Date: April 3, 2023 | Story: Rebekah Hall Scott | Photography: Rett Peek |
In Bentonville, interior designer Whitney Romanoff helps restore a century-old farmhouse deeply rooted in Arkansas history while imbuing it with cottage charm and playful details
For Erin and Jon Richardson, bringing new life to their 120-year-old stone farmhouse required a creative collaboration that embraced their love of color, pattern, and playfulness while honoring the history of the home and its builder. After connecting with Whitney Romanoff of Meet West Studio via Instagram, Erin said she quickly knew she had found the right designer. “I just loved Whitney’s style,” she says. “I loved that it was organic, and I could tell that she had a strong vision.”
The Bentonville farmhouse is a slice of Arkansas history that Erin and Jon were determined to preserve and amplify. The land the house sits on was first purchased in 1898 by Aaron “Rock” Van Winkle, an emancipated slave who worked as a lumberman in the Northwest Arkansas region. According to Jerry Harris Moore, a historian and professor of sociology at Northwest Arkansas Community College, Rock was a skilled engineer and “principal agent” of Van Winkle Mills, owned by Peter Van Winkle. Timber from the Van Winkle Mills was used to build hundreds of homes and businesses in the area, including the University of Arkansas’s Old Main. Jerry says Rock’s impact on the Bentonville community—and his contributions to Arkansas history—cannot be overstated. “What makes this house important is that Rock built it. It was Rock’s house, and it wasn’t anyone else’s house,” Jerry says. “He used timber from the empire that he helped build, so he took what he had developed and created a space for his family. At the time, the house he built was top notch. He built a house equivalent to the wealthy whites, and probably better than most whites. The area he lived in was in the country, so therefore Bentonville grew to his area and then passed it.”
Erin and Jon bought the home in February 2020, and they lived in the house for a year before making any changes, which Whitney says was the “total right thing” to do. “They were able to fully understand what was working, what wasn’t working, and how they used the space,” Whitney says. “I think it says a lot about Erin, too, and her care and respect for the home—she didn’t want to just come in and start ripping out walls.”
Aesthetically, Erin was inspired by British maximalist interiors and the “old world feel” of European farmhouses. For her part, Whitney researched the designs of William Morris and the Arts and Crafts movement, with their emphasis on natural materials and craftsmanship, to marry those influences within the context of this house.
“We really wanted to make the space feel like them,” Whitney says. “We wanted to warm it up, add some light, and, with some of the choices we made, root it back into Arkansas and the time period of the home. In Erin’s words, ‘I want to do right by Rock.’”
When design changes began, Erin was pregnant with the couple’s first child, so reconfiguring the laundry room was the top priority. They then moved through the rest of the home, imbuing each space with color, pattern, and hand-crafted details that speak to both the history of the home and the passions of its current inhabitants. “Erin is a ceramicist, so we felt like that was something we wanted to celebrate for her—the hand of the artist, and those details being present in as many finishes as we could select,” Whitney says.
For Erin and Jon, caring for the home Rock Van Winkle built is rooted in ensuring the house—and his story—continue to stand the test of time. “When we bought this home, we knew that we were just temporary visitors here,” Erin says. “This home was here before we were born and will be here after we die, and we are just stewards of it. It was our job to leave this home in a better place than we found it. That’s how we view our role in this home.”
Whitney embraced that the dining room does not receive a lot of natural light and leaned into it with this “perfect, earthy blue-green,” she says. The wallpaper is “Bird and Pomegranate” by Morris & Co.
All in the Family
Erin credits Whitney for embracing many of her family’s heirloom pieces, incorporating them seamlessly into the home’s design. Rustic hickory dining chairs from Erin’s family in the North Carolina mountains were revamped with plush pink cushions, and an heirloom table was refinished in an espresso matte finish. Erin’s grandmother’s sideboard was also restored and painted to match the room. “It fits perfectly in that spot and looks like something we had built in,” Whitney says. | Trim paint color is “Saturday on Sunday” by Backdrop
The home sits on land that was once a walnut farm, and a few trees remain on the property. Whitney paid homage to this through the use of a custom-mixed walnut stain to get a warm, rich tone for the lower cabinets. They contrast elegantly with the backsplash of handmade zellige tile. “It had lots of earthiness in the glaze, so I thought Erin, as a ceramicist, would really appreciate it,” Whitney says.
Upper cabinetry painted “Breakfast Room Green” by Farrow & Ball.
Through the Years
Inspired by the kitchens of Italian, French, and British farmhouses, Erin and Whitney wanted to use natural materials and finishes designed to age gracefully over time. The terracotta tiles are sealed but not polished, giving them an antique finish that “connects the space to the surrounding landscape and earth outside,” Whitney says. The faucets, light switches, and hardware are unlacquered brass, which Whitney says “continues living and adds a great warmth to the space.” Though they originally planned to build a custom island, a console table Erin’s aunt sourced from a farmhouse in Georgia ended up being the perfect size for the new kitchen. “I love the age that it adds, and the oversized knobs,” Whitney says. “It’s another family piece that is now living its best life.” Pendants with ceramic shades hang above, providing both farmhouse form and practical function. A custom shelf ledge running the length of the windows is a favorite sunning spot for the family’s four cats.
Let the Light In
As a fresh breath of light in contrast to the moodier dining room, the home’s family room is painted in Benjamin Moore’s “Opal,” which Whitney says has the “perfect undertone of peachy pink.” “In the afternoon with the light from the windows behind the sofa, it just makes this room have a peachy sunset glow,” Whitney says. “Erin is not one to have all-over white paint, so this gave us some color but still brightened the space, keeping it open and airy with a warm glow at night.”
Whitney used another Morris & Co. wallpaper, titled “Honeysuckle,” in the home’s entry. “It’s one of those Arkansas memories, the red clay and the honeysuckle summer,” Whitney says. The built-in benches provide storage and, along with the trim, ceiling, and molding, are painted the same light green as the kitchen cabinets. “Something about this ‘Breakfast Room Green’ is a couple notches up on the funk,” Whitney says. “It has a little bit of the electricity Erin was looking for.”
Details That Sing
In the guest bathroom, Whitney was inspired by historic homes and old hotels, where the spaces look “custom and built in, and not tacked on.” Grasscloth wallpaper “adds a bit of richness, warmth and texture,” she says, but doesn’t take away from the custom mosaic floor by American Restoration Tile, whom she worked with to create the design based on a wedding quilt pattern from the 1920s.
The guest bath vanity was found on Facebook Marketplace, and for the countertop, a remnant of granite was treated with a matte finish. “Something about that subtle curve that fits perfectly around the rounded mirror adds a little something extra that makes it feel special,” Whitney says. The diminutive sconce features a pleated ceramic lampshade, both a nod to the British interiors that inspired the home’s décor and to Erin’s craft. The paint color seen here is “Azores” by Benjamin Moore.
“We wanted to give it that bathhouse feel,” Whitney says of the primary bath. The small room has low ceilings, so the addition of the skylight helps open the space, as does carrying the handmade white subway tile all the way onto the ceiling. To the left of the claw foot tub, a pony wall separates the shower. A rustic three legged stool adds earthy warmth, while a vintage acrylic and brass towel bar from France brings a touch of glamour.
Small Space, Big Impact
Working within the room’s confines, Whitney chose small mirrors to nestle in the curves of the vanity’s “Statuario” marble countertop and a twin sconce to shed light on the double sinks. Handmade Mexican hardware in a forged bronze and the walnut tones of the vanity bring warmth to the bright, airy room.
“I wanted this to be the wildest little laundry room in Bentonville.”
—Erin Richardson, homeowner
Charm & Function
The laundry room had to be a workhorse that also “sparked joy and was fun to be in when you’re doing a not fun task,” Whitney says. The skirted sink is both inspired by British cottage décor and is a clever disguise for the cats’ litter box. The room needed to be inaccessible for the family’s dog, Ted, which was achieved through a custom cat flap installed on the door. Another custom mosaic tile floor adds historic charm, and House of Hackney’s “Phantasia” wallpaper—complete with a motif of flying dragon-cat hybrids—fills the small space with a sense of playfulness.
Contractor (bathrooms, dining, and kitchen) KTJ Construction Contractor (Laundry Room) Allen Echols Interior design Whitney Romanoff, Meet West Studio Accessories, fabrics, fixtures, hardware, lighting, mirrors, wallpaper, and window coverings Meet West Studio Appliances Metro Appliance’s & More Cabinetry and countertops JRG Cabinetry Painting Blue Indigo Tile American Restoration Tile and Meet West Studio Tile (installation) Travis Tile Flooring Upholstery Joe Ellis Upholstery