When Sarah Holway toured an 1800s farmhouse in Waterford, Virginia, two years ago, it felt more like Truvy's Place from Steel Magnolias than the elegant, Federal-style home that stands today. The previous owner had enclosed the side porch and turned it into a beauty parlor. Another owner dropped the ceilings and replaced the original windows with vinyl models. But Sarah, a former art teacher and an advocate for school gardens, was undeterred. "When I walked on the property and looked at the view, I felt such a strong reaction that I began to cry," she says. At the time, Sarah lived in D.C. but regularly drove to the country on weekends to pick up produce at a farm run by friends. "I knew I didn't want to live in a condo for the rest of my life," she says. So Sarah took the leap and, with the help of a contractor, spent nine months removing nails from damaged lathe walls, using a soft bristled brush to clean the antique brick, and demo-ing drywall before hauling buckets of it to a dumpster outside during blizzards.
The process revealed the house's 19th-century bones, and Sarah's inner mettle. "I was ready on a deeper level for this kind of challenge," she says. Now that she's done, Sarah can enjoy the fruits of her labor, both figurative and literal thanks to the berries growing in the garden. Fun fact: Waterford, Virginia, is one of few villages that's a designated National Historic Landmark.
The previous kitchen sink had double drain boards and was too large for the space where Sarah wanted to move it, so she brought in this "new" one from an architectural salvage store in D.C.
It's no surprise that Sarah, the co-founder of , a food justice organization, had strong feelings about her kitchen. On the more utilitarian side of the space, she selected character-rich pieces, including eight bentwood chairs—"I have a bentwood obsession," she says—which surround a table she (with the help of boyfriend Matt Rasnake) built by hand. Sarah takes an equally hands-on approach to clean-up: In lieu of a dishwasher, she handwashes china and silverware before placing the latter in wall-mounted metal drainage cups (). The vintage GE refrigerator is the perfect spot to stash the peas, spinach, lettuce, and radishes Sarah grows every spring in her garden.
Beautiful brick was hiding behind the drywall in the sitting room.
Just across from the kitchen, a cozy sitting area is decked with a set of rattan furniture that Sarah bought at a rummage sale in nearby Leesburg for $400. The fireplace, which had to be rebuilt from the inside, was covered in stucco to balance all the exposed brick. A 25-foot-long hand-hewn beam spans the entire length of the kitchen and sitting area, and the ladder, which came from an on-property barn, goes all the way to the attic.
The floors in this attic-turned-master were full-on filthy. Instead of refinishing them—which would have simultaneously stripped away the patina—Sarah scrubbed each plank with a wire brush before vacuuming up the dirt. Sarah also chose to embrace the uneven stucco that allows brick to peek through. Her collection of Frye boots doubles as decor because, as with most old houses, closet space is at a premium. Various antiquing scores flank the bed, including a glass lamp that she found at an estate sale at the home of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. "He was a great man, so it has good energy," she says.
No particleboard bookshelves could ever stack up to the charm of these vintage peach crates, borrowed from a friend's farm. "I was supposed to give them back during sweet potato season two years ago," she says. "But the reading nook was too cute to dismantle." The 1980s black bamboo chairs hail from her dentist's office. "He offered them to my mother and me because he knows what furniture junkies we are!" says Sarah.
The entryway was originally painted two shades of green and had built-in shelving that made the space feel tiny.
Sarah stands in the entryway, accessorized with a rug and various coat hangers.