Text by Charlotte Safavi
Instagram has been kind to Texas-born and Virginia-based interior decorator Alison Giese. When the Benjack family found her on the social media platform, she could not believe her good fortune. “They wanted me to help them downsize from their grand house in Norfolk to a weekend farmhouse that had been in their family for a generation,” says Alison of the redesign project in Franklin, Virginia.
In addition to combining the contents of their two households, the Benjacks were also striving for a less formal way of life. “It was going to be less about designer dresses and entertaining on a large scale and more about work boots and simple living,” says Alison. Built in 1952, the four-bedroom farmhouse—which was traditional in style, dark in palette, and formal in décor—also needed to be updated as the family’s full-time home.
After visiting both houses, Alison began an inventory of all the furnishings, which included a world-class collection of fine antique American furniture and European art. The plan was to figure out what was being kept, what wasn’t, and what needed to be refreshed and rendered suitable for use in the farmhouse. “We then came up with a lighter color palette, mostly of watercolor blues and greens, as well as muted neutrals, to brighten up the home,” says Alison. “We avoided kitschy country colors, like reds, oranges, and yellows. Our concept was an elegant farmhouse, not a rustic one.”
In the foyer, the homeowners had already selected fitting wallpaper in a contemporary botanical pattern, but the trim remained a very crisp white, and there was an ornate red Oriental runner on the floor. “It needed to have more sophistication,” says Alison. “First impressions matter, and I felt it was important to set the palette and the mood. Painting the trim in a dark taupe highlighted the fact that this was an elegant farmhouse.”
While she repurposed the homeowners’ pieces where possible, Alison also added new furnishings throughout the home, such as the 11-foot reclaimed pine dining table. The sunroom was given all fresh items, including a custom L-shaped banquette, where the family now enjoys breakfast. “We reupholstered a lot of their existing high-quality furniture in lighter colors and high-performance fabrics,” she says. “Nothing could be too precious on the farm. We only used textiles that could age well—like leather—and materials that would patina nicely.”
A narrow bench now sits on a cowhide rug atop natural oak floors stripped of their old dark finish. The home’s carpets, like the upholstery, were once traditional and ornate, but Alison switched them out for cleaner versions. “We also redid the bathrooms with fresh finishes and wall treatments,” she says. The tiny powder room was transformed by custom wallpaper—depicting a bucolic riverscape indigenous to the Virginia countryside—by Susan Harter Murals. It also features a timeless porcelain console sink with a pair of gracious legs. Wallpaper with a bold stripe was also used in the sons’ bedroom. “The dormer window and sloped ceilings made it the perfect space to tent with wallpaper,” says Alison.
The master bedroom, once walled in sage green and dressed in white furniture, was repainted in a pale hue. Custom nightstands in unfinished oak now sit on either side of the homeowners’ antique sleigh bed from their prior home, and the bed is finished in Farrow & Ball’s Stony Ground paint to blend with the soft, neutral palette. “The master bathroom vanity was replaced with a custom-built oak one featuring a black soapstone countertop,” Alison says.
Throughout the design, these thoughtful updates transformed a rustic farmhouse retreat into a home rich with comfortable elegance—along with all the comforts of the countryside.