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Roger and Sybil Smith are showing their antiques-filled showplace during this weekend's charity home tour.
Sunday, October 6, 2013
Boat along Smith Mountain Lake's 500 miles of shoreline or drive through one of its subdivisions and you're likely to see a number of palatial structures with towering cathedral windows, sweeping manicured lawns and expansive docks. Impressive from both water and land, these homes are regulars on the annual Smith Mountain Lake Charity Home Tour.
Pull up to Roger and Sybil Smith's lakefront home in Moneta's Riverbay subdivision and you're likely to think weekend cottage or 1950s renovated ranch instead of showplace. Not that the house at the end of the cul-de-sac is unattractive from the outside - far from it - but the heart of this home lies within. The only clue to what's under the roof is a pair of brass lions that flank the front walk.
The Smiths' home is one of eight that will be open to the public Friday through Sunday as part of the home tour, which benefits eight lake-area charities.
Finding a home
Roger Smith is a decorated U.S. Air Force brigadier general whose assignments included serving as the Joint Chiefs of Staff representative for air defense and space talks in Geneva during the Reagan administration. He retired with his wife, Sybil, to Smith Mountain Lake from Fairfax Station in 1994.
They brought with them an impressive collection of American antiques, art and home furnishings, which they continue to accumulate. Many of their pieces are family heirlooms and others have been purchased through the years, but almost all are old and have a story to tell - including the Smiths' boats, also cherished for their links to the past.
Roger is a past president of the Smith Mountain Lake Chapter of the Antique and Classic Boat Society, which has put on a boat show at the lake for 23 years. The group is one of the things that attracted the couple to Smith Mountain Lake.
"We always said we wanted to live on a lake," Roger said. "We looked here in 1978, but it was too remote. We started going to the antique boat show and looking at houses while we were here."
The house that caught their eye was a modest but conveniently located ranch with a captivating view of the Roanoke River, about 3 miles south of Hales Ford Bridge. The Smiths were able to look past the house's ho-hum appearance to see its possibilities.
Architect Danny Goins of The Highlands Group and contractor Matt Prescott, both out of Roanoke, helped make the couple's vision reality.
Work on the two-story home began in 2003 . The original roof was removed and replaced with a new timber frame one, which lifted the ceiling in the great room from about 8 1⁄2 feet to about 23 feet, and in the master bedroom from 8 to 9 1⁄2 feet to accommodate an antique Victorian bed.
The gothic-style timber framing throughout the house is white oak that was transported from Floyd County.
"The white oak was brought in on a flatbed and a crane was used to place the roof," Roger said. "We watched them take the roof off and put the new one on."
The basic structure of the house was retained, but a sitting area in the master bedroom was expanded, and a door to the deck and a new front entry porch were added. It took 10 months to complete the transformation.
Top floor finery
Under that roof, the couple's antiques - most from the Victorian era - and their collection of banquet lamps of varying shapes can be found in every room.
The lamps, popular in the mid- to late 19th century, typically were used on banquet tables, thus the name. Many of their globes are hand-painted with intricate designs.
Roger recalled that his mother left a banquet light on in the front room of their house when he was young and didn't turn it off until he and his brother were safely home for the night.
In the entryway, one of the lamps sits on a small chapel altar that was found in Manassas and restored by Roger. A paper punch sampler made by his great-grandmother in 1875 sits above the altar. Flanking the altar are two rosewood chairs, repaired by Roger. The chairs' decorative carvings were broken and missing, so Roger hand-carved the replacements himself.
"Roger's hand has touched just about every piece," said Sybil. "He's refinished, repainted, repaired."
The entryway leads into a great room whose focus is a 9 1⁄2-foot tall antique armoir with the original finish. It hides the entertainment center and television. The room, which provides a stunning view of the lake, is home to three more banquet lamps and a coffee table topped with Italian Carrara marble.
In a former life, the coffee table was an antique walnut dining table, which the Smiths found at a consignment shop in New Jersey. The table top was missing, and before Roger could build a new top for it, Sybil decided she wanted to use it as a coffee table. Roger cut the legs into pieces and glued them back together at coffee-table height. The couple went to a marble yard in Washington, where they had the top custom-made with marble that was imported from Italy before World War II.
Off the great room is the dining room, where an engagement party will be staged for the home tour. The table will be set with Haviland china, a wedding gift to Roger's grandparents in 1902. On it will be place cards for the couple, their relatives and President William McKinley and the first lady (some poetic license was taken here, according to Roger).
As he does for most of the home's furniture and art, Roger has a story from the dining room: The buffet, made about 1880, has a sticker on the back denoting the furniture company that made it. The sticker says "Manufacturer of Antique Furniture."
How did the company presume to know its buffet would be around long enough to be classified as antique? That's a mystery, Roger said.
Sliding pocket doors that were added during the remodeling lead from the dining room into the kitchen. A display case holds antique dinnerware that belonged to Sybil's mother and Haviland Limoges shellfish plates. The Smiths bought the kitchen table, circa late 1880s, in Franklin County and restored it themselves.
A guest room and master bedroom also are located on the top level.
In the guest bedroom is one of the couple's prized possessions: a small antique desk that belonged to Roger's grandfather. Other family pieces and portraits of the couple's ancestors adorn the walls. Roger designed and built the cornices above the window.
In the master bedroom, the focal point is a large Victorian bed. A double-sided fireplace (the other side serves the great room), more banquet lamps, plush (and pristine) white carpeting and an alcove lined with bookshelves give the room a cozy feel. A large picture window provides another great view of the lake.
Even the master bathroom has its share of antiques, including a loveseat that belonged to Roger's grandmother. She gave it to the couple shortly after they were married and it launched a lifelong love of old furniture.
To the right of the entryway is a staircase leading to the home's lower level. It has its share of heirlooms, too. A shotgun on the wall belonged to Roger's great-grandfather and a table on the landing belonged to a family member. At the bottom of the stairs is a family room, and that's where some of the smaller, albeit interesting, collectibles can be found,
Among them are a collection of antique toys and military memorabilia, including Roger's Air Force uniform, Joint Chiefs of Staff badge, general's flag, and various medals and decorations. Another view of the lake is visible from the leather sectional sofa positioned in front of the fireplace.
Down a hall and to the right is what Sybil calls "the grandkids' bedroom." A full bed plus two antique three-quarter-sized rope beds placed back-to-back accommodate some of the Smith's seven grandchildren when they visit.
Synthesis of style
Finding, buying and restoring antiques does not occupy all the Smiths' time. Sybil is an award-winning artist; she paints in the laundry room that doubles as her studio on the lower level.
Also on the bottom level is Roger's workshop. It is there that many of the antiques have been restored, but it's also where he works on antique boat motors and components.
The Smiths own seven antique boats, although most are not seaworthy, Roger said. Birmingham Baby and Sybil are docked at their home and displayed at boat shows along the East Coast. A 1950 Penn Yan outboard boat has been restored and will make its lake debut next year.
To see the boats, tour visitors will take a recently finished set of winding steps from the outside patio to the dock. Along the way, they will pass a garden planted as a memorial to Sybil's late mother.
Family and family history obviously are important to the Smiths. They passed a number of antiques and family items along to their three children when they downsized from a 6,500-square foot home to their 3,700-square foot house at the lake. They continue to unearth treasures.
"Roger and I came from different families with different styles, but we've blended them," Sybil said. "We do spend a lot of time rearranging, though.
"The home fits our time of life," she added. "We're just about finished."
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