A Forest Home Renovation Sparkles Like the Sea
In a design world often filled with grays and neutrals, Rachele Novak sees her home in color. Though it didn’t begin that way when Novak purchased her house 12 years ago in a well-loved Forest neighborhood. The upsides of the home at the time included good bones and a decent layout, but dark cherry kitchen cabinets, brownish-green backsplash tile, and peachy taupe paint told the tale of a builder-grade home that had been sitting on the market for a year following the 2008 recession. Then there was the driveway, which slants sharply toward the garage.
“I was just driving around the neighborhood, and I drove by this house and I thought, ‘What idiot would buy that house with that crazy driveway?’” Novak recalled with a laugh. But the home did have one major selling point in her eyes. “It has a phenomenal private backyard with a creek and spectacular sunsets,” she said.
Today, both that “crazy driveway” and “phenomenal backyard” act as welcome mats for Novak, her two teenage children, and their 8-year-old Shih Tzu named Honey. Thanks to some grading and landscaping help from Southern Landscaping Group, the driveway is no longer the first thing visitors notice. Instead, the front door, painted in Ming Jade by Sherwin Williams, acts as a wink and a nod to the colorful surprise awaiting inside.
Stepping through the door, a shimmering flush mount light envelopes the foyer with glamour and warmth. To the right of the foyer is a lush “piano room” as Novak calls it, though the room no longer holds a piano. To the left, a dining space gleams bright with a chrome and crystal chandelier above the dining table, deep blue grasscloth on the walls, and large-scale art above the sideboard.
“Art for me is really interesting and calming,” Novak said. “The art in the dining room—I call it ‘The Asian Lady’—is actually a mosaic when you get up close to it. And that just fascinates me. I can just sit in there and look at that for a long time and that engages me.”
The art in the first two rooms of the home is a fitting preview to what the rest holds. Lush with texture, tile, and textiles, a calming green and blue colorway runs from the foyer to the back deck and beyond, paying homage to Novak’s childhood by the water in Virginia Beach. The finished product is the result of Novak’s instinct that the house could become something special, and her wisdom in bringing in expert help six years after she moved in.
An accountant for her family’s company, Velocity Construction, Novak knows what she likes but she also realized her limitations, so she hired interior designer Kate Avello to guide and bring her ideas to life.
“I just think she is phenomenal. I can’t say enough how well she picks up on what you want and what you like and pulls that into a vision, even though your vision might be in 15 different places,” Novak said. “She just had a whole vision and brought it all together and it was true to the house structurally.”
Because there were multiple design projects to tackle, they decided to start in the kitchen, removing a large arch that visually cluttered the area and adding a clean white column for structural support and an open air feel. Novak’s budget led to some creative innovations when it came to the original dark kitchen cabinets, with Avello leading the charge on how to cut meaningful corners while splurging on key details.
“Cabinets are super expensive—I have no idea why but they are—and we hated the cabinets so we knew we would paint them but Kate said you need to get new door fronts and drawers because the existing ones were so traditional,” Novak explained. “We found an online source for it and it was super cost efficient to do it that way, to not have to order entirely new base and upper cabinets. We just changed those out.”
Once the cabinets were refaced, the uppers were painted a crisp white, the lowers went light gray, and trim board was added to the room-facing side of the lowers to create the illusion of custom moulding. New cabinet pulls and quartz countertops were installed, a glittering sun-catcher style pendant was hung above the high-top eating bar, and a lucid blue tile backsplash was stacked vertically in modern rows. Novak also had a wall of custom wood cabinets made and installed just beyond the eating area for more pantry and storage space.
As the kitchen was transforming, so did the adjacent living room. Custom drapes and pillows by local seamstress Michelle Bonheim brought in patterns with Eastern world flair, and a teal crushed velvet ottoman, recovered by Phil’s upholstery in Lynchburg, added more color and texture sitting beneath a glass coffee table. But the home’s transformations didn’t end there.
“As we started to open things up, Kate said if you want to do anything in your master bath, this is the time because we have the ceiling open which exposed all the plumbing and I wanted to put in a heated tile floor. So that brought in my master bath. I’m still not sure how the powder room got brought into that, but it did!” Novak recalled.
The last minute choice to redo the powder room is still one of Novak’s favorite decisions. The geometric wallpaper alone is a show-stopper, boasting on its label that it is “on order to her Majesty the Queen.” That alone would have made many a homeowner happy but Avello and Novak weren’t finished and kicked the dazzle up a notch further by adding glimmering 3D glass tile above an aqua vessel sink and artwork by Novak’s 16-year-old daughter, Elle.
Upstairs, the master bath also underwent an overhaul with the installation of a large soaking tub, glass-enclosed shower, and sparkling wall tile reminiscent of mermaid gills above the double vanity. The master bedroom itself also received a modern makeover. Soft custom made drapes and linens by Bonheim line the room with luxury, while a wooden sleigh bed, intimate art by NYC artist Kristen Somody Whalen, and abundant mirrors create a calm but colorful atmosphere. The showpiece of the master bedroom, however, is undoubtedly the ceiling. Avello transformed the tray ceiling into a work of art by creating a pattern with moulding, topped with a crystal chandelier.
“My bedroom is my sanctuary. To me, it feels like a spa,” Novak said. “Sometimes I stare up at my ceiling because I love the geometry of it and the whole room is very soothing.”
Soothing is also how Novak describes her back yard, which she has a bird’s eye view of from her new deck. The Trex seating area, cable railing, and black spiral metal staircase lead down to a stone landscaped area with a firepit, all of which were created by Southern Landscaping Group.
“In the summer, everything is in bloom and grows up like a jungle and you feel like you are just in privacy, on your own,” Novak said.
From the emerald front door to the scenic backyard, Novak’s total home transformation took several years but these days, when she often works from home, she finds each detail well worth the investment.
“This whole house is my happy place,” she reflected. “I am just so comfortable here. I can relax and I feel safe. It’s just kind of everything to me.”
PHOTOGRAPHY BY DARYL CALFEE