A rustic, yet refined, home where self-expression is EMBRACED
photography by Heather Kidd
A record player rests atop a faux fur throw with a vintage record player at the ready. “I collect vinyl—it’s soft, and I like the sound,” Ellen Dorman says of the display on her entry console table. Indeed, softness seems to be a dominant theme in the Dorman family home: everything feels warm and inviting in this space, from the earth tone walls to the abundance of soft throw rugs to the natural wood furnishings. It’s the kind of home that welcomes you the instant you walk through the door.
The front hallway is a vignette unto itself, offering family photos from a few falls ago hanging in charming old window panes beside whimsical paintings of roosters, flowers and cows—a carefully curated homage to what the Dorman family holds dear.
Despite the open floor plan and lofty ceilings, the neutral palette helps the Dorman home feel cozy and intimate. And although her home is dressed in neutrals, it doesn’t feel dull or one-note thanks to Ellen’s expert application of layering techniques. Here, beiges, greys, and creams exist harmoniously beside bountiful textures: wood, textiles, and stone. Stone serves as a stand-out feature that ties together the kitchen and living room of the home.
The muted color scheme works overtime. Not only does it offer warmth, but it also serves as the perfect foil for Ellen’s vibrant gallery walls. Her thoughtful design choices work to draw the eye to these focal points. Each room serves as a sort of gallery revealing vivid expressions of cherished memories preserved in time. From the staircase to the family room wall to the children’s playroom, you’ll see handcrafted collections of family portraits, pastoral symbols and other meaningful moments, each one depicted in brilliant colors.
The layered neutrals, which consist of grays and browns—such as Colonnade Gray, Foothills, and Stone Lion by Sherwin-Williams—are very different from the colors Ellen used in her previous home. “Our last house was completely colorful,” Ellen explains, sharing that she painted every room a different color after living with white walls for many years. “It was a rainbow house!” she adds. When building this home, however, she decided to use a neutral palette instead. “I knew I wanted neutrals so I could easily change out the art… that’s where I bring in color,” she explains.
The Dormans left their earlier (and colorful) home several years ago in search of a halfway point between husband Erik’s workplace in Lynchburg and Altavista Combined School, where Ellen taught art. After spending over a year driving around, attending open houses, and scouring real estate listings, they came upon Evington’s Hickory Hill neighborhood, which ended up being the ideal place for their family.
“It feels like you’re outside of town, but you’re still close to everything—and this lot was woods, and I really wanted a wooded lot,” Ellen says. “We love being outside.”
Surrounded by woodlands, Ellen’s two children are free to play outside to their hearts’ content. Here, they have the chance to engage in good, old-fashioned play: building forts and constructing teepees are just a few of the ways that Ethan and Elliott have fun on the three-acre property. The family often gathers around the fire pit, and the boys play in what Ellen jokingly refers to as their “dirt pile.” She explains that when they were constructing the patio and fire pit, she asked the contractors to flatten out a mound of earth where she had intended to install a swing set. She reconsidered when she saw how much fun the boys had just playing in the dirt. “I thought, ‘Shoot, I’m not gonna ruin that. Let ’em play in the dirt!’” she laughs.
Ellen takes an equally easy-going, child-friendly approach with the interior. For example, the dining room finds itself in regular use, not just on holidays. It’s not your typical dining room. A roll of brown craft paper runs down the center of the table, and instead of traditional dining chairs, stools, poufs, and benches serve as seating. “This isn’t a ‘formal dining room’ unless we’re entertaining at the holidays and whenever we have family over,” she explains. Instead, the room serves as a convenient place for the kids to dabble with colored pencils and paint and engage in art making. And it’s not just for the kids: “Anybody’s allowed to scribble, doodle, or leave notes here!” says Ellen.
The table itself, worn with paint splatters and carved markings, is a remnant from the former Patriotic Peacock art studio in Downtown Lynchburg, where Ellen spent time as an art instructor. It should come as no surprise, then, that Ellen, who spent 13 years teaching art for Campbell County Public Schools, encourages creativity and has designed this space—and this home—as a safe place in which to foster self-expression. “A lot of these pieces tell a story,” Ellen says, such as the family room’s end tables, which were fashioned from wood from her family’s farm in Charlotte County. Although Ellen grew up in Altavista, the farm holds special meaning. As the birthplace of her father, it’s a true homeplace, where the family still gathers for summer cookouts and the traditional Fall Stew event.
Ellen celebrates family life through her artwork—this was even the theme of her senior art exhibit at Emory & Henry (and a few pieces from that show hang upstairs). Even the family pet— a beloved English bulldog—has made it onto a gallery wall in the family room. With its deep leather couches and abundance of throw blankets, the family room feels just as inviting as all of the other spaces, and this is intentional. While Ellen appreciates the modern design aesthetic, she finds the straight lines to be “too stiff. To me they’re not as inviting, and I wanted my home to be user-friendly,” she says.
And user-friendly it is, indeed. Equally rustic and refined, the home epitomizes the Danish concept of hygge—loosely translated as extraordinarily cozy and comfortable. Featuring a stacked stone fireplace that’s topped with rows of candles, the space summons the feeling of sumptuous mountain ski lodge, which is fitting since the Dormans love to spend time in the mountains and on the slopes.
The wing chairs that flank the fireplace belonged to Ellen’s grandmother; the desk is another heirloom piece. This combination of heirloom furniture, original artwork, and natural finishes creates a home that not only tells the story of their family and their history but also serves as a reflection into what they hold dear: memories, comfort, and each other.