With the tried, true, and new
By Pam Kamphuis, photography by Jaclyn Dyrholm
Virginia Donelson Collins’s family has an eye for art, design, and decor. Combined with an appreciation for family antiques, thrift store finds, historical architecture, and thoughtful restoration, that adds to the creation of a stunning home at Merriewood, the antebellum Greek Revival Virginia estate she shares with her husband, James Collins.
The original house was designed and constructed by master builder Major William Jennings in 1856, in a two-over-two architectural layout. The house had two rooms on the ground floor and two on the second floor, with a center hallway between, making the house only one room deep. It was constructed from materials on the property: homemade bricks and lumber milled by slaves.
Many changes were made to the home through the years by subsequent owners after the Jennings family, including the installation of bathrooms and closets in the original rooms and a small addition off the back of the house.
The Collinses began a restoration of the house in 1996, eliminating the decrepit 1940s addition. They restored the house to its original state, and—locating all closets and bathrooms in a new, large, modern addition—returned the rooms to their Civil War-era condition.
The restoration of the house and Mrs. Collins’s eye for thrift store gems has resulted in the seamless combination of family antiques and finds that have been restored to create a unique and elegant living space.
The Original Rooms
The Modern Addition
“When houses of this style and period are added on, it is typically done in an ‘L’ or ‘T’ shape. Because this addition is actually bigger than the brick portion of the house, the challenge for the architect, William Ryall of NYC, was to not let the ‘tail wag the dog’ with a massive wing. His solution was to run this gallery (above left) along the back of the house, widening the appearance of the original rectangle, and to construct the living room with no room above it. Bathrooms, closets, the kitchen, and two additional bedrooms are on this side of the house.”
—Virginia Donelson Collins