With its charming architectural details, the house on the outskirts of Middleburg was just the stroke of luck Ashley Kennedy was looking for.
The reclaimed foyer doors, dining room bookshelves, and bathtub alcove with its round clerestory window all pointed to a legendary local architect. “Around here, if you see a house that he’s redone, people can tell when it’s Okey,” says Kennedy, of Okey Turner who, with his wife Megan, owned the house when she purchased it in 2019.
Set on 18 acres, the Turners saw the potential in the overwrought, faux-Italian villa. “It was over the top,” Kennedy confirms. Okey gutted it and infused the house with a timeless graciousness in his thoughtful renovation. “The interior was brand new and beautiful open white space,” says Kennedy, a champion equestrienne and full-time mom to sons Walker, 16, and Davis, 12. Up until recently, Kennedy rode her horse, Larkspur, “mostly for fun.”
A decade ago, the twosome were competing against top riders in the Upperville Colt and Horse Show, the Hamptons Classic, and the Washington International, winning champion and grand champion titles in the Amateur Owner and Adult Amateur divisions. Larkspur’s death in August was a sad milestone; the house however, would mark a chapter of a different kind.
But first, there was the question of furniture. “My old house was more of a cottage. I loved it, but everything I had was too small,” she explains. Family furniture came to the rescue. Her mother had downsized, so she passed along the dining room table, among other pieces. And from her stepmother, a set of dining chairs came out of storage to fill the void. “I was lucky to have loving, knowing, and wise helping hands—who also happened to have extra furniture,” Kennedy recalls. “But until I got a decorator, it was a mishmash.”
Enter Linda Burnside, of LGB Interiors in Columbia, South Carolina, who happened to be a close friend of Ashley’s stepmother, Lou Kennedy, CEO and President of Nephron Pharmaceuticals. She and Burnside had worked together on multiple house projects, and as soon as Lou saw the house, she was smitten. She persuaded Burnside to take it on.Design at a Distance
Although she’s based in South Carolina, Burnside collaborated easily with her client in Middleburg. “We work all over the country,” Burnside notes. “We do a powerpoint presentation with a floor plan of each room showing all fabrics, rugs, lighting, and artwork. It’s all in place before anything ever happens at the house.”
To translate her client’s vision, Burnside suggested Kennedy tear pictures from design magazines or make a Pinterest board. “Don’t think too much,” she told her. “Go for the feel of the room, not the specific fabrics or furniture, then move on.” After a dozen or so images, her preferences emerged: an authentic but elevated style that wasn’t overly designed.
A former fashion accessories editor at Harper’s Bazaar, Lucky, and Elle, Kennedy’s priorities were comfort and livability. “I love fashion, I love accessories, and I do love home design,” she insists. “But as much as I like things to be pretty, with two boys and two dogs, Bullet and Macan, it also needs to be practical.” With Burnside on board, she felt confident handing off the design decisions. “As designers, we’re therapists,” Burnside adds. “I can talk with someone for a minute or two, and I’ll know what their color scheme should be. I can tell if they’re into strong colors by the way they dress. All those things are important for me in the selection process.”
Burnside knew that Kennedy would be traipsing in the house with boots on, sometimes muddy, after a trail ride. The house had to be comfortable and livable. In addition, she wanted the architectural elements in the house, like casement windows, to shine. “Turner’s work was incredible, so we wanted to marry the architecture with the interior design, while also factoring in the way Ashley lives,” says Burnside. “It’s a lot to figure out. She had some French antiques, too. I love to mix those up with contemporary pieces.”
Whipping an interior gameplan into shape is good for a homeowner’s soul, Burnside insists. “When your house tells your story, you feel a sense of wholeness—that’s what I do for people, make them feel whole. I want clients to know they deserve a home that’s finished. Most people don’t allow themselves that level of completeness. But once they see it, they feel like they’ve finally found their way home.” The message hit home for Kennedy.
Burnside began with a palette of soft blues, inspired by the elegant La Cornue range in the kitchen. “I started with the breakfast room fabric, which is very organic with twigs and vines, to bring the outside in. She loved it.” A vision board followed, filled with Burnside’s picks for furniture and lamps, rugs, wallpaper, and artwork.
For her bedroom, Kennedy wanted a calming spa atmosphere, which Burnside achieved with more soft blues. The room’s generous casement windows offered views of the surrounding acreage, so Burnside kept the interior design elements simple and elegant, adding a custom-made chandelier.
“Start with art” is a favorite approach of Burnside’s, who has cultivated relationships with artists of all genres, from landscapes to abstracts and figure painting. Instead of searching for the right painting, she commissions the pieces, specifying size and color. It’s her secret to a completed design project.
“People think a house full of good quality artwork requires decades of collecting,” says Burnside. “But are you willing to wait a decade to finish it?” By commissioning paintings, she can complete the project and give clients the wholeness she wants them to experience at home.
Art also imparts authenticity to a room, creating the understated look that Kennedy favored. “I like to keep the fabrics and wallpaper neutral, so the art can add the punch,” she says. The look draws on the natural beauty of the house, rather than overwhelming a space with color and pattern. Enter the living room, for instance, and a pair of abstract paintings by artist Leah Rei draws the eye. The room is otherwise light and white, and the punch of blue comes from the paintings.”
While she was grateful for the dining table and chairs, Kennedy was also hesitant about the dark wood. “She didn’t want the house to look too traditional,” says Burnside, who came up with an inspired solution: lacquered chairs. She often chooses an ultra-glossy paint for cabinets and ceilings in design projects. And while her stepmother’s Henredon dining chairs were old, they were suitable for painting.
“I draw the line at antiques,” Burnside assures those who blanche at the thought of painting traditional family pieces. To achieve the glassy effect, the wood is sanded to an exceptionally smooth finish, then painted with three or four coats of lacquer. Burnside swears by Fine Paints of Europe. “Now, these very traditional chairs are lighter and brighter, with a durable finish that wipes clean with a cloth.”
They filled the bookshelves with books, horse show prizes, and colorful accessories and added a contemporary note with another custom chandelier. The dining room has become a favorite spot in the house, used by her sons for schoolwork as well as meals.
A restrained use of wallpaper gives the house a feeling of warmth. For the downstairs bath, Burnside found a subtle way to acknowledge her client’s love of horses. “We found a beautiful grasscloth paper that throws in a bit of the horse theme, while also being very understated and elegant.”
“I’m just crazy about grasscloth,” she notes. “It adds depth and texture and warmth that brings an organic quality to a room. Grasscloth is definitely having a moment.” Even in rooms with painted walls, Burnside often papers the ceiling with grasscloth to create a sense of comfort.
For the office space upstairs, she turned to a leaf-patterned wallpaper. “We wanted to have some fun up there,” Burnside notes. “But you’ll notice the color comes from the art—not the wallpaper.” Equally important were the outside spaces. “The pool was gorgeous, and we spent a lot of time working in conversation areas,” says Burnside. “She can have a big party there, but it’s about the view as much as the pool.” Furniture is grouped to allow for smaller gatherings which was a priority.
“People asked, ‘why do you need that house?’” says Kennedy. “But we use the house, all of it. I loved my old house, the cottage, but I didn’t have a guest room. If my mom came to visit, I’d give her my room and go sleep in a kid’s bed. We had dog blankets on the sofa,” Kennedy recalls. “I was ready to move forward. This feels like a grownup house. The boys have their own playroom over the garage, where they can invite friends over. It’s so pretty—and I’m so appreciative of my family and Linda for helping me get this done.”
Constance Costas’ most recent design story, “Modern Love,” appeared in our June 2023 issue.