An 18th-Century Estate Restoration Near Fredericksburg, Virginia

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. HandeganJohn Cay stands beside an antique plaster bust of Napoléon.

Architectural Digest covered a breathtaking restoration of an 18th-century house situated about 20 miles southeast of Fredericksburg, Virginia.  Cay and his wife, Billings, bought Rose Hill and it’s 300 acres in 2008, with the thought that some day it could be restored to something great.  John Cay, didn’t step into the estate as you see in the pictures, but rather purchased the property when it was at it’s worst. The  T-shaped house had been destroyed in a 1959 fire and poorly rebuilt, so it certainly was a challenge so to say. Cay put together an exceptional team that included Frederick Ecker II, whose firm, Tidewater Preservation, has revived dozens of National Historic Landmarks, and Amelia T. Handegan, a South Carolina decorator who had previously worked with the Cays on their 1730s cottage in Charleston to carry out their vision.

The restoration was anything but easy.  In order to install new floor joists on the second story, the house’s entire upper section had to be temporarily removed.  The workers had to carefully dance around the dining room’s rickety plaster walls, in order that they didn’t crack.  In addition, the dining room’s Dufour wallpaper was ruined in the 1959 fire, so it had to be replaced with an identical example.

The history behind the property is rather interesting.  Politician John Hipkins Bernard inherited the plantation in the early 1800s, and upon his 1816 marriage to Jane Gay Robertson—a descendant of Pocahontas—he christened the property Gay Mont. The home started out as a simple two-story structure.  Bernard added a library wing, an office wing, and an octagonal music room. Being a seasoned traveler, Bernard brought back from Europe noble busts, spectacular a Dufour et Leroy wallpaper, and seeds and trees to enrich his gardens and orchards.

When John Cay and his wife The Cays bought Rose Hill through the Association for the Preservation of Virginia Antiquities, a descendant of the Bernard family gave up the various furnishings that were originally found in the estate.  The harp, music stand, and rosewood spinet piano were returned to the music room, for which Designer Amelia T Handegan created a custom geometric painted floor. Handegan paid close attention to restoring the history behind this home, than recreating something all-together new.  The desire to continue one family’s passions that began back in the 18th century  into this modern era is heart touching and meaningful for the Cay’s.

This article was published in the June 2013 issue of Architectural Digest

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan2

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan3

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan

An antique tole chandelier from Parc Monceau is suspended above an English breakfast table

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. HandeganPainted in a Benjamin Moore tan, the entrance hall features a Regency gilt-wood mirror and circa-1830 side chairs from Handegan’s shop

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. HandeganAntique Baltimore fancy chairs sit proudly in the center hall

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan

The master bedroom, painted in a Benjamin Moore beige, features a grand 1822 four-poster bed. 

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan

Shelves designed by Handegan to hold books that have belonged to Rose Hill for nearly two centuries

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan

The floor was painted by Kristen Bunting according to a design by Amelia T Handegan

The music room’s harp and piano date back to the original owners

Tidewater Preservation and decorated by Amelia T. Handegan

Dufour et Leroy’s wallpaper circa-1822 depicts Vesuvius smoking in the distance;

A Regency sideboard from O’Sullivan Antiques, and the dining chairs were custom made by Handegan.  The  dining table once hosted Confederate generals Robert E. Lee and J.E.B. Stuart.

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