Seronera’s views reach around the globe

If you go

What: Trinity Episcopal Church’s 55th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour
When: Oct. 15-16
Where: Three homes are on the tour (11 to 5 Saturday, 1 to 5 Sunday), with tea served at the Middleton Inn, Main Street in Washington.
Tickets: $30 (includes tea), available at Trinity Parish Hall, Gay Street, Washington. Individual houses can be visited for $10. Call Helen Williams at 540-937-4279 for more information.

By Helen Williams
Special to the Rappahannock News
Seronera is a colorful and comfortable family home, with spectacular views of Old Rag and the Blue Ridge and a profusion of flowers and shrubs outside. An eclectic interior reflecting four generations of world travelers – and celebrating the work of National Geographic photographers – completes the second house on the 55th annual Dried Flower Show and House Tour of Trinity Episcopal Church.

The tour is Oct. 15-16, 11 to 5 on Saturday, 1 to 5 on Sunday.

As you approach the home of Chris and Elizabeth Johns, a gentle rising driveway curves over hills and dales till you reach the painted sign announcing Seronera, named for another beautiful site in Africa. The charming brick and stucco Virginia country home beyond, which National Geographic editor Johns and his wife share with three children and four dogs, has a large wraparound patio filled with unique containers full of plants of all shapes and sizes.

This profusion adds to the gentle Mediterranean look and feel of the exterior, with its colorful roof and brick columns and arches. In the 20 years the Johns have lived on the property, they have increased the footprint of the house by a third to suit their family’s needs, and with a growing awareness of the need to be energy efficient and environmentally sensitive.

STORIES TOLD: Seronera’s dining room contains a large Spanish table made from a door, chairs that spent the war years in a basement in Paris for safekeeping and an early 19th-century grandfather clock, and a framed photo you might have seen in National Geographic. Photo by Ruthie Windsor Mann.
STORIES TOLD: Seronera’s dining room contains a large Spanish table made from a door, chairs that spent the war years in a basement in Paris for safekeeping and an early 19th-century grandfather clock, and a framed photo you might have seen in National Geographic. Photo by Ruthie Windsor Mann

Aided by landscape architects Jay Monroe and Rosa Crocker and county builder Joe Keyser, they have produced a home both beautiful and comfortable. A full energy audit by Andrew Grigsby of Commonwealth Sustainable Works encouraged the Johns to re-insulate the entire house. The wraparound porch, besides being comfortable and interesting, also protects the home’s south and west sides from the weather.

At ground level, the original house is now the living room, dining room, guest bedroom and front hall, while the addition houses the family room and kitchen combined, a large airy space open to the south and west but protected from the sun by the spacious porch and patio. This family room/kitchen has an open floor plan suited to the ever-evolving needs of a busy family, colorful in its paintings of African animals, and photographs from the pages of National Geographic.

The tiled sideboard and stereo cabinet were custom-made in Mexico in the 1970s when Elizabeth’s father served there with the State Department. Hickory kitchen cabinets and dark granite counters are enlivened by Ethiopian crosses over the sink, a Vietnamese fish mobile, a print of Nancy Keyser’s guinea hens and a small decorative mirror from Iran.

The living room is dominated by a stone wall with a fireplace. When not holding firewood, it shows a collection of baskets and a stuffed alligator. A wall of built-in bookcases showcase mementos and books on all subjects, especially photography.

THE VIEW from Seronera is of the Blue Ridge to the south and west, as seen here through the front door. Photo by Ruthie Windsor Mann.
THE VIEW from Seronera is of the Blue Ridge to the south and west, as seen here through the front door. Photo by Ruthie Windsor Mann.

Two Chinese paintings of horses and a Vietnamese city roof scene provide a bright contrast to a corner cupboard, made by Elizabeth’s great-great-grandfather. The cupboard still has the original glass, and is home to an eclectic collection of china, crystal and folk art. Off the living room is a guest room, whose twin beds are home to part of Elizabeth’s collection of toy stuffed African animals.

A long hall connects the living and family rooms. It contains two old family desks, one with a collection of carved elephants of all kinds, and done in all sorts of materials, from wood to jade.

The dining room contains a large Spanish table, built from a door. The dining chairs are French and spent the war years in a basement in Paris for safekeeping. A tall grandfather clock is from the early 1800s. A portrait of Elizabeth at age 12, in her riding dress, sits above a painted Asian chest. Another large portrait of the three Johns children with their dogs, by Rappahannock artist Sandra Forbush, hangs above the fireplace.

Three striking rugs, one in the dining room, another in the hall and the last in the living room, are from Kazakstan.

Seronera, like its namesake across the seas, is a property whose natural beauty both enhances and reflects the values held dear by the Johns family. Enjoying the house and its surroundings while consciously working to protect and preserve them is clearly one of those important values.

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