Home Life: Past and Present

by Virginia Coyne

Will Thomas and Barry Dixon create new memories at their storied Warrenton estate.

Will Thomas and Barry Dixon share a cocktail in the house’s Great Hall | Portrait by Tony Powell

Nestled on nearly 300 verdant acres in the rolling hills of the Virginia countryside, where the expansive views shift with the movements of the sun and clouds, Barry Dixon and Will Thomas’s estate, Elway Hall, is more than just a home to the couple; it is the backdrop to their lives.

The land is a working farm, where they grow vegetables and flowers and pick their eggs fresh from the chicken coops. It’s a restful retreat, where they sit on the loggia to read as fawns cavort in the lea below and eagles circle above. It’s a muse for acclaimed interior designer Dixon’s work; his furniture lines and paint colors are all inspired by elements of the property, from the bend of the trees to the pink hue on the nose of his favorite goat.

Elway Hall was designed by architect Henry Hobson Robinson and built in 1907 by former West Virginia senator and railroad tycoon Johnson Camden as a wedding present for his daughter, Annie Camden Spilman. The house features stained glass windows, seen here about the porte cochère | Exterior photo by Gordon Beall

The grand, 20,000 square foot house is part castle, part storybook cottage. Inside are pieces designed by Dixon, a sofa that didn’t fit through a client’s door, unique items found by the couple on trips abroad, old books and family heirlooms.

The dining room is just one of the spaces the couple uses to host dinner parties. The table is by J. Lambeth & Co., the raffia settee is by Oly and the stone pedestals were acquired at David Bell Antiques in Georgetown | Dining room photo by Tria Giovan

“I think some of the most inviting interiors have a sense of being pulled together over the course of a lifetime,” says Dixon. “It’s almost a little overcrowded, but in a good way.”

Dixon has lived and worked at Elway Hall for two decades. Thomas, then an award-winning television journalist, took up residence six years ago.

“When you’re in a relationship and decide it’s time to move in together, you figure out who has the better place,” says Thomas. “Barry won.”

The Great Hall is visually separated from the open foyer by sheer fabric panels by Henry Calvin. The metal mesh pedestal is a Barry Dixon for Avrett piece sold by J. Lambert & Co. | Interior photos by Edward Addeo

“Coming into a house that as so spectacularly done by a renowned designer, I wondered: ‘how do I make this feel like home to me?'”

A dramatic guest room, one of the ten bedrooms in the house, is appointed in Thomas’ favorite color, Hermès orange. All the fabric and times are Barry Dixon by Vervain and the wall color is Dixon’s “The Naturals” collection at C2 Paint | Interior photos by Edward Addeo

The answer proved easier than anticipated. The couple immediately folded Thomas’ art collection into the mix and began redecorating rooms together, including a dramatic guest room with a canopied bed and deep, luxurious seating, done entirely in Hermès orange, Thomas’ favorite color.

But Thomas, who left Washington’s Fox affiliate station in 2016 to help care for ailing parents and reassess his career path, is no stranger to the design world. While living in the District, he purchased, redesigned and decorated five homes, selling each but one for a record price per square foot. Those experiences were, in part, what inspired his next journey: in September he announced he was joining the luxury real estate team at TTR Sotheby’s International Realty.

In creating a new life in Warrenton with Dixon, where the two say they feel as if they’re stewards of the property (commissioned by a railroad tycoon for his daughter around the turn of the century), Thomas also discovered a talent for cooking. He appropriated the catering kitchen in the stone cellar as his workshop and invites friends to the house to enjoy the spoils.

“Will is a natural entertainer and loves to have people over,” says Dixon. “I love that too, but since I don’t cook, I didn’t entertain as much before he moved in.”

The library also functions as an intimate entertaining space and features a wall of bookshelves, a daybed by Nancy Corzine, table by Barry Dixon for Avrett and drapery and pillow fabric by Watts of Westminster | Interior photos by Edward Addeo

Today, the duo work in tandem, whether hosting another couple for the weekend or a dinner party for two dozen guests. They choose a menu, pick flowers from the garden, select the silver and china (Dixon has an expansive collection of Wedgwood) and decide which of the many rooms they’ll eat in for the occasion: the dining room, the library or the inviting Great Hall, wherein the winter, there is always a roaring fire awaiting guests.

The couple’s estate is also a working farm and home to goats, turkeys, chickens, a llama and 200 heads of cattle | Goat photo by Matthew Benson

“We never do the same thing twice,” Dixon explains. “In the winter we spend more time in the library. In the summer, we set up long tables on the loggia. We don’t fall into a rut of doing the same thing over and over again.”

“And there’s nowhere you can’t put up your feet and have a glass of wine,” add Thomas. “It’s not a fussy house like that.


This article appeared in the October 2018 issue of Washington Life Magazine. 


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