This is a story of how a simple, well-built turn-of-the-century house on Peakland Place was saved from demolition. Much to the delight of the Fontana family it was transformed into an elegant home with all of the modern amenities, just perfect for the family’s lifestyle.
Early in the 1900s a new subdivision was born. “It was fancy as can be,” says Bob Garby, retired architect and local historian. According to Garby the real attraction here was the streetcar. To encourage interest in the Peakland Place area, the streetcar route was extended down the entire road in 1913, thus providing residents with an easy commute to downtown from what was then the “boonies.” A few homes were built immediately; however, most of the development did not occur until after World War I.
Rivermont Land Company originally planned the development of the area and spent its own money to build the Rivermont Bridge as well as to extend the streetcar route. However the company went into receivership long before it was able to plot and sell off lots. Peakland was finally developed by the Peakland Corporation. According to Allen Chambers’ Lynchburg, an Architectural History, Peakland was known as the “$100,000 suburb, listed in a city directory as one of the mighty strides accomplished between 1911 and 1912 and took off where Rivermont left off.”
By 1938 the streetcar tracks were removed, and a landscaped parkway with divided lanes of traffic on either side took its place. Today Peakland Place is known as a charming tree-lined street with lovely old homes.
Katie Fontana fell in love with Peakland Place the moment she set eyes on it. The family was planning to move to Lynchburg from Potomac, Maryland after Katie’s husband, John, took a position as CEO of Virginia Candle Company. Katie recalls, “We drove down Peakland on our way to look at VES (Virginia Episcopal School) for our son,” and told her realtor, “We want to live on this street!”
At the time there was nothing for sale, but then the Fontanas noticed a sign on an empty home with Gordon Cudd named as the contractor. Cudd was finishing up a renovation that he had originally purchased to resell. The period house had been home to many families over its ninety-plus-year history. After its last owner had passed away the house stood vacant until Cudd purchased it. While today the home is comparable to all of the lovely homes on Peakland Place, it had fallen into a state of disrepair.
When Katie Fontana first walked through the stucco home she knew it was right. “Within thirty-six hours we bought it!” said Fontana. “It has everything we wanted and it has the best of both worlds. My husband liked the idea of an old house. But, of course, you get a brand new one too! It is an old house with all new plumbing and wiring, and a new kitchen.”
The house, built in 1918, is a simple “American four square” home, a style very common in the Lynchburg area at the turn of the century. Bob Garby thinks that the house was designed by Stanhope Johnson, though no documentary evidence could be found. It was originally built for resale by a local family and was one of the first homes constructed on the road. Both space-efficient and economical, the nearly all square house featured a pyramidal roof with a centered dormer and two windows on either side.
When Cudd first saw the property he was interested solely in the lot. “I bought it to tear it down,” he explained. “The house was in bad shape. It had not been cared for in many years and the yard was overrun with weeds. The back porch was about to fall off the house. It was completely neglected and probably on the verge of being condemned.” The property was in desperate need of work. “I knew that the lot was worth it,” he added. Cudd planned to build a classical style home on the site.
After taking a closer look at the house’s interior, Gordon Cudd began to see possibilities. As he pulled out layers of debris, it became clear that the house had great potential and was truly worth salvaging. He compared it to a diamond in the rough.
According to Cudd he had no previous experience with older homes. “Until the economy fell I wouldn’t touch a remodel job!” But clearly the work was there and he decided to tackle the house.
The first item of business in the renovation project was to tear off the back porch. “It did not need much help!” he said. An old garage with three sides caving in was also demolished.
Throughout the renovation not a thing was changed from the view on the road. Cudd managed to salvage the original front porch, door, railings, posts and even the light fixture. “We just fixed it the way it should have looked,” said Cudd.
In contrast, there was a major transformation in the interior. Cudd described the original home as a “Barebones house with all of the potential of a family house.” There was nothing ornate inside. No fancy moldings or other details could be found in the original interior.
For many of his projects, Gordon Cudd teams up with local realtor Jane Blickenstaff. With this project she did all of the design work, recommending colors, molding and other details. “I have a feel for spaces,” said Cudd. His contribution was in the layout of the rooms. “It was truly a team effort.”
The living room featured a large red brick fireplace with a tiny fire box. It was the first thing that visitors saw as they walked in the front door. “It was horrible looking!” said Cudd. He replaced it with a classically styled period mantel that gives the room the elegance that it deserves. Cudd also added moldings and chair rails to the living and dining rooms, making them much more formal.
Today Katie has decorated both rooms simply, with furniture amassed over the years. Artwork, mostly collected by John Fontana while working in Russia, hangs throughout the home.
A small study is tucked away behind the living room. His and her desks give the couple space to work in a cozy room set aside for the tasks at hand. Bookcases and shelving help keep order, and in the center of the ceiling hangs a lovely chandelier that Cudd rescued from the dining room.
Throughout the home there are many examples of salvaging pieces from one spot in the house to use elsewhere. “Gordon did a good job keeping what he could,” said Katie. Lovely old crystal doorknobs are used throughout the home as are the original doors and pine and oak wood flooring. Even bathtubs were rescued and reused when possible.
Cudd reworked the electric, plumbing, heat, air conditioning, vent work and insulation, and added a basement under the addition. Halfway through the project Cudd thought, “I wish I tore it down!” It was getting expensive. Things kept popping up. Rotten boards had to be replaced. Everywhere he turned there were more repairs. But Cudd persisted and the results are stunning!
The kitchen had not been upgraded in years and was in terrible condition. Here Cudd worked with Chris Hargis of Kitchen & Bath Ideas and did a total renovation with new cabinets, counters and appliances. The Fontanas purchased the home in time to make a few changes to Cudd’s renovation plans to suit their own personal needs. Katie Fontana opted for different appliances and some of the cabinets had to be changed to fit.
The windows in the kitchen and breakfast room are eye-catching. Traditional divided multi-panes are painted white and contrast with the putty-colored walls. The result is a bright, cheerful room. Custom sized plantation shutters were installed by Moyanne Harding of Interiors by Moyanne. Because the windows were original, every frame is unique and each window had to be painstakingly fitted.
Cudd broke through the back wall of the kitchen to add a large breakfast room and a family room. He reproduced the lovely style windows throughout the addition, thus enhancing the appearance of the entire area. In the family room, a coffered ceiling and gas log fireplace flanked by bookcases create an inviting space. Today the combination kitchen, breakfast room and family room is a wonderful gathering spot for family and friends—a huge transformation from what it had been.
Another change in design plans involved extending the deck across the entire back of the house and providing additional access from the new breakfast room. “Gordon had three windows facing the backyard,” said Katie. “We had him pull out the windows, add French doors and extend the deck from the family room so it now adjoins the breakfast room off the kitchen.” This created large open spaces both inside and on the deck, providing a great entertainment area. “Gordon was so agreeable to our changes. He was great to work with.”
The deck overlooks a small yard. According to Katie, future plans include the addition of a two-car garage with living place above and a screened-in porch on the side of the home.
Throughout the rooms Katie uses candles. More than just a decoration, the glowing candles produce the perfect atmosphere in each room. The formal areas appear a touch more elegant, and the informal rooms become cozy. Elegant and innovative floral arrangements throughout the downstairs rooms are created by Sheri Payne of Dancing Leaf, a florist in downtown Lynchburg.
At one time in the house’s history, the upstairs had been converted into an apartment sectioned off from the rest of the home. Gordon Cudd transformed the upstairs into living space for the Fontanas’ three children. He utilized an existing bath with access from the hall. Here Cudd was able to reuse the original fixtures. One bedroom has an attached private bath with multiple shelves and an enormous walk-in shower. To be sure, this small suite is the odds-on favorite among the three siblings!
Towards the back of the home, above the downstairs addition, Cudd added an elegant master bedroom suite featuring large windows, bookcases, hardwood floors and striking sage-colored walls. The luxurious bath includes a wall of mirrors, an enormous walk-in shower, and a clawfoot tub, which Cudd discovered in the basement and renovated for the room.
All of the baths in the home were drastically changed. A small bath off the center hall had fallen into total disrepair and was a true eyesore. All the fixtures were removed and Cudd converted the space into a laundry room. Floors were replaced with checkerboard tiles. Cabinets hang above a front-loading washer and dryer, and today the room is sunny and cheerful.
The Fontana family could not be happier with their choice of a neighborhood or house. “We love it here!” exclaims Katie. “The house is a blend of old and new, and it is just so comfortable.” And after years of neglect the neighbors are happy once again to see lights in the stucco home on Peakland.