Sometimes it feels like England has more families presiding over inherited estates than corner pubs, thanks to a profusion of centuries-old country piles—such as Blenheim Palace, Chatsworth House and even Downton Abbey’s Highclere Castle. But stateside, passing down a home through generations is a rare occurrence—not least because so few of us even want our grandparents’ real estate holdings to begin with.
When the home is truly cinematic, though, keeping it in the family is almost a must. Such is the case with Virginia’s Westover, a Georgian home built in the mid-1700s and home to the Fisher and Erda families for five generations and counting. They recently tapped the iconic Virginia-born, now New York–based designer Charlotte Moss to give the main drawing room a slight face-lift with a timeless upgrade. Here’s how she met the challenge, one fabric at a time.
FREDERIC: When it comes to a house with a provenance like this, where do you even begin?
CHARLOTTE MOSS: The sticky wicket with all of these historic properties where people actually still live is how do we keep the breath of history wafting through the house, but make it livable and fresh for a very active family? We looked for fabrics that felt like they should be in Virginia. When I saw the new Homecoming collection by Williamsburg for Schumacher, I called [FREDERIC editor in chief and Schumacher creative director] Dara Caponigro and I said, “Would you want to do something together here? Because we’ve got a great canvas to play with, and Westover is right in Williamsburg’s backyard.”
What is it about the collection that is so special?
The quality of the fabrics is so good. The palette, the fact that they did document colorways—which, generally speaking, is based on the fabric as it was originally designed. So many companies don’t like to do them because a lot of the old backgrounds are tea stained, and today everybody wants all white. Dara and Schumacher were bold enough and brave enough to do this collection with Williamsburg, and they did it beautifully. Subsequently, I’ve picked one of the striped fabrics to be in my own kitchen and in my butler’s pantry in Virginia.
How do certain fabrics read as historic?
The style of printing back then had so much definition, and they’ve chosen to try to replicate that. A lot of times, when interpreting a document, the trend has been to extract screens from the print to bring the price down; with this collection, you can see that definition as it was originally drawn.
Tell me about how you used the collection at Westover.
We focused on the main drawing room, which has an incredible mantle in it and beautiful windows that look out on the James River. Westover is one of the most beautiful American Colonial homes and probably the most copied façade in all of America—its proportions, that pediment at the entrance. The family that owns this property is preserving it to live in it, but they’re also preserving it for everyone else. And it’s a huge responsibility. The owner didn’t want to go crazy, because she wanted to honor the architecture. So we played with different shades of white, which can be tricky as it’s like trying to get two navy blues to match—it’s impossible! We wanted to use as many of the fabrics from the Williamsburg collection that we could. And we wanted it to feel younger and to give it a life for 2022, not 1730 when the house was built.
How did you do that so beautifully?
We used damask on a chair rather than using damask at the windows, which would’ve really made it feel older and more period-like. The mantel and architecture are very imposing. For the window treatments, we chose Lafayette Botanical; we wanted just enough fabric and color to frame the window to draw your eye outside. We kept the existing furniture placement; all of that furniture is theirs.
What draws you to the Colonial era in design?
I love the saturation and richness of the palette. If you go through Colonial Williamsburg, it’s very modern in a certain way. Nowadays, we’ll paint walls a color and do all the trim white, but Williamsburg, they did the exact opposite: They’d paint the walls white, and then all the trim and the paneling and the molding would be Everard Blue or some wonderful darker color. But where the wheels fall off in the comfortable living equation is that the chairs were bolt upright! Club chairs and upholstered armchairs wouldn’t be invented until later. As we started to really live in more and more rooms, the furniture just eased up. And Westover has done that: It’s grown with the times, it just needed freshening. It’s such a beautiful house.