Serenity Now (From Richmond Magazine's R•Home )

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Nan and George McVey trade a traditional home for a Midcentury ranch with an aim to pare down and update their aesthetic | Photos by Ansel Olson | Flowers by Freddie Gray

by Elizabeth Cogar

Nan McVey updated a dark and dated Midcentury ranch with a light, monochromatic palette and left the expanses of windows uncovered. A wall was removed from the foyer to open the space, which was painted entirely in “Cornforth White” by Farrow & Ball. She reinvented her existing furniture with fresh, neutral upholstery.

If you lived in a home designed by Duncan Lee with a garden conceived by Charles Gillette, you might think twice before moving. That’s exactly how it was for George and Nan McVey. For four decades they loved living in such a gem of a house, yet in recent years they felt ready for a change. Still, they weren’t impulsive about making a move.

“We looked at this house when it was on the market before,” Nan says of the 1950s brick ranch embedded in an old West End neighborhood. The house was sold to someone else, but when it was relisted four years later, the McVeys considered it for a second time and decided to part ways with the renowned Richmond duo of Lee and Gillette.

“Change is so good. Buying this house was a complete reversal, but it has what we wanted.” —Nan McVey

Leaving behind their handsome 1920 stone house, where they raised three boys and entertained during the 24 years George was headmaster of St. Christopher’s School, was bittersweet. They still treasure the old house and the memories they made there, but Nan is delighted to be in their new Midcentury digs.

The house provided a fun challenge to Nan, who has been working as an interior designer since 1985 and who today partners with Margaret Valentine as McVey Valentine Interior Design.

“Change is so good,” she says. “Buying this house was a complete reversal, but it has what we wanted. We were looking for one story, with room for an office for the interior design business I have with Margaret Valentine, and something fresh and energetic that would give us a new perspective.” The home’s need for updates did not put her off. “You have to think about it with imagination and adapt,” she says.

Nan quickly put her professional talents to work with a strong focus on creating an environment with clean lines and a thoughtfully curated selection of furnishings. “Decorating has been a challenge because I wanted to use family pieces, and they didn’t necessarily conform to this architecture,” she concedes.

In making choices, Nan has been faithful to her plan for “less is more.” She admits that restraint has been difficult at times, but, to her credit, most walls feature only one or two favorite things. In fact, in the hallway leading to the three bedrooms, the walls are completely bare. “I’m not hanging anything there,” she says, though she later admits there are two paintings she has considered putting up. “I held them up and asked George what he thought, and he said, ‘No.’ ” They are, however, stored nearby, just in case.

Light, color and texture are defining elements of the new look. Nan opted not to hang draperies over the south-facing living-room wall of glass. Natural light floods the room and shines in through skylights in the family room and through glass doors overlooking the garden. Luxurious Farrow & Ball paint, often in a high-gloss finish, adds sheen to brightly lit spaces and is used throughout the house in a cohesive range of whites and neutral tones. A small study just off the foyer is painted, trim and all, with a soothing grayish-brown color called “Mouse’s Back.” As for texture, soft velvet in all shades of brown covers new seating around the home. Cozy, well-cushioned carpet welcomes bare feet in the bedrooms only — wood floors in the rest of the house are clear of rugs.

The main structural change the McVeys made to the house was the removal of a wall in the foyer that separated it from the dining room and had forced traffic through the living room, creating a barrier. Now that the wall is gone, access to all corners of the house is easier.

Outside, changes have been minimal. The front yard has seen a bit of planting and rearranging, but its feathery and mature Japanese maples and a massive old oak tree remain in place. The house trim was painted a slate shade called “Downspout” by Farrow & Ball. In the backyard, a stone-rimmed fish pond occupies a corner, leaving plenty of open space for grandchildren to play.

Though they moved in last September, Nan continues to tweak, moving a mirror here and a chair there. Her attention to detail has resulted in a happy combination wherein the vintage homey flavor of well-loved furnishings blends nicely with the spareness of the house’s modern bones.

“I just keep at it until things feel comfortable,” Nan says. “There’s a feel to it.” She’s pleased with the way the house is looking and the quiet, unfussy aesthetic. “Serene … I like that word,” she says.