Melissa Mangold isn’t one to shy away from a project. Even if it’s a big project—big like renovating an entire century-old house, from top to bottom, by herself. What gave her the courage? Melissa is self-deprecating; she says she’s “old”—though her youthful appearance and energy suggest otherwise. She says she’s a cheapskate— though nothing about historic renovation sounds cheap. She says she had an uncle who was a plumber—that one might have some merit. Whatever the reason, this New Jersey native and world traveler has put down roots in Lynchburg, and is reviving an historic home on Rivermont Avenue in an unexpected way.
The two-story foyer features teal walls and a quirky collection of colorful art, for plenty of visual impact.
Melissa moved here two years ago from St. Petersburg, Florida, after seeing historic homes listed online for prices she thought were too good to be true. She contacted real estate agent Victoria Bartholomew, and together with her partner, Jeremy, toured 10 houses in one day. Melissa laughs about Bartholomew’s patience that day: “We’re still friends!” She’s a people person; in her short time in Lynchburg, Melissa has met many new friends while working on her project, and that day she looked at homes with an eye to welcoming visitors to the city via Airbnb, the online booking service that has transformed 21st century hospitality.
Melissa settled on a three-story Georgian Revival on Rivermont Avenue. “This house was built in 1907 by a lawyer,” she says. “Three generations of the same family lived here, one after the other, so it didn’t have a lot of different owners.” But with its eventual new ownership, the house and its adjoining cottage were converted into a rooming house. Melissa, who has an interior design and visual merchandising background (“I worked for a large retail company called Urban Outfitters in New York City for many years,” she says), could see its potential. “They just don’t make stuff like this anymore,” she exclaims, holding her arms above her head and gesturing to the expansive foyer. Her enthusiasm is matched by sheer determination. “I think watching something with great bones and potential come back to life is really cool.”
Furniture and artwork throughout the historic house impart a modern, playful feel.
She speaks from experience. After traveling extensively (she’s been to more than 30 countries and lived in three of them), she bought a fixer-upper in New Jersey about 20 years ago. “It was a dump,” she says matter-of-factly, but taught her how to do, literally, whatever needed to be done. Since those were preinternet days, she would check books out of the library, haunt home improvement stores, and notch countless DIY hours. She tackled plumbing, electrical and HVAC issues, along with more esthetic-related projects such as painting, tiling and flooring.
Melissa sold her New Jersey home at the top of the market and moved onto a new project: transforming a bungalow in Florida into a comfortable space for both her family and for Airbnb guests. With a few modifications, the arrangement allowed her to stay home with her young son, and helped offset the costs of home improvements and the mortgage.
So when she saw the massive fixer-upper on one of Lynchburg’s most revered avenues, it wasn’t as daunting as it might be for other buyers. She knew it would be a lot of work getting the house how she wanted it, but the layout was conducive for a bed and breakfast, and she knew she could make improvements herself.
From the top down
“We moved right into the upstairs,” says Melissa, which is where the home’s only full kitchen is located. Main floor renovations began almost immediately. “I had to get that sorted out so we could start taking reservations,” she explains, since funds were needed to fuel the other projects. Though the downstairs dining room and living room were still works in progress during her early reservations, Melissa says, “Guests seemed to like seeing the work in progress, no one seemed to mind at all.” Once the first floor was finished, she tackled the upstairs.
Melissa pulled shades from original fireplace tiles into the home’s decor.
After doing roof repairs and installing mini-splits (a heating and cooling system that allows control of the temperature in individual rooms or spaces) in every bedroom, she turned her artist’s eye to the spaces themselves. She painted the twostory foyer dark teal, and showcased the home’s custom-made woodwork—including two massive arched doorways, the door casings, the staircase balusters, and extra-tall baseboards—with a high gloss white.
“I pull ideas from the collections of things I’ve saved in my mind over the years,” says Melissa. “Sounds weird, but I’ll see a color or light fixture that I love and catalog it in my memory. Lots of times a place will also give me inspiration. Barcelona is colors, vibrancy, and Gaudi’s architecture—all of which were a huge influence on the dining room.”
There, neutral walls allow the decor to pop. The green-gray walls pick up tones in the tile that surrounds the fireplace, both original to the house. An oriental-style rug in vibrant pinks and blues is the foundation for a modern white table with six bright pink, yellow and blue Eamesstyle dining chairs. Huge windows with sheers let in natural light.
In the adjoining living room, she used the fireplace’s tile as inspiration. “The original green fireplace tile was not my favorite, but it led me to the idea of pink furniture,” she explains. “In my mind, I love pink and green together, so I went with it and just filled in the gaps once I found the ideal vintage style sofa and chairs.”
The dining room is inspired by the colors of Barcelona, with pops of pink, blue, and yellow hues.
Throughout the house, the art pieces Melissa has chosen lend a modern feel. In the foyer, she created visual impact without spending a lot of money by hanging nine clipboards—each one with a variation of a colorful cow skull. In the dining room, it’s a group of six brightly colored clocks and a graphic llama print. In the living room, it’s a gigantic print of a pink bunny nestled into vibrant green grasses. “I’m kind of all over the place in my taste and style, honestly,” says Melissa, shrugging. “I like what I like.” With daylight hours devoted to projects, she often finds her inspiration from a variety of websites that she surfs at night. “I may see a great piece of art that will give me a color story for the rest of the space,” she explains. Society6 is one of her favorite online resources: “Amazing artists sell work on the site available in many different mediums—and it’s affordable.”
For holiday decorating, Melissa likes to creates vignettes, like the vintage ornaments and brightly colored balls woven into mantelpiece greenery in the living room. Holiday items are carefully curated to be understated while adding some spirit. “I like to collect pine cones from the Old City Cemetery—they have the best trees and cones there! Plus, it’s a fun trip for the family.”
Across the hall are the guest rooms— two full bedrooms and an adjoining bathroom. Again, Melissa used her unique style to add interest to the spaces. The fireplace tile in one room is a bright turquoise; she used the color in small doses to provide continuity throughout the room—it’s picked up in a pillow, the print of an upholstered chair, and flowerpots. The second bedroom is both functional— there is a coffee maker, mini fridge and microwave—and comfortable. Here, pops of bright yellow contrast with the neutral gray walls and furnishings.
The upstairs bath features a clawfoot tub, two vanities, and vibrant shades of navy and orange.
The second floor is where the family spends most of their time. The huge hallway has a modern, Southwestern feel—a boho, Aztec-style rug reads modern in a pastel palette, and centers a leather settee and sleek wooden table that can do double duty as a desk. A Depression-era hutch has been painted ballerina pink, and displays some favorite china. Cactuses and other live plants add color, along with a homey feeling.
Just off the hallway is the master bedroom, which continues that vibe, mainly through the use of textiles. A low bed is covered with a cotton chenille bedspread, and an unframed canvas painting hangs above it. A huge macramé piece hangs above the fireplace, and next to it, a thick Mexican serape adds color to a neutral chair. Potted plants—there are dozens throughout the house—add color and a sense of tranquility.
Melissa reworked the one original bathroom upstairs to make it more functional for her family. She installed two vanity sinks, reglazed and repainted the clawfoot tub, and painted the walls above the white wainscoting a bright orange, which adds a burst of color without being overwhelming.
The only space in the house with wallpaper is Melissa’s closet. When the house was built, closets were not a thing. Built-ins help with storage (sheets, towels, cleaning supplies) in many of the rooms, but a true closet turned out to be a necessity. It is a whole room, albeit the smallest in the house. Melissa added racks for hanging clothes, along with a vanity and a dresser. A huge window provides natural light.
Also upstairs is her son’s bedroom, and a multi-functional room where the family can share meals at the table, work on the computer, or hang out and read on the daybed. In the upstairs kitchen, Melissa painted the existing cabinets a light gray-blue, installed new countertops and appliances, and fashioned a backsplash from tin tiles. It’s a small, galley-style arrangement, but Melissa has enough space there to work at her other business, Ai Events and Parties, for which she bakes, and makes paper party decorations and floral arrangements.
Melissa reconfigured the family’s upstairs quarters, turning the smallest room into a closet and the largest into a multifunctional living space.
The home’s transformation is impressive, but Melissa downplays her natural talent for combining styles and colors in a way that appears fresh, eclectic and uncluttered. “I surf Airbnb listings sometimes and look at beautiful homes in Cuba and France, and that gives me a lot of ideas,” she says. “I love seeing really old places redefined with urban and modern furnishings. I feel sad when old houses are furnished solely in dated pieces. I think, ‘Would I want to wear the same clothes and hairstyle for 50 years? No, I wouldn’t.’”
It’s a good point, and Melissa believes that a lot of people feel the same way about creating design that feels fresh and yet will last. “A few good, classic pieces are great—but when those are mixed with a few trendy decor items, you really can have something special.” ✦
Photography by Michael Patch