Text by Joanne M. Anderson | Photography by Kristie Lea Photography
There are many reasons for buying a certain house, and a best friend across the street is one that prompted Catherine Breske and her late husband, Paul, to purchase their Blacksburg home on a quiet dead end lane outside of town in 1977. “His best friend, Posey Jones, had recently moved out here. Our house had just been built, and over the years, we added several rooms,” Catherine says, “and held many Christmas parties.” Their four sons grew up in that very large, traditional, brick, tri-level home.
Through the night and morning of Dec. 22-23, 2009, the house burned to the ground. “It literally went out in a blaze of glory after a wonderful party,” Catherine recalls. An electrical fire was ruled the cause, and no one was hurt. As Catherine set about coming to her senses, she realized her passport was gone because the day before she had taken it out of a bank safe deposit box and brought it home for her New Zealand trip just days away. Getting a new passport on Christmas Eve is rather challenging, but not impossible for a woman determined to travel with one son to join another in the Land of Kiwi some 7,700 miles away. When the insurance company called to say they could meet right after Christmas, Catherine exclaimed: “”I am going to New Zealand! I’ll see you in a few weeks! I had a wonderful trip and bought the first piece of replacement furnishings, a copper piece of art with the Maori symbol of new life, the koru, an unfurling fern leaf.”
While she loved her house and never had a dream home in her mind, when forced into her options, Catherine decided to rebuild on the same almost 2-acre parcel with a modern house and one level living for her. “I wanted a master suite with an office and sitting room, pocket doors and a handicap-accessible master bathroom. The upper floor would have three bedrooms and its own lounge area with a pool table and kitchenette.” With her architect friend Mary Ann Weimer Poole, Catherine started putting ideas into drawings.
“Against good advice to put in hardwood floors, I went with the California look of tile in the main living areas. I love the open, linear concept anchored by an Italian modern kitchen on one end and the Mexican onyx wall behind the TV and fireplace at the other end.” The kitchen sports an orange accent wall, sleek high gloss, no hardware, dark gray cabinetry and concrete countertops with the smooth feel of Corian. The kitchen island counter is white, and the kitchen countertops are beige with flecks of glass. Catherine’s antique dining room set fits in perfectly with the overall traditional-meets-modern style.
The master suite off the living room does have wood floors. “Mahogany is my favorite wood,” she relates. “I inherited a mahogany credenza from my parents (lost in the fire), and I always loved it. To me, mahogany has a ’40s vibe.” Two sets of pocket doors and her four-poster bed are also mahogany, which exudes a warmth in the 2-room master suite. A red Turkish rug and the blue glass panels from an old house in New York flanking the king bed add to the alluring charm. The bathroom has a 15-foot ceiling, two skylights and wonderfully designed wall of different porcelain tile, another project Catherine measured and laid out herself. She designed the entire wall of Mexican onyx on the floor, and the installation man picked it up piece by piece to place it on the living room wall.
The biggest loss, of course, was family pictures. Her most treasured piece of furniture lost was her late husband’s grand piano. “He was a music professor at Virginia Tech and conductor/arranger for The New Virginians until he died, and the piano meant a lot to me. We used to perform together and spent many hours rehearsing at that piano.” A cymbal from one of her son’s drum set was found among the debris from the fire and now has a beautiful verdigris finish which makes an interesting conversation piece in the powder room. Buying new furniture and decorative pieces was not hard. “I was happy to be able to buy all new furniture. What a treat! No guilt about replacing old furniture.”
The self-contained upstairs can be closed off at the bottom of the stairs with its own door. There are guest rooms, one with its own private bath, another full bathroom, kitchenette and the large lounge she wanted with a pool table and media entertainment space. The house also has a two-car garage, lovely deck with cable railings adjacent to the living and dining room and her beloved ball and chain. The rain chain by the front door dictated the entire butterfly roof line design. She added the ball so she could call it her ball and chain. She enjoys watching rainwater flow or viewing the ice on this massive rain chain. It is part of the reason for the glass wall in the front foyer. The front doors are glass to accentuate a stunning piece of Italian rainforest marble on the foyer wall. It is about 1 1/2 inches thick and measures nine feet long and five feet high.
The home design is interesting for sure, but part of the overall interior intrigue is in her art selection. An avid supporter of local artists with a keen eye for unusual international pieces, Catherine has a knack for mingling wide-ranging pieces in aesthetic ways. She has a 13-foot long obi from Japan, along with works from local artists Alex Crookshanks, Zoey Katz, Leslie Roberts Gregg, Joni Pienkowski and an original Jan Bos woven tapestry. One of her all-time faves is the signed Bob Dylan print “Woman in Red Lion Pub” near the piano. The whole process of settling with the insurance company, design and build took about a year and a half. Ted Heller was the builder.
The creativity in design and decor blends comfortably with Breske’s warm personality and talent as a singer and musician herself. Out of the ashes she has crafted a beautiful home maximized for function with fine craftsmanship, aging-in-place accoutrements and the cozy appeal of uncompromising quality.