Richmond Spaces
Meeting of the Minds
Designer and client find synergy in design of Fan District house

In summer 2007 Courtney Dauer happened upon a little shop tucked in among the storefronts at Libbie and Grove.

The perfect background for local artist Laveley Millerís finger-painting is exposed brick.

"This," she thought, "is what I want my house to look like."

Dauer had just stepped into the world of Kat Liebschwager (see Inspiring Spaces Winter 2007), proprietress along with her husband, Mike, of Ruth & Ollie, a jewel of a shop that relocated to bigger digs in Carytown this summer.

"I just love her aesthetic," says Dauer about the woman who would soon become her designer.

Dauer also loves decorating and singlehandedly created the look of her former home, a traditional Victorian in Bon Air. But the process was overwhelming, and after her family of four moved to a row house on West Avenue, she knew that she wanted a professional's help.

"We wanted a Fan house that would be about art and conversation. We wanted it to have a gallery feel and to be more open, comfortable, and welcoming," Dauer says about her vision for her family's home.

By chance, Dauer met Liebschwager's taste before actually meeting her, and she immediately felt drawn to the distinctive Ruth & Ollie style. Once the two met, Dauer says, "I went home and told my husband [Craig] that I found The One. We were separated at birth!"

Above: Chandelier is fashioned from naturally shed bleached antlers.

Below: Snaking through the living room is an Ultrasuede sectional. The faux-croc embossed ottoman by Vanguard features a storage tray. Turquoise vases and white Truffault table lamp by Kenneth Wingard. Wool rug is in the Antelope pattern from Glen Eden.

Dauer and Liebschwager's shared affinity for turquoise, calf-hair accents, and bold accessories is readily apparent. For this interview both are sporting chunky turquoise necklaces, and Dauer is wearing calf-hair shoes (unplanned, they claim!).

These two have literally worked side by side on the project, but it's never felt like work. "Kat makes it really fun! Her style is indulgent, and there's a joyousness to it. Good design is like therapy, but it's also subtle. It immediately changes the feel of a room. Kat listens to me; she inspires me, and she nailed my style."

Dauer and Liebschwager quickly went to work designing the public spaces on the first floor of the home. A total renovation had already created an entry hall, sitting nook, and living room that looks through the dining room to the kitchen in the back. The challenge was in choosing materials, colors, and furnishings that would flow from room to room without looking homogenous.

Fortunately, Liebschwager had plenty to work with. Dauer came in with tons of pictures torn from magazines and had plenty of great pieces to start the process.

"I tend to fall in love with things, and Kat respected the pieces we already had," Dauer says. A large-scale square dining room table, Dauer's grandmother's sideboard, and even old family portraits have been incorporated into the overall design.

Still, Liebschwager's aesthetic eye and input have been invaluable. She started by painting the walls and dark wood trim of the main living area bright white to give the entire space a clean foundation. And even though the support columns separating the living room from the hallway couldn't be removed, Liebschwager found a way to snake the Dauers' sectional sofa around them. Now it looks like the furniture was custom-made for the room.

And the design had to work with the Dauers' expanding collection of contemporary art. Dauer, who sits on the board of the 1708 Gallery and worked for the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, has found a passion in collecting. For their family's home, she and her husband pick pieces they love. "For us it's an emotional response. And it's something we love doing together. There's so much talent in Richmond, and it's why we wanted to live in the city. We want to take risks and do the unexpected; this house reflects our lives."

A pair of Vanguard wing chairs upholstered in Riviera by David Hicks anchors a reading nook. Iron floor lamp by Arteriors.

And their home certainly offers its share of decorative daring. Over the mantel hangs "Upside Down Duck" by Stephen Clark, and just inside the front door you'll see what Craig Dauer calls "the ugliest chair," an amalgamation of horn and cowhide that Dauer considers the best Christmas present she's ever received. Her family also debates the appeal of "Call of the Wild," a surrealist deer head in goggles that hangs in the foyer. Snagged from a Paris gallery, it's certainly an unexpected choice that brings a bit of levity and interest to what is often an overlooked area of a home.

The fun continues in the dining room, where adults can feel like kids again, seated three across on custom-made white leather settees that invite conviviality. Here on the mantel you'll find two turquoise Fu dogs that delight the Dauer daughters, Cece, 8, and Ava, 6. There's a graphic black resin chandelier that picks up on the other black accents in the room. Back in the kitchen, the white cabinetry sets off splashes of color like the orange Jonathan Adler lamp.

Though the furniture and accessories are dazzling, not everything is new, or even precious. Liebschwager took great care to use washable upholstery, and she stain-treated everything, including a pair of reading chairs covered in David Hicks fabric. "We can live in and use every part of our house," Dauer says.

Now with the first floor finished, Dauer and Liebschwager are tackling the upstairs bedrooms. The girls couldn't be happier to have input on their own spaces. Undoubtedly the private spaces will be every bit as daring and dramatic as the public ones below.

The Dauers are more than pleased with their new home. Dauer says, "I love every element. I walk in the door and I smile."