, the longtime grande dame of Orlean House is doing her rounds.
What was harder to live with, Krumholtz and DiLallo say, was the way previous owners had slowly cluttered the landscape and visually and emotionally separated the house from its hillside location in Fauquier County.
Eight years on, a new garden is maturing as an exemplar of the landscape designer’s art: It fixes flaws, adds desired elements and brings an understated unity and coherence to the whole site. (The interior of Orlean House was extensively renovated as well.)
“When someone looks at the property and says, ‘It’s been like this forever,’ that’s a huge compliment,” said Richard Arentz, the D.C.- and Virginia-based landscape architect who led the project.
The house and grounds are open to the public Wednesday and Thursdayas part of Historic Garden Week in Virginia. Arentz’s own nearby property, as well as the garden
of another client, are open, too, for the Warrenton tour (visit www.vagardenweek.
org for details).
Orlean House had been a work in progress almost from the start: The original clapboard house of 1795 received a major stone addition in 1812. By the time Krumholtz and DiLallo came to it, it was essentially a horse farm in a part of Fauquier where the equestrian life runs deep.
Arentz was instructed to rework the landscape to include a tennis court and swimming pool. These are normal, if major, requests. What was more fundamental for Arentz was the need to sort out the house’s relationship to its 18-acre site.
Orlean is a village west of Warrenton; the two intersecting country roads that locate the community also frame two sides of the Orlean House homestead. The property contains a guest cottage, a large stable building and a historic barn, as well as a willow-lined pond alongside Leeds Manor Road. Before the improvements, a service drive connected the road to a parking area near a grove of trees at the corner of the main house. “There was a steppingstone path that led you to the back door,” said Arentz. “It wasn’t presenting the house.”
He saw the stone wing as the house’s main facade and set about creating an entrance. He designed a parking court to deliver guests to the new portal. Masons reworked the original stone retaining wall, enlarging the stairs to the house. Two overgrown boxwood were removed, a brick path laid, and the porch and steps to the house rebuilt.
Arentz also moved the driveway so that it connected to the other road, traversed much of the property and encircled outbuildings in a way that tied them together.
The old parking area was transformed into a woodland garden. Arentz set about creating a stately solution to the front of the original house. Here, an open porch was enclosed, and the resulting breakfast room now looks out to a herringbone brick dining terrace and beyond, to the defining feature of Orlean House: a large, ceremonial lawn framed in a clipped hedge of yew. The lawn has become the setting for important events: the party to mark the owners’ 25-year partnership as well as the outdoor wedding of Krumholtz’s sister.
The swimming pool and its terrace are tucked to the side and lead to a hillside of wildflowers.
In front of the distant guest cottage, Arentz placed a terrace containing a lawn and flower beds. Before, he said, it appeared as if the house might “tumble down the hill.”
Farther up the hillside, the tennis court and its viewing platform recede into the contours of the slope, but within them they offer a perch to view the Blue Ridge Mountains and the setting sun. It is a view DiLallo and Krumholtz, both lawyers, never tire of.
The transformation of the landscape was not timid and clearly not cheap, but it is subtle, and for the owners, a disjointed property now functions not just aesthetically but in a practical way. In the warm months, they spend much of their day living outdoors.
Arentz knew early on what he had to do — remove all the accumulated chaos of decades of prior ownership — but the way to achieve that was to take down horse paddocks, frame a new road and create a calm journey to the house. “For me, it was all about the sense of arrival,” he said.