Southern antiques carefully and concisely collected over three decades fill one home. Another home reflects family, the factor that has governed much in the selection of furnishings and objects amongst which the owners live. A third home is downsize-sized, so the owners decided to tart it up with an eclectic mix of the old and new, and enjoy using every inch of space.
Variety being the spice of life, the Martinsville-Henry County Garden Day Tour offers a range of décor, landscaping and settings at the homes featured on the 2019 tour. The tour will take place on May 1.
The red-brick, hip-roofed Georgian house at 1 Dan Lee Terrace in Martinsville is home to Dr. Andrew and Anna Gehrken. Their dwelling, originally owned by Leon Globman, is one of three in a Globman family compound. The Gehrken house is the mirror image to that of its next-door neighbors’, the Lewis home, another of the Globman compound houses.
Andy Gehrken has spent 30-plus years finding 18th-century furniture with a formal feel made by the hands of Southern craftsmen. Although Anna joined the hunt, she says it is her husband who created and curated their collection. The physician focused on finding fairly refined pieces made by Southern cabinetmakers – particularly those from Eastern and Piedmont Virginia and North Carolina – during the country’s Colonial era and its early years as an independent nation.
Andy is a historian at heart. His home happened to burn down 30 years ago, and someone suggested he go to England to furnish his next home with antiques, which would retain their value. The thrill of the hunt for fine pieces hooked the huntsman, fisherman and outdoorsman -- ultimately the hunt for Southern American furniture.
The antiques came from a time when all furniture was handmade and, thus, valuable for its utility alone. Finer, more skillfully crafted pieces that reflected the tastes of the era had even greater value, usually becoming prized possessions.
Several outliers in the Gehrken home include Anna’s daughter Liza’s bedroom, which is furnished with family heirlooms rather than antique finds. Another outlier is the use of contemporary art, much of which was done by Andy’s daughter Greer. The contemporary pieces include two nudes by North Carolina artist Harrison Rucker.
A few of the Gehrken home’s other highlights include hand-painted murals by North Carolina artist Dana Holliday. Then there’s a collection of 18th and 19th-century ornithology print by naturalists who flocked to the then-new world to study its flora and fauna.
The home’s garden and plantings are tended by Anna Gehrken, whose style seen both inside and outs reflects an eye developed during her 25 years in design and fabric sales.
Another red-brick house, this one at 960 Deep Run Road in Martinsville, is home to Kim and Edward Snyder. While Edward is his formal name, most know the orthodontist by his nickname “Chopper.”
While within the city limits, the Snyder home has the feel of being in the country. It sits on 5 acres in the Hunt Country Farms neighborhood. Their home backs up to more than 100 acres of wildlife preserve.
Large lots, many with homes not viewable by neighbors, characterize the neighborhood that was established in the 1990s in an area of rolling land tucked away behind the King’s Grant Retirement Community.
A long, white-columned porch distinguishes the front of the Snyder’s three-story Colonial house. That welcoming feature was one dearly wanted by Kim for their home.
Inside, the unifying principle is “all about family,” she said, and pieces of furniture and objects tend to have their own little stories.
What could be more fitting then than a family cradle? They have one. It was the Ghent family cradle, a family name they gave their son. The Snyders were given the cradle after his birth.
Another piece of family furniture, a primitive cupboard with its original glass, was made from chestnut, making it all the more precious. Blight all but wiped out the American chestnut tree during the early 1900s. The cupboard belonged to Kim’s grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Hubert E. Kiser.
Wood factors in another family treasure: wooden golf clubs that belonged to Chopper’s grandfather, Dr. Edward Paul Flood. The Snyders also have a handsome rose medallion vase from Dr. and Mrs. Flood.
The Snyders have a collection of family wedding invitations. One invitation has petite pen and ink drawings of the bride and groom. They were drawn by one of Kim’s grandmothers, Virginia Lee Strange Kiser, an artist whose work was exhibited at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. The invitation numbers among pieces of Mrs. Kiser’s art that the Snyders have.
Rattles, spoons, cups, teething rings and other silver that belonged to babies in the family comprise another collection.
And Easter eggs form yet another collection – not just any Easter eggs, but ones from the annual White House Easter Egg Hunt and Roll that takes place on the White House lawn. The collection’s roots stem from a 1993 “Southern Living” article that mentioned a trip made to the event. The Snyders decided to take their two young, an excursion that became a family tradition.
Kim began collecting White House wooden Easter eggs, White House glass eggs, and other collectibles such as programs and buttons. The collection includes the signatures of Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W Bush and from Senator John Kerry (who would become Secretary of State). The Snyders also have a paw print from Socks, President Bill Clinton’s cat.
The upstairs landing features photographs and memorabilia from Troxler Furniture Co., which was owned by Kim’s grandfather. In its day, it was the oldest and largest furniture stores in Martinsville and Henry County.
In Stanleytown, a small neighborhood grew up across the Edgewood Road from Stoneleigh, the Tudor-style mansion built by Gov. Thomas B. Stanley in 1929. Several decades later, his son and namesake created the development with roughly a dozen single family and duplex homes. He knew some of the residents would likely be his older kinsmen and women. With them in mind, he also created a homeowners’ association to take care of exterior maintenance and landscaping.
About a decade ago, Spencer Morten’s parents bought one of the homes to live in while their home in Bassett was being rebuilt after a fire. When their Bassett home had been rebuilt, they moved out, and Spencer and Susan moved into the Stanleytown house. They thought they might be there temporarily; they ended up staying.
They gave the house a makeover, favoring vivid colors. It becomes evident upon entrance into a foyer painted in coral and white stripes.
The Mortens added an airy sunroom that looks out onto the garden, and expanded the master bedroom and bath. Other upgrades included installation of reclaimed wood floors in the living, dining and kitchen areas.
The reclaimed wood reflects Spencer’s work as head of Bassett Mirror Co. So do six framed design drawings for pieces of furniture once made by BMC; the drawings create the focal point for the living area. The base of the kitchen table is made from beams reclaimed from an old warehouse. The living area’s mirrored coffee table was made by BMC.
But most of the furniture and objects came from his family and hers. For instance, the Steinway and Sons piano Spencer likes to play to unwind after work was his mother’s. The bedroom’s rocking chair was used by Susan’s mother to rock Susan and her twin, Sarah.
Art includes a drawing by Leslie “Spy” Ward (1851 to 1922), whose caricatures for Vanity Fair magazine captured the essence of Victorian England, as the Vanity Fair in question was a British publication. A painting of flowers in a humble blue glass vase – along with the vase used in the painting – stand on a living room shelf. The late Scaisbrooke Langhorne Abbot, a skilled Lynchburg portraitist and nephew of Nancy Langhorne, Lady Astor, became consumed by flowers late in life. Abbot painted the vase containing flowers from his garden as a thank you gift for Susan’s late mother, Frances Kendig Pugh Steinheimer. Finally, the art includes a portrait of the late J.D. Bassett, Sr., Spencer’s great-grandfather who founded Bassett Furniture and BMC.
Tickets: $15 pp. for advance tickets; $20 pp. for tickets sold on tour day. $10 pp. for children ages 6 to 12.
Advance Tickets: Available online at www.vagardenweek.org. Locally at Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center, Piedmont Arts Association, Historic Henry County Courthouse, and the Martinsville-Henry County Chamber of Commerce along with Patrick County Chamber of Commerce.
Tour day tickets: At the Martinsville-Henry County Visitor Center and at tour homes.
Facebook: Historic Garden Week in Martinsville and Henry County
Instagram: Historic Garden Week in MHC
Sponsors: The Martinsville Garden Club, The Garden Study Club and the Garden Club of Virginia
Proceeds benefit restoration projects of the Garden Club of Virginia.