Photography by Michael Patch
In the world at large, change is constant. In the design world, this desire for change is ever-present and the driving force for innovative spaces. A design trend on the rise is a marriage of traditional and modern design styles, aptly called “traditional contemporary.” This blend of old and new celebrates the best of each, creating a look that is both timeless and timely. Think of this style as traditional design with a punch.
Lynchburg has a prime example of this design in the home of Betsy and Jeb Burton. Nestled off of Rivermont Avenue on a corner lot lined with hedges sits the Burton home, a stately two-story Colonial built in 1941. With its red brick exterior and slate roof, one might expect very traditional interiors; however, Betsy has blended traditional and modern design elements to result in a home that features an elegant, enduring look that is both comfortable and classic.
Betsy and Jeb moved into their home in 2018. “We bought the house before it went on the market,” says Betsy. “We love old houses, and the architecture of this house is amazing.” Betsy is a designer and local artist who specializes in beautiful paintings and mixed media, hand painted mirrors and vases. With her design business, Betsy caters to her clients’ needs, but also likes to push them to expand their concept of what it means to be traditional or modern. For many, modern is too sleek but traditional is too stodgy. Designers like Betsy are seeing a dramatic increase in the number of clients who want to toss the rules out the window and merge traditional elements, such as wainscoting or antique furniture, with modern, clean-lined furnishings. The Burton house is a testament to her design portfolio.
Betsy’s knack for blending old and new is evident upon entering the front door. The foyer is painted a very pale blue. Betsy used Benjamin Moore paint throughout the house. An antique chest sits grandly with local artwork by Rodney Laughon above it, featuring views of valleys and mountains in soft blues and greens. A pair of mirrored modern lamps with geodes on them sits on a contemporary gold console table with a marble top. Betsy made the lamps as well as a mixed media gold mirror featuring birds’ nests that hangs above the console. A pair of traditional chairs covered in a vibrant yellow Thibaut fabric completes the foyer. Traditional elements are found winding up the staircase where portraits of family members hang and the triple dentil moldings found throughout the house are on full display.
A pair of club chairs is positioned for intimate fireside conversations. The sofa and chairs are covered in performance fabrics meant to withstand much of what life throws at them. Above the sofa is a piece of art created by Betsy, in bright colors and touches of gold. In this work, she has glued a smaller painting on top of a larger painting for added interest and intrigue. Built-in book cases showcase her collection of birds’ nests, Herend figurines and dishes, and vintage books. Many found treasures from travel find a home in these bookcases as well. An intricately carved Italian birthing chair that has been in Betsy’s family for years adds an element of darker wood to the room, warming the space.
Balancing out the feminine pink tables is another true showstopper in the living room: a wooden replica of the United States Capitol Building that is more than 100 years old. Made of apple crates and measuring a substantial 3 by 6 feet, this replica grabs visitors’ attention the minute they walk into the room. Betsy and her father-in-law painstakingly restored it and it has been on display around the city over the years. In the traditional contemporary style, above this large antique is a modern gold mirror, flanked by hot-pink-andwhite- striped draperies on the windows. Betsy had the draperies made from two different heavy cotton and linen fabrics, sewed together to make the stripes.
Like the living room, the dining room also has moments of wow and moments of rest. It features a large inlaid oval table with two different sets of inlaid chairs for 10. Betsy purchased four of these chairs when she was in the 9th grade, with money she had saved from babysitting. Even at a young age, Betsy was cultivating her design style. These antique chairs have been refreshed with white fluffy animal hides as the seat cushions. Betsy says, “The hides actually make the antique chairs more comfortable.” A neutral white paint color on the walls, gray and white striped draperies which she had custom made in the same way as the living room, and a gray sisal rug provide a nice counterpoint to the bright artwork on the walls. Above the dining room table is an elegant modern chandelier, with four thin gold arms stretching wide and adorned with simple shades. It blends seamlessly with the pair of antique benches on one wall of the room. These benches were made from a single bed frame and yellow silk cushions were added. Above the benches are six symmetrically hung, hand-painted bird plates. A traditional fireplace with a marble surround grounds the room with its simple elegance.
Betsy and Jeb have renovated one room of their house since moving in: their kitchen. “The space was cramped; it felt too closed in for us,” she says. In this space, they used white Shaker-style cabinets with modern chrome cabinet pulls. The white subway tile used as the backsplash reads both vintage and modern at the same time. To open up the space, Betsy opted for open shelving on either side of her kitchen sink. White quartz countertops that mimic marble keep the kitchen feeling uncluttered. Betsy chose quartz because “it is easy to care for but doesn’t stain like marble.” The pops of color come from the artwork in the room, almost all of which was done by Betsy. Blue and white fabric covers two chairs that sit around a small white table and provide an eat-in option in the kitchen as well. A silver tray in the window sill holds Betsy’s collection of heart-shaped rocks. She picks them up when she travels and each one has a special memory associated with it.
Along the back side of the house is Jeb’s den. Featuring darker colors, the room has a more masculine feel than the rest of the house. Along one wall of the room are builtin shelves that showcase some of Jeb’s favorite items, including his collection of wooden carved figurines that were originally the molds for paper mache items. Rounding out the room are taxidermy birds and other animals. The room feels comfortable and well traveled. A sofa and club chairs provide comfortable seating options. The chairs are covered in fabric from Perennials Fabrics, a company that specializes in luxury performance fabric to be used inside and out.
Between Jeb’s den and the living room is a small room with doors leading to the back yard. This room was enclosed by the first owners, having originally been an outdoor patio space. Windows cover almost the entire length of the back wall so light fills the room. Painted pale yellow, it features a charming fireplace, brick walls, and more built-in bookcases loaded with Betsy’s unique treasures. A black iron table with a glass top keeps the room feeling airy. Betsy had this table made from old iron fencing. A pair of chairs lends itself to afternoon naps. Birds’ nests, ferns and orchids help this room transition from the inside to the outside garden.
The backyard garden at the Burton house in enclosed by a brick wall. This yard played a big role in the Burtons’ decision to buy this house. Betsy says, “After having 14 acres [in our previous house], we are enjoying this small backyard enclosed with a wonderful serpentine wall.” In one corner is a Koi pond with a wall fountain. Its soothing sounds cast a spell over the garden. Azalea, catnip and boxwood are abundant. The limestone patio features seasonal pots of annuals with ample places to sit. This cozy space is a favorite place to entertain or enjoy a cup of coffee. Betsy is excited for many people to have the opportunity to see this garden—and her house—during the Historic Garden Day tour in April. She says, “Jeb and I are happy to open our house for such a good cause. The money raised goes towards historic garden renovations across the state.” For someone who loves a good antique, this cause is a great fit.
A true artist at heart, Betsy uses her creativity to constantly reinvent her house. She loves to move furniture, art and lamps around the house. Betsy confesses to family members “coming home and never knowing where a chair or piece of art may be from one day to the next.” Because her palette of colors remains harmonious and her larger items, like rugs and sofas, are neutral, she is able to do this. She tries to help her clients achieve this in their own homes as well. The Burton house serves as a shining example of all that traditional contemporary design can be. ✦