He may be a sought-after kitchen designer, but Marvin Daniel loves to tell people that his wife fired him once from his own house. And then she used his business partner, Brian Pilgrim, to design their kitchen instead.
Cathy Daniel says she simply knew what she wanted a range set on an angle, some lovely cabinets and pink-and-white Portuguese tiles. "I'm all about pretty," she says. "I don't care how it functions." And though she can cook, she's more likely to be "bartendress," as she calls it, while Marvin does the chef's work on the professional stove or the massive grill out back.
So when Pilgrim came up with a pleasing design, the couple plunged in again and built a new kitchen where leaky pipes and tired old cabinets had been. Their Virginia Beach vacation house was one major step closer to completion. "But it's always a work in progress," Marvin says, "because there's always something to do in a house built in the 1930s." Fortunately, construction and renovation projects aren't daunting to the couple. Their professional and personal lives depend on detailed planning and the assembling of dream teams, as Cathy describes them, to carry out the work.
Their house in Richmond is a tiled fantasy with colorful, clubby appeal and the latest in upscale features. But their beach house has different needs, and as with many older properties, it took a few years to lift its personality to the level of its owners, who are vivacious, fun-loving and always ready to entertain.
The beach place, with a lavish lawn and ocean-side setting, is a gathering spot for an ever-larger contingent of neighbors, guests and family members.
Sometimes they beg to stay in the attic guest room with its sailboat wallpaper and red-trimmed linens. They'll lounge in rockers on the porch or around the umbrella table, or settle into dining chairs rescued from a redo at The Greenbrier and now covered in striped vinyl that's the pinnacle of beach chic.
And like all good kitchen planners, the Daniels know that refrigeration is key for a crowd: They have a Sub-Zero with freezer drawers hidden behind wood panels in the kitchen, and two extra units in the garage for the bulk foods and drinks they invariably have at hand.
This isn't a hot dog and hamburger operation, either. Marvin's more likely to grill lamb chops or scallops and pull nice vintages from the wine cooler; Cathy's adept at the finishing touches like fresh flowers and herbs from the gardens and whimsical striped cushions for the settees.
Jokes, tall tales and good cheer are nourished by the festive décor, which is layered with memories and Cathy's penchant for bright colors and distinctive patterns. Visitors can't miss her mother's exquisite needlework, framed family photos and brilliant paintings, including a family portrait by Greig Leach, and out back, a true conversation piece.
On the doorway to the outdoor shower, a sign that says Yank's Yard is simple but confounding. Cathy and her best friend painted the sign when they were 12 as a gift for her father, who was nicknamed Yank. Decades passed, several hurricanes blew through and the sign disappeared, seemingly forever. But one day a cousin appeared at the Daniels' door, the sign in her hand she had bought it at a yard sale in Norfolk. No one knows quite how it landed there, but now it's nailed into place with more than a bit of awe.
And that's how the couple views their life at the beach. "We're very lucky to have this home," Marvin says, "and it's laid-back and casual. We're here every weekend. Even if we have something on a Saturday night in Richmond, we come down on Sunday morning. We're lucky to have gotten to know so many local people, and it's a huge part of our lives."
His business, KDW Home, opens a second location in Virginia Beach next month and already does nearly half of its installations in that area. Asked whether that will make the vacation home a little less of a getaway, Daniel says it's not likely. The house, with all of its idiosyncrasies and old-fashioned charm, should remain a getaway magnet calling for a return visit the minute their cars head toward the highway.
And the journey back and forth is also a pleasure, Cathy says: "You've got to stop at the produce stands and get the local corn and tomatoes, and you can call ahead to Virginia Diner and have your ham biscuits waiting.
"I know how lucky I am. I pinch myself every day and say, when is the next time I can turn around and come back?"