The 58th annual Dried Flower Sale and House Tour, sponsored by Washington’s Trinity Episcopal Church is set for Oct. 19-20. This annual event raises money for local, national and international charities, and has been a feature of the autumn season in Rappahannock County since it began in 1955.
This year, as usual, the women are drying flowers and weeds, processing boxwood, laurel and pear foliage, and finding containers, as they prepare to design the hundreds of arrangements that will be offered for sale in the Parish Hall of Trinity Church. The three houses chosen for the tour this year are also preparing for the hundreds of visitors that will be admiring their architecture, décor, furnishings and gardens on that fall weekend.
The newest house on the tour this year is Swan Lake Farm, a 13-year project of owner Lynn Sullivan, who first built the blue barn for her horses, then the cottage to live in as the house was being built, and who now delights in the open spaces and sweeping views of her finished home on Rediviva Lane in Washington.
Named for the five swans she once had on her pond (and who occasionally come back to visit), her property combines everything one might need to enjoy the delights of country living. Outside, a pond featuring an island with designed plantings, another bigger fishing pond, a lavender garden and a stone patio with views of Old Rag and a 270-degree panorama of the Blue Ridge, provide a background for a Provencal house, its windows oriented to the views.
Set on a knoll and quietly dominating the scene, the house is built for entertaining. Open spaces, generous proportions and separate entrances for guests give both a practical and aesthetic meaning to hospitality. The front door opens onto a dining room furnished with a dining table and two end chairs made by Peter Kramer. The other dining room chairs are antiques of all types, cane and rush.
Slate floors continue all through the first floor, into the living room with its intriguing fireplace, red leather sofa and armchairs, and into the kitchen as well, where black cabinets and dark granite countertops make a dramatic statement. The kitchen table sits in front of the windows, so every sip of coffee is enhanced by the beauty of the mountains. The bedroom features a Peter Kramer bed, with a carved headboard. Sullivan shares this space with her two dogs, Finn and Tilly — when she’s not offering concerts, parties, dinners and other entertainment for her many guests.
Off U.S. 522 south of Sperryville, over a low water bridge, and up the mountain will lead you to “O’Leary’s Cabin,” the old name for the 1740 three-level log cabin that is the oldest house on the tour this year.
This is one of the oldest structures in our county, if not the oldest, and certainly witnessed Indian raids, talk of rebellion and all the turmoil leading to the Revolutionary War. But for the past 60 years or so, it had been called “Milly’s Cabin,” owned by Mildred Fletcher, who always felt that a women “should have a house of her own.”
This philosophy is recounted by her daughter, Martha Stuart Thornton Fletcher Trope, who now owns it, and enjoys is whenever she can with her husband, son and two happy dogs, as well as a daughter who comes up often to do research on stink bugs for Virginia Tech. “My father did many, many repairs on this place when my mother bought it, and it has been, over the years, a place of numerous happy memories for our family,” said Trope. “All the cousins would come and we would play in the stream all day. We had all kinds of parties and picnics here, once we all, all seven of us, lived here, lots of our friends honeymooned here, and it stands for a place of fun and contentment for us all.”
Certainly it has all the trappings of an idyllic spot, where once the family could watch the races at Thornton Hill through the trees. Furnished with family antiques and other period pieces from all over Virginia, the cabin’s chestnut beams, old hardware and short doorways attest to its great age. The first floor has the living room, with its stone fireplace, a bedroom with many old quilts, and a tiny back porch.
On the lower lever, with its stone floors, is the dining room and kitchen. Trope has enlivened the house with beautiful decoupaged work that she does herself: plates, trays, kitchen backsplash and pictures. Upstairs is one big loft, with sleeping room for six. Outside is a new spacious outdoor shower with views of the mountains.
The third house on the tour is only a house temporarily. Its real use will be the artist’s studio of Ruthie Windsor-Mann, once she builds her real house nearby. But for now, it serves as a studio as well as a home, and works well as both. Designed by Jay Monroe and built by Joe Keyser, the 840-square-foot, one-room structure is lighted by large windows opened to views of both the sunrise and sunset, as well as the changing face of the hayfields that surround it just off Tiger Valley Road in Washington.
A storage shed set at right angles to the studio provides a nook for gardens and plantings. The entrance is through elegant double doors, painted a dark forest green and accentuated with heavy iron knockers. As soon as one enters, the whole room is in view, but a wide hallway, with bookcases on one side, provides focus. And one cannot really take in the one room in one view, because of the interesting placement of furnishings and their unique character.
A fireplace and mantel provide a space for viewing the newest painting, and comfortable upholstered seating, with colorful throws and pillows delineates the living room area. On the opposite wall, a small kitchen has its place. In a corner, hidden behind a wide sideboard, is the bed, draped with quilts and pillows, and occasionally by one of Ruthie’s two cats.
Over the bed is a serious of sea paintings, inspired by the interplay of light and water. An old English oak pub table is the dining room. In another corner, a large easel and a set of almost dry oils marks the studio section. Books of all sorts on every subject, mementos of a life of travel and art work, and personal favorites, such as toy soldiers arranged against a hand-painted backdrop, add to the charm.
This year’s choice of houses spans the centuries, and showcases the very personal styles of the owners, each one different, but interesting in its own right, and fascinating for visitors.