For Historic Garden Week in Virginia this year, only one tour has James Monroe’s Birthplace, a quintessential coastal house, a renovated 1950s motel, a kitschy cottage and a handful of other beautiful homes.
It’s the one in Colonial Beach, where on May 1 the Garden Club of the Northern Neck will for the first time feature homes in the Potomac River town. Colonial Beach has been luring tourists since it became a summer resort in the 1880s.
One reason the town was selected this year is that after a 90-year-effort, the James Monroe Memorial Foundation will hold its grand opening on tour day for the recently completed reconstruction of the home where the fifth U.S. president was born. It’s just outside of town along Monroe Bay, which is named for the president.
The tour also includes a stop for homemade cookies and lemonade at the newly renovated Riverview Inn in the middle of town. A tour ticket will get participants into Stratford Hall, the nearby home of the Lees of Virginia.
One of the most impressive stops is 943 Bryant Ave., where Jon and Robin Redman have a magnificent six-bedroom coastal home on the Potomac. It’s got a huge riverside porch, outdoor bar and hot tub, and shows the decorating flair of Robin Redman, who is a real estate agent and musician.
Her love of various shades of blue is evident throughout, from inlays in the floors to iridescent bathroom tiles, to a retro microwave in the kitchen.
Interesting decorative pieces abound: pelicans that hold wine bottles, paddles that make a bed’s headboard, propeller-style ceiling fans, rope-fashioned lamps and art that includes whales, mermaids and ship models.
Other dwellings open for the tour include a three-bedroom pool house and a “teen house” that features a cooler shaped like an old Woody station wagon.
A fun thing to notice in the main house: All clocks say 5 p.m.
James and Brenda Duff’s stately Cape Cod at 910 Bryant Ave. is a showplace two ways.
First, it holds more than 200 American and European paintings—watercolors, etchings, lithographs and Japanese woodblock prints the couple collected while living in Charlotte, N.C., prior to retiring to Colonial Beach.
Second, the landscaping includes hollies, boxwoods, yews, nandinas, Japanese maples, crepe myrtles, hydrangeas, camellias, rhododendron, azaleas and more.
Duff, who had a long career as a journalist, said the interior of the house would have more open space if not for the walls needed to hang the couple’s art.
“It’s what we bought over the years everywhere from flea markets and thrift stores to country auctions and high-end sales,” he said.
Next is the Starfish Cottage of Glenn and Teri Lewis at 1203 Irving Ave., and it’s clear something’s different.
For example, there’s a surfboard hanging above the front door, adorned with a tasteful drawing of a young woman in a yellow swimsuit and matching cap. Near it, a green and yellow gecko scoots up the wall.
“The original part of the house was built in 1930s, the back in the late ’40s,” said Glenn Lewis, who said he’s been weekending at the Beach for 60 or so years. “We’ve done a lot of work: adding bead board, making other changes and adding unique pieces to make it a fun and friendly coastal cottage.”
Among those pieces are a brightly colored gypsy chandelier, a fishing rod from which period postcards hang, a painting of the Reno hotel in the 1950s and a desk topped with the advice “At the beach, relax… relax… relax…”.
More stately but still with its own riverfront feel is Sweetwater Hall at 1109 Irving Ave., the home of Thomas and Julia Savage.
The pair of lawyers who previously lived in Goldvein and then Fredericksburg got their start as Colonial Beach weekenders with a smaller cottage nearby, then acquired this property in 2018.
Changes have included adding a master bedroom suite and sitting area on the first floor. Expansive front windows provide a stunning river view. Other spaces were converted to an art studio for her and an office upstairs for him.
“The house was Victorian, but I wanted it to have more of an old family river house feel,” said Julia Savage. “We put up all the bead board, painted the house a more beachy color and added light fixtures and window coverings.”
As for the name: “She picked Sweetwater, but I wanted it to sound more pretentious, so I added Hall,” joked Savage, who recently remodeled a small house in town to use as a law office.
Although Neil Austriaco and Terry Miller, the owners of 121 Irving Ave., weren’t available the day of this preview tour, the property known as WideRiver includes an interesting looking, two-story, wood frame house built in 1886 by John B. Hammond.
It bears a resemblance to the well-known Bell House in town, which was built by Hammond for J.O.B. Burnside just prior to construction of WideRiver.