In the early morning hours of Oct. 4, 2015, Clara and Nelson Weston awoke to the same flooding nightmare that so many others faced that morning and that they never dreamed they would have to endure. The Westons managed to get some prized possessions up to the second floor of their house before they had to be rescued by a neighbor in a boat. “We grabbed photographs and the children’s portraits,” Clara says. “We had to crawl out a second story window to escape the house.”
Once the waters receded, the Westons decided to bite the financial bullet and renovate. The first step was raising the house 7 feet on its foundation before interior renovations could even begin. “We were very fortunate that we had contractors we had worked with before who were able to help us make the renovations,” Clara says.
Construction workers removed the drywall as quickly as possible to prevent mold from developing, and they worked to draw up new plans for the bottom floor, which had to be gutted entirely with everything ripped out. “We really didn’t make any major changes to the house,” Clara says. “We changed the layout of the kitchen, took out a few windows here and there, and widened a few doors.”
The Westons were not able to return to their home for nearly a year. “Nelson, my husband, offered to host his law office’s 2017 Christmas party,” Clara says. “I think it was his way of encouraging me to complete the renovations and get the final furnishings in place in the living room so that we could decorate for the party.”
When they originally moved into the house 15 years ago, Clara remembers the trend was to paint rooms in varying colors. “I had a blue room and a yellow room,” she says. “We used more warm colors like beige and darker shades.” With the opportunity to renovate, Clara chose a brighter palette of colors overall, using more grays and whites for the walls and interjecting color through the furnishings. “It’s definitely a different feel from before,” she says.
For her dining room, Clara says she took a leap of faith in choosing to use wallpaper rather than paint. “I found this wallpaper from Cotton and Quill,” she says, “and just fell in love with it. I’m just thrilled with how it turned out.” The wallpaper, called “Chinoiserie: Blush” by Liza Hathaway Matthews, features a large floral pattern with green fauna on a cream background.
Clara prefers an interior that combines the old with the new; fortunately, they were able to save family antiques. “All our upholstered furniture had to be replaced,” Clara says, “but we were able to have the dining room table refinished.” They also managed to save an antique sideboard handed down from Nelson’s family. “We manhandled that thing upstairs as the water was coming in. It was important for us to be able to save that piece.”
The formal living room features two walls of built-in bookcases filled with books, photographs, and family treasures. Clara added color in the room through the upholstered furniture including a pink sofa and green velvet armchairs. “I like color in my furnishings,” she says, adding, “It’s fun to accent neutrals with bright colors.”
She also desired that her house feel “lived in” to exude comfort. And because they have two dogs that tend to shed, she chose fabrics that would be easy to care for.
The kitchen underwent the most renovation. “I like a cottage feel in my kitchen,” she says, “because it is very much the hub of activity.” To accommodate all that activity, she changed one aspect of the kitchen to add a small bar and a sofa for a sitting area. While Clara chose to keep the cabinets white as in the original kitchen, she updated the countertops to gray and white composite to give it a sleeker feel and to blend with new stainless appliances. “It’s a very comfortable kitchen.”
The original kitchen had a double oven, but Clara admits that she doesn’t cook all that much. “I wasn’t even sure we really needed an oven,” she quips, “but my husband loves to cook, so we did install a new oven range.”
She also accented the walls along the cabinetry with a subway tile backsplash and created more contrast in the room by staining the original honey-colored floors a much darker color.
Connected to the kitchen is the sunroom, a favorite spot for Clara. When they bought the house 15 years ago, that space was originally a screened-in porch, and they later glassed it in to create the sunroom. The family gathers for breakfast and other meals in the sunroom, and Clara enjoys it as a reading room as well. “It’s more of the heart of the house,” she says. “Especially in the morning, it’s light-filled. It overlooks Little Lake Katherine, and you may see a beautiful heron or geese or ducks. It’s so peaceful.”
Clara and Nelson also enjoy spending time on their newly covered deck. “The deck wasn’t covered before the flood, so it tended to get very warm,” Clara says. “Now that it’s covered, we spend a good bit of time out there in the shade.”
While Clara did the interior design herself, she asked for input from friends in making choices. “I worked at Mack Home and had wonderful resources for furnishings, and my friends gave me wonderful advice.”
Decorating Their “New” Home for
When decorating for the holidays and hosting the law office Christmas party, Clara relied on her longtime friend, Julianne Sojourner. “She knows me very well and knows what I like,” says Clara.
Throughout the house, Julianne draped smilax — in the entry hallway from the table up through the light fixture, in the dining room around the mirror, and in the living room across the mantle around the antique angels — with votive candles interspersed throughout. The angels, made by artist Thrace Shirley, were a gift to Clara for her work on the annual fundraiser for Heathwood Hall Episcopal School. “They have great meaning to me, and we had to rescue them during the flood to the upstairs as well.”
The Westons have many Christmas traditions they continue to celebrate with their three grown children. Clara’s mother, Lila Fairey, gave each family member personalized needlepoint stockings that hang from the mantle. Family ornaments, many made by their children when young, hang on the Fraser fir Christmas tree. “When the kids were younger, we would put up the tree and wait for them to get home from school so they could hang their ornaments,” Clara says. Even today, the Westons’ grown children look for their ornaments. “I’ve never even bought an angel for the tree because we’ve always used the angel that my daughter made when she was five.”
Other ornaments have great meaning as well. “Our neighbors gave us ornaments to commemorate that we were all back in our homes,” Clara says. “That means more than you can imagine.”
Christmas traditions also include get-togethers with extended family and the Christmas Eve Service. Each Saturday before Christmas, the entire Weston family joins cousins for an oyster roast and skeet shoot at a farm that has been in Nelson’s family for generations.
For Christmas Eve, the Westons return home following afternoon visits with family to have Champagne and watch It’s a Wonderful Life before heading to evening services at Trinity Cathedral. “I would help with the altar guild, and the children would serve as acolytes,” Clara says. “It helps you appreciate the wonder and magic of Christmas.”
When the kids were younger, Nelson’s parents would come over on Christmas morning to see what Santa had brought and to open gifts. “Nelson’s late mother loved Christmas,” Clara says, “and when Nelson was a little boy, his grandparents and later his parents always hosted a Christmas Day lunch.” Clara has now taken over that charge to host the Christmas luncheon. “It’s a wonderful opportunity for all of us to get together with our family.”
Given what they endured from the flood, Clara and Nelson have a greater appreciation for what is important in life. “While we are thankful for what we were able to save, we also realize that things aren’t so important,” Clara says. “And especially at Christmas, we know what means the most is being together, still holding to our family traditions, and knowing how blessed we truly are.”