The Holly Lawn estate, this year's Richmond Symphony Orchestra League Designer House, boasts much more than curb appeal.
Devotees of home makeover shows will be able to see Richmond›s top interior designers showing off. Fans of historic houses, here's your chance to go inside a 1901 Queen Anne house listed on the National Historic Register of Places. For those who follow extreme weather events, this is the same house on Hermitage Road that made local news when a 175-year old red oak came crashing down on it during a storm in June 2016.
The Richmond Symphony Orchestra League, the fundraising and educational arm of the Richmond Symphony, was founded in 1958, one year after the symphony. In 1984, the group was seeking a major fundraiser and took inspiration from Washington's Designer House. The league's first, a rousing success, transformed Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden's Bloemendaal House. Holly Lawn will be the 18th.
Every other year for 36 years, the process has been the same. The league contacts real estate agents and local historical societies seeking suggestions for an appropriate house, usually an older one because they're more popular for tours. It's also essential that the homeowners are willing to move out for the duration of the fundraiser.
The league signs a lease for three months, the homeowners are charged with moving every single possession out of the house and the group effectively becomes keeper of the house while the owners are away. After a walk-through, the house is turned back over to the homeowners in October.
Choosing the interior designers requires an exacting process. They are invited to submit proposals, choose three rooms they'd be willing to decorate and make presentations to the committee. Once this year's committee decided who got what room, the 18 designers had 30 days to work their magic on 27 spaces before the house opens to the public.
"The couple who own this house feel like they're taking care of it until the next owners take over from them," says Susan Williams, chairwoman of the Designer House. "They're eager to share it and show it off."
At the Bare Bones party on Aug. 2, the curious can get a first look at what the Virginia Department of Historic Resources' Chris Novelli told The Richmond Times-Dispatch was "one of the best examples of the Queen Anne style in the state of Virginia." Though the house will be completely empty, it'll be an opportunity to see the extensive restoration work done after the tree removal. Williams says that rather than just make the necessary repairs, the homeowners had the house restored to its original state.
A preview gala called Overture at Holly Lawn is scheduled for Sept. 14 with a cocktail buffet, tours and symphony musicians playing from 6 to 10 p.m. Right before the gala, the homeowners get shown the decorated house for the first time and exercise their first choice rights to purchase any of the furnishings, wall and floor coverings and décor.
While they have first dibs, what they don't want is available to the public throughout the house's run, although all items remain on site until the last day of tours.
Pulling off a month of house tours for more than 7,000 visitors is no small feat. The league recruits scores of volunteers to take tickets, greet guests, talk about individual rooms and work in the Smoke Pit Grill Café and a boutique set up in the garage. A 100-foot-by 40-foot tent shelters the café as well as corporate and private events at night — which once included a wedding.
Thirsty Thursday events allow visitors to tour the house in the evening while enjoying food from local restaurants, wine, Hardywood beer and live music. Veteran local crooner Steve Bassett, known for "Sweet Virginia Breeze," kicks off the series Sept. 20.
"It's a big commitment on everyone's part," Williams says. "But it's all for the benefit of keeping a vibrant music community right here in Richmond."
As part of the league's goal to provide consistent and substantial financial support to the symphony every year, it donates $100,000 of Designer House proceeds. Because the event raises more than that, it reserves the extra to donate during the off years when there's no Designer House.
If it sounds like a lot of work, it is. The league will take the rest of 2018 off after the house closes, but by early 2019, members will be busy looking for houses for 2020.
"We're excited to show off what wonderful design talent we have in Richmond," says Faye Holland, the Designer House's major sponsor chairwoman.
"And we love giving that big check to the symphony." S
Richmond Symphony Orchestra League Designer House runs Sept. 17 – Oct. 14. The Bare Bones party is Aug. 2 from 5-7 p.m., 4015 Hermitage Road. RSOL.org.