With its welcoming front porch and flower-filled window boxes, the Flint Hill Public House exudes the country charm expected of a location in rural Rappahannock County, Va. Much of the onetime schoolhouse’s exterior was preserved when it was renovated as a restaurant and four-suite hotel.
On the other side of its red door, however, is a complete contrast to the early 1900s facade. Clean-lined, light spaces open up before visitors. White leather chairs rest on dark-stained wooden floors. Floor-to-ceiling mirrors reflect windows and decor. Colorful contemporary prints and paintings stand out on the smooth pale walls.
The interiors bring to mind a chic boutique hotel plucked from the city.
“We did everything we could to take the country out of the country inn,” says Washington architect and interior designer Ernesto Santalla, who directed the renovation.
These opposites — traditional and modern, country and city — comfortably coexist in the business and personal lives of the inn’s owners, William Waybourn and Craig Spaulding. Waybourn likes urban living and pared-down contemporary design, while Spaulding prefers to rusticate while surrounded by antique finds and vintage movie posters. Thus Spaulding spends most of his time at the couple’s home tucked in a forest near Linden, Va., while Waybourn makes regular forays to their newly purchased, sleekly designed condo in downtown Washington.
“I’m a minimalist, and Craig is what he finds prowling around sales and eBay,” says Waybourn. “Maybe the secret to our relationship is that we couldn’t be more different: I like things orderly and put away; Craig, not so much.”
The couple’s newest enterprises are the Front Porch Market & Grill and the Side Porch, a rentable events space, which opened last year in The Plains. Like the inn, they are in historical buildings treated to a contemporary sensibility. Alter Urban Design Collaborative of Baltimore updated the restaurant with accents of bright green paint and hanging clusters of industrial lighting.
Waybourn and Spaulding, each in his 60s, didn’t start their careers as entrepreneurs. They met in 1973 at the now-defunct Dallas Times Herald newspaper, where Waybourn was a business editor and Spaulding was a graphic artist in the advertising department.
During the 1980s, they became increasingly involved in the gay rights movement, and Waybourn eventually served as president of what is now the Dallas Gay and Lesbian Alliance. In 1991, he moved to Washington to launch the Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund, a lobbying group modeled after the women-focused Emily’s List. Spaulding joined him while continuing to run Screen Archives Entertainment, an online catalogue business specializing in movie music that he established in the 1980s and still oversees.
In 1997, while living in the city, they purchased a ranch house in the Virginia countryside and gradually fixed it up, with the most recent renovation completed last year.
The partners share the house, which is 18 miles from the inn, with their three German shepherds. Their abode is easy to spot because it is painted a vivid purple to stand out amid the tall trees. The homeowners considered yellow and red but chose purple based on the way the color changed in the sun. “It can appear as a very bright purple on sunny days or as a darker or richer purple on cloudy or darker days,” says Waybourn. “To get the color, I had the paint store match a label from a Ralph Lauren sports coat.”
Outdoors, the couple added an expansive rear deck and 15 concrete sheep sculptures clustered on one side of the house. “It’s a great way to protect the hostas and flower beds from the dogs,” says Spaulding.
Inside the two-level dwelling, rustic pieces, comfortable seating and quirky artwork fill every nook and cranny. “In decorating, I put together whatever I like,” says Spaulding, pointing to a grouping of cast-iron animal figurines on the fireplace hearth.
Looming from a wall is a replica of a head belonging to a moropus, a prehistoric precursor to the horse, which points toward the spiraling stairwell to Spaulding’s basement office. Displayed behind the living area’s leather sofa are a painted wooden horse head from India and a colorful Czech puzzle. The dining table is made from chestnut boards from an old barn.
In the master bedroom, advertisements for the films “The Birds” and “To Kill a Mockingbird” flank a dozen whimsical bird portraits by Florida artist Steven Kenny. A painting purportedly once owned by Ernest Hemingway hangs over the sleigh bed under a steer skull.
“The country house is one big dust-catcher — just ask our housekeeper — but lots of fun to live in and very comfortable,” says Waybourn. “It’s always a surprise to find something new hanging on the wall.”
The couple pivoted from this crowded, eclectic style when decorating the Flint Hill Inn, choosing a more sophisticated, streamlined design to make the interior totally unexpected. Waybourn had met Santalla through another of his businesses — Long View Gallery in Shaw — where the architect had exhibited his photography in 2011. “When Ernesto showed me his concepts, I was really surprised at how he had respected the building’s heritage yet brought it into the next century,” says Waybourn. “I liked his color selections, the fabrics, the mirrors, the glass. Our only disagreement was the red color of the deck out back, which he routinely reminds me was not his choice.”
In 2014, Waybourn tapped Santalla to design a tiny condo in the new CityCenterDC development that he bought to be near Long View Gallery. “I wanted a place that was convenient and secure, and that I could personalize and entertain in,” says Waybourn.
Unlike the secluded country house, the 700-square-foot, one-bedroom apartment is connected with busy scenes of traffic, passersby and CityCenter’s luxe shops and restaurants through floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides. The original oak floors were stained a darker color so they visually link to the color of the outdoor plaza visible below.
“We embraced the fishbowl concept,” says Santalla, pointing to the light-studded metal orbs — Chinese knockoffs of high-end Dutch lighting designs — that hang at the corner windows. “People passing by the building often look up from the sidewalk to photograph the fixtures at night.”
Santalla created the illusion of more space with ceilings that appear to hover in places through suspended “clouds” — sections of drywall incorporating halogen spotlights painted white in contrast to the dark surfaces above them.
“Small spaces have to be meticulously designed to work,” Santalla says. “It’s all about quality, not quantity.”
In the kitchen, the island was tripled in size to serve as a dining table, desk and serving area. A frosted glass partition between the living area and bedroom was replaced with drywall to create privacy and provide a surface for mounting the TV. That wall is painted the same neutral color as the kitchen island for visual continuity.
Furnishings add punches of color. Purple “Metropolitan” lounge chairs from B&B Italia are paired with sculptural, red-metal “Pac” tables from YLiving. Kitchen island stools are upholstered in orange fabric. “The contrast adds visual separation,” Santalla says. “It is another subtle way to bring a sense of levity to the space.”
Pillows on the leather sofa are covered in an ink-blot-patterned fabric. “When they arrived,” says Waybourn with a grin, “I called Ernesto to tell him that someone had spilled wine all over them.”
The master suite centers on a custom bed with nightstands and lighting built into the wooden headboard and space-saving drawers around the base, similar to those Santalla created for the Flint Hill Public House.
Hung throughout the rooms, as at the inn, are artworks from Long View Gallery. The boldest is a large painting by Chicago artist Gian Garofalo that anchors the living space. Its pattern of colorful resin stripes recalls the work of the late Washington Color School artist Gene Davis.
“When we talked about art, I assumed the pieces would have to be small to fit into the space,” says Waybourn, “but Ernesto insisted on big pieces.”
Adds Santalla: “The art has to hold the space so it doesn’t become bland.”
As Waybourn’s domain, the city dwelling is used for gallery business and entertaining. He has hosted sit-down dinners for 10, parties for close to 20, and business meetings in which the island serves as a conference table and the TV is swiveled around for presentations.
Spaulding, meanwhile, prefers to remain in the country. “The only time I’ve been there,” he recalls, “was when the condo was still under construction.”
Deborah K. Dietsch is a freelance writer who specializes in architecture and design.
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