Creating a 21st-century kitchen in a centuries-old home
Andrea Erda grew up romping around Historic Westover. The bucolic Virginia estate dates back to the 18th century, and it’s been in Erda’s family since 1921.
“It is an extraordinary space,” she says. “It’s also an enormous responsibility, but we felt a familial obligation to take on this albatross.”
In 2012, Erda and her family — husband, Rob, and three children — did just that.
“It’s remarkable in many ways: We have horses, chickens, dogs and cats. We have a thousand acres where the kids can go mountain biking or hiking,” says Erda. The house itself is incredible, too: The National Historic Landmark is a famous example of Georgian architecture, featuring a “main” house flanked by two symmetrical wings.
Westover is unique in that it’s both a home and a piece of history. In fact, the family hosts regular public tours. (Erda often finds herself vacuuming just before a tour because children have been “tromping through with muddy boots.”)
“House museums like this are really a snapshot of our history, yet this is a house that is continually evolving because it’s lived in,” she says.
One area in particular that desperately needed to evolve: the kitchen.
Westover’s original kitchen was in one of the house’s wings, far from the dining room. Before her parents took over the estate, Erda recalls her grandmother pressing a button under the dining table to alert staff when she was ready for a course to be cleared.
“It didn’t make any difference that the kitchen wasn’t near the dining room, because none of us were moving the dishes around. When my parents took over the house in the late ‘70s, people didn’t live like that anymore, and my parents came in without any staff. It made zero sense to have to walk 30 feet from your dining room to the kitchen.”
Erda’s parents relocated the kitchen to a long, narrow thoroughfare that connects the wing to the main house. When Erda moved her own family into the home, they slightly updated the galley-style kitchen but eventually determined the space was too small.
“Here we are in this enormous, beautiful house, and we have this galley kitchen where we’re smooshed,” she says. “When we entertain, I had to be back in this teeny-tiny room cooking by myself. And if people did want to be back there, then you’re standing in a kitchen where nobody can move.”
Finding the Right Reno Team
The home’s historic designation significantly limits what renovations can be made, meaning there would be no tearing down walls or drilling into floors. The family hired an architecture firm that specializes in historic properties, but it soon became clear it wasn’t a good fit. “They weren’t listening to a single thing that I said I needed in my kitchen.”
They parted ways, and eventually Erda found a firm that would listen. Around the same time, they also met renowned interior designer Mark Epstein, who happened to tour Historic Westover while in town on business.
When Epstein learned the family was planning a kitchen project, his interest was piqued. “We certainly didn’t have a budget for a designer; all of our budget goes to taking care of this behemoth. He just kind of adopted us,” she says. “The ability to really put a mark on this historic space and move it into the 21st century in a way that would make it livable for generations to come really excited him.”
They were ready to embark on the project, accompanied by a trusted team that included Epstein. One of his first suggestions was to consider Monogram appliances. “Mark was in a relationship with Monogram and had been using a lot of their appliances,” Erda says, “and he thought it would be a good fit for us.”
They would go on to follow this and other advice from Epstein, who died unexpectedly in October 2020 — just five months after the Historic Westover kitchen project was complete.
In recounting the renovation process, Erda highlights the importance of finding trusted team members like Epstein. “Find people who share your vision and listen to you. Be committed to what’s important to you. People have ideas about what looks good, but it might not work for you. Really think through how you use the space, and then find the best people to help you bring that to life.”
Coming Soon: Part 2 — From Historic Ballroom to Modern Kitchen