Outside Homes: An Artist’s Eye, A Castle’s Brook

by Dara Klatt

The 130-acre Virginia estate of Ron and Teresa Fishbeck was dreamily oil painted on canvas well before its time.

The property includes sweeping views of the countryside. Custom gates, fencing and balustrades surround the garden.

Teresa Fishbeck’s 2003 oil painting “Almost Home.”

One of Teresa Fishbeck’s 16” x 20” oil paintings on canvas, “Almost Home,” depicts a woman in a long white, flowing dress cinched at the waist, carrying flowers in one hand while whisking across a stone-paved bridge at sunset to a castle-like abode. What’s notable is not necessarily the turret with the pointed roof, iron-studded wooden door and intricate gable pendiments. Rather it’s the serenity of the outdoor surroundings of the house: water flowing from its banks, ivy crawling up the steps, a smooth brook that encircles it, perfectly spaced boulders and delicate green trees in the distance.

In 2019, 16 years after finishing the painting, Fishbeck’s imagery would be stunningly actualized at her real-life estate—aptly named Castlebrook—that she shares with husband Ron Fishbeck in Madison County, Va.

“I was painting Castlebrook before I even started designing it,” says Fishbeck, whose other paintings include idyllic scenes of arched ivy gateways, reflecting pools and expansive green lawns. These subconscious yearnings for landscaped beauty awakened after Ron’s healthcare technology company, Systems Made Simple, was acquired by Lockheed Martin in 2014, and afforded the couple the opportunity to build, quite literally, a dream house.

The 130-acre estate is tucked along the edge of the Shenandoah mountains and foothills, about an hour and a half from the District. Three million dollars was spent on the outdoor space alone (covering roughly four to five acres), which is layered with an entry courtyard, a kitchen garden, loggia garden, West garden and swimming pool garden. “No matter where you are at Castlebrook, everywhere you turn, it’s beautiful,” Fishbeck says.

A lawn parterre is flanked by pleached linden trees. The 75-foot long pool is visible from an outdoor kitchen that includes a fireplace terrace. At the end of the pool, under the entablature with twisted stone columns, is a spa. The Fishbecks spend many mornings “gazing at the serenity of the pool and its infinity edge.”

While designed by Annapolis, Md.-based landscape architecture firm Campion Hruby and managed by its principal, Bob Hruby, and senior associate Kevin Gaughan, it was Fishbeck’s artistic eye that guided every step of
the seven-year design process. “I would call this project a collaboration with the land, the architecture and artist, who always had the vision,” Hruby says. “Teresa sketched and painted ideas during the entire process. There is not a detail of this garden that escaped her attention. We were always coming up with new and wild ideas together. Some worked beautifully and some were for another time…”

Hruby worked hand-in-soil with the Fishbecks on the varying trees, plants and shrubs that flourish in an area that is resident to deer. His team suggested plants that bloom in the spring, summer and fall and provided insights into seasonal color schemes. The couple was taken on field trips to various nurseries to pick out boxwoods, trees and other shrubs.

“The lavender is buzzing with a plethora of busy bees and the birds and butterflies come in droves,” Teresa Fishbeck says. “It is nice to be surrounded by nature when you step out your door.”

But even before that, the challenge for Hruby was in fully grasping the scale and proportion of the mountainous countryside, the rolling site and its grand house. As he elegantly describes it, “the series of gardens developed around the house and formed a plinth, from which the house sprang. These raised gardens served as shoulders for the estate to rest on. Choreographing the entry and arrival sequence was very important … the road was placed like a ribbon on the land, leading your eye through undulating terrain toward the distant destination.”

A fish motif reoccurs throughout the garden.

Water, so pronounced and abundant in Fishbeck’s artwork, was a requisite for the outdoor space. A pond served as foreground for the house while a second bridge crossing the pond enhanced entry-way drama. Garden rooms were designed to pinwheel around the house, each with separate functions and custom features, all with water in some form.

The result is outdoor artistry at its finest. “Being an artist through this whole project was both a blessing and a curse,” Fishbeck says in jest. “As an artist, I am not always ‘on’ … learning to let it go and just wait for it to come to me was one of my best learned lessons.”

While nature in her paintings over time is omnipresent, her craft has now evolved from veiled longings of castles in lush landscapes to real-life, caffeinated habits among home greenery. In Fishbeck’s newest “Morning Tea,” a 30” x 40” oil on canvas, a voluptuous woman wearing a short, white, modern negligee steps through her veranda doors into the rising sunlight of a hydrangea-filled garden. This time, it’s a self-portrait.

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