A Refuge Restored

Spruce Hill Farm. By Christine Craddock

Spruce Hill Farm combines style, simplicity, and the spirit of the past

Named after the Norwegian spruce trees that tower over the property, Spruce Hill Farm is a singular site off Route 211 that embodies the imagination and dedication of its current occupants. Owners Kelly Williams and Michael Beidler purchased the manor house in August 2016 and worked with Warrenton contractors Jason Atkins of SNL Construction and Mark Campbell of RES Mechanical Systems to update the home in a way that honored its history, which dates back to the turn of the 20th century.

A complementary duo to start, Williams and Beidler coordinated their building and design skills to create an idyllic residence that reflects their styles, standards, and visions of what a home should be. An architect with a residential practice in D.C., Beidler and his colleagues specialize in the preservation of homes. “For us, it’s really about the integrity of the product and the project, and about creating spaces that nurture people. We do very classic work in the sense that it’s timeless, and I think this house reflects that soul.” Operating on the same principle, Williams has been refurbishing and selling properties in the District for the past 25 years, advising clients on ways to enhance their home for maximum resale value.

Equipped with this knowledge and experience, the couple instantly recognized the potential of Spruce Hill and instinctively understood the kinds of improvements needed to revitalize the home and customize it to suit their lifestyles. “We saw nothing that had the grand character of this house. The stone walls and layout were very modest but very formal,” said Beidler. “We weren’t interested in changing the way it looked, as it’s a very classic house with a style that we really enjoy: very elegant, very simple, and very understated.” Yet the house had enough issues and quirks to require a team effort and a six-month restoration. “It was in a condition that it needed a buyer who really wanted to recreate something,” added Williams. “We needed to redo the infrastructure, but we wanted to keep the best features and embellish on what was already a beautiful setting.”

This reconstruction began with a search for the most suitable contractors for the job, a search that would lead the couple to Jason Atkins, who also recognized the existing splendor of the property. “Jason was really into the restoration idea, and that’s really hard to find,” continued Williams. “When you start getting into the guts of a house that’s had several incarnations, it’s about problem solving. And it’s difficult to find a good contractor that understands problem solving but also respects old structures.” The first problem to solve was insulation, which the entire home lacked at the time of purchase. Once this challenge was overcome, focus shifted to outdoor enhancements that would convert the well-worn 30-acre property into a functional and aesthetic haven in the hills.

Intent on optimizing the very features that drew the couple to the property in the first place, Williams and Beidler proceeded to the enclosed kitchen garden, which now serves as their personal greengrocer. “When we found this walled garden, it was perfect. After all, how often do you find something like an English garden, where you can close the gate and be able to protect everything in it? Much of our decision [to purchase the place] was driven just by the existence of that,” Williams emphasized. “We had this romantic notion of creating something where you eat what you grow, so the concept was to create a kind of yesteryear, when the kitchen garden was the place where you picked whatever you used to make a meal.”

Reviving their agrarian roots, the two cultivated a purposeful and picturesque patch, an end that was eased by the land’s nutrient-rich soil. “We both grew up that way; our families always had a big garden, and we were so grateful to have that again,” remarked Beidler. “We can just walk out the backdoor, take a tomato off the vine, and eat it. There is nothing that tastes like that. It’s just so delicious.”

Focal to the kitchen garden is its concrete centerpiece: the 7,500-gallon rectangular koi pond. Following Beidler’s design, Jason Atkins constructed the vessel in collaboration with John Bianchi of Blue Ribbon Koi in Catharpin, who devised the complicated plumbing and mechanical systems to create the ideal conditions for the fish. The geothermally heated and cooled pond is set above ground on an axis in order to maximize the water’s oxygen, thereby producing fish that are optimal in size and health.

Courtesy of Kelly Williams
The focal point of the property is this enclosed garden hat includes a 7,500-gallon rectangular koi pond.

While Beidler described this project as the most intimidating, he also recognizes the value it lends to the overall atmosphere: “The koi add that dynamic character that makes this place so meditative.” A longtime enthusiast of the koi breed, Williams also appreciates the peaceful and Zen-like effect of this feature: “You evolve with the fish. There’s something very spiritual about them. To me, the water feature is everything in a garden. Not only is it a sanctuary, but it’s also a living and working sanctuary. I love the yards and the lawns, but I think the garden is where our souls are.”

Capping off the home’s conversion is the fine art that adorns the now-insulated walls. “The story of the art is sometimes as important as the art itself,” Williams mused. And with each picture telling a story, he and Beidler thought it only right to install directional lighting to accentuate original pieces from their trips abroad and from notable D.C. artists such as Patricia Forester, Freya Grand, and Paul Ellis. “We like to pick up art when we travel because it then means something to us as we put it in our house,” Williams continued. “We also like to collect work from local artists and have a relationship with them if we can.”

Elaborating on this point, Beidler noted the significance of supporting the arts and getting to know the individuals whose creativity stirs our senses. “It’s really important to us to support their craft, as much as our clients support our craft. So, for us, buying a piece of art isn’t just about putting color on a wall; it’s also about helping support artists’ contributions to our culture and to the culture of what they’re doing.”

Visually arresting and abundantly outfitted, Spruce Hill’s other amenities include an art studio, in-ground pool, cabana, natural pond, and a bench in every corner of the property; each strategically angled so that the seated can view the grounds from its many charming vantage points. “We love nature, and we love having the organic qualities of a place like this. So, for us, it’s not work at all; it’s really how we relax,” said Beidler. And, as Williams pointed out, subtle changes can create a striking effect: “People are surprised by those little details that allow them to appreciate different parts of this place.”

While these special touches have served its occupants and inspired its visitors, Spruce Hill already had a strong foundation on which to create such a spectacular setting. Built circa 1900, the house was formerly occupied by the Mackie family, who bought the place in the late 1950s. “The Mackies did so much to create such a great palette here. There were some things that really needed maintenance and help, but that’s what we do. So it was easy for us to piggyback onto all their wonderful work and the great history of this property—and to look to the future of what it can be, what we want it to be for the next 50 years,” continued Beidler. “We were so grateful to the Mackies for letting go of this house. And they didn’t seem angry about what we’ve done,” he added with a laugh.  On the contrary, the surviving Mackie daughters still visit the property and are reportedly pleased with the results.

With only a few painting projects remaining, Williams and Beidler can look back on their work with pride and look forward to many years of sharing the special spot they’ve carved out and cared for over the past year. “We always look toward projects with a long-term view. We’re going to be here for a very long time,” Beidler concluded. “We have this great vision for the entire property, and every step we take down the path will be toward that goal.”

With its historical imprint and enduring grandeur, Spruce Hill Farm is more than a residence; it’s also the culmination of foresight, synergy, and creativity. Through its challenging but rewarding restoration, Williams and Beidler commemorate the past and celebrate the people who worked so hard to help realize a dream. May their own legacy keep this sanctuary living and working for generations to come.

Maria Massaro
About Maria Massaro 11 Articles
Maria Massaro is a Warrenton resident and freelance writer who has worked as a community counselor in Fauquier County since 2008. She is the founder of Aegis Counseling and Consulting and an advocate for individuals and families affected by mental illness. For more information, please visit www.aegiscac.com or call 540-316-8557.

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