DRIVING PAST Rock Run Farm, you might think the structure on top of the rise is, perhaps, a country inn. The house is big, to be sure, but it is strung out along the ridge line, its length much bigger than its breadth — for a reason.
“I wanted windows on both sides of the rooms,” says Monique Maniet, who designed the house with architect Jay Monroe of Flint Hill and builder Joe Keyser of Washington, Virginia. The big windows and high ceilings were things she couldn’t find in the charming older houses she looked at before deciding to build. The result of her quest — and of knowing what she wanted — is a flood of natural light inside and views that extend past Woodville, where the house is located, and on to Sperryville and the Blue Ridge beyond.
Even more important for Maniet, a holistic veterinarian, is that from the living room, the kitchen, the master bedroom and the windowed corridor that leads to the bedroom, she can look down the slope and check on her animals: “I see my animals from the time I get up.”
The animals were what led the Belgian-born Maniet (pronounced MAN-ee-ay) and her longtime partner (and now husband — more about that later), Max Richtman, to this piece of Piedmont paradise. “I wanted to semi-retire, to spend more time with my animals,” she says, explaining how long hours at her veterinary clinic in Bethesda kept her from hanging out with Diego, an enthusiastic 7-year-old bull mastiff with exquisite manners, and Josephine, a winsome year-old French bulldog.
The quest for a country house — or, in the end, land — began in 2009. Maniet was consulting with a friend about a horse in Poolesville, Maryland. “I was standing there and the goat was eating my jacket and the chickens were pecking at my feet, and I thought, ‘Of course!’ ’’ She bought the Woodville property in February 2010, and only now are things settling into place.
First came the heavy lifting: They had to bring electricity onto the property, plus water. A well they dug came up dry: Bingo! That became the basis for the geothermal heating and cooling system they installed, including heated floors. “It costs a lot,” says Richtman, but you get your money back with tax credits given for energy-efficiency, he explains. The couple lived in their newly built one-bedroom guest house while the main house was being built.
If that wasn’t daunting, there was the design phase. “I told them I wanted Arts & Crafts mixed with Country, and a little bit of French,” Maniet explains with an impish grin. And, astoundingly, that’s what emerged — wood wainscoting, often painted in putty or deep cream, kitchen cabinets with simple Shaker-style lines, hefty beams overhead in the living area, plus some Edwardian-style loveseats in a windowed alcove in the living room and the occasional French rococo hanging light fixture.
The furnishings tend to neutrals, with occasional punches of saturated color — the orange-and-tomato-red jacquard tablecloth on the dining table, a pillow here, a painting there. To reinforce the country feel, there are freestanding hutches painted in muted colors; some interior doors are also painted.
“I wanted to use a lot of stone from the property,” Maniet says, gesturing toward the fieldstone fireplace that anchors one end of the living room. It was the architect who suggested the stucco that clads the exterior of the house.
Despite the generous size of the house and the rooms, there’s an intimate quality to the spaces. That’s by design: Maniet told the architect she wanted alcoves and nooks wherever possible (“We call them nook-ess,” she says with a grin, pronouncing the word like the Yiddish word “tuches”). Alcoves — to house an intimate seating area, a window seat or a chest of drawers — are not part of the contemporary design vocabulary but, Maniet says, “They were willing to work with me.”
And work they all did. Richtman expresses astonishment at how much time Maniet put into choosing each doorknob, each faucet, for the three-bedroom, two-and-a-half bathroom (plus dog-washing station, of course) house. He also worked — to convince her of the wisdom of getting married in their 60s (“in our prime!” Maniet crows), after so many years together. A former Congressional staffer and now president and chief executive of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security & Medicare, he was the perfect person to explain how she could improve her future by being able to take a spousal benefit now and her own full benefit later on.
Marriage seems to suit them, even if they haven’t mentioned it to many of their friends. “We did it last May 18 ,” Maniet says, double-checking the date with her husband. Richtman explains that in Virginia you don’t need a marriage license or witnesses. “So we called a fellow in Culpeper who met us by the side of the road,” he says, laughing. They call it their “drive-by wedding,” but in fact they followed their officiant to his house for the ceremony. Diego and Josephine served as witnesses.
They could have summoned a whole menagerie. Sharing Rock Run Farm with them are four Rocky Mountain horses and a white horse (probably part quarter-horse) that was on the property when they bought it; two donkeys (from the donkey rescue in Maryland, which Maniet adopted to keep the white horse company); a mule who’s being boarded for a friend; five Araucana chickens (the ones that give those Martha Stewart blue-green eggs); one rooster; three Nubian goats (the ones with long, floppy ears), and one Appaloosa (spotted) llama from Virginia’s Shangrila Farm (to protect the gentle goats from coyotes and foxes).
By including an office in the house, Maniet laid the groundwork for her new life: Having sold her Bethesda business, she now spends three days a week doing veterinary work in Rappahannock County. That is, when she’s not pursuing more education. Maniet just returned from Florida where she took a Chinese Food Therapy for Animals seminar.
“My practice was always lots of dogs and cats,” Maniet explains. But now she’s branching out into horses, doing a lot of higher-level studies in holistic equine therapies. She’s also taking instruction in the “highest form of dressage,” in which you use a pad but no saddle, a halter but no bit. Her instructor is teaching her to move her arms in wide arcs in order to tell the horse where she wants to go. “After a while, my gestures will be smaller, but the gestures are just to teach you how to move your body,” she says. In the end, twisting to the right or left, back or forward, will be all the guidance the horse will need.
And in the end, the “farm” complex — “It’s not really a farm,” says Maniet, “but I like to call it that” — cost more than the couple’s house in Potomac. But Rock Run Farm is all they will need for quite some time. And if old age visits infirmities on the super-fit duo (yes, there’s a fully outfitted gym on the lower level), there’s room set aside for a future elevator.
This story was first published by The Piedmont Virginian, a magazine published byThe Rappahannock News.