Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos by Always and Forever Photography
Some of their friends and neighbors raised eyebrows a bit when Donia and the late Randy Eley chose to move to Pulaski in 1977. “We simply loved this tall, 3-story, moderate-sized, brick home,” Donia recalls. Randy had graduated from William & Mary Law School three years prior, and the house had only one previous owner. “It was built in the mid-1920s,” she continues, “by the Sutherland family of the same law firm Randy joined the previous year. At move-in, the new owners were told the interior had been painted back in 1959. “The plastered walls were mint green top to bottom!”
Donia exclaims. The first floor had a foyer (typical of the era), living room, dining room and kitchen. A former breakfast nook had been renovated into a half bath, and there was also what had once been a maid’s quarters and small sun porch. The 2nd floor had four bedrooms, two bathrooms and a sleeping porch, with a 3rd floor serving as the kids’ playroom.
Ten years later, the family renovated the kitchen, added a beautiful 35 x 37’ family room/dining area with large windows and French doors, a fireplace, wet bar, garage under, screened porch and decks around the house. The big addition sports 10-foot ceilings and remains the most popular gathering space for family and friends. A master suite, bath, fireplace, sitting area and more decks were constructed over the family room a couple years later. Another kitchen update took place six years ago, and the third floor was finished along the way.
All in all, Donia estimates the house includes some 6,500 square feet of living space, and no one seems positive if it’s Colonial Revival or Federal Colonial. What is in agreement for sure is that it’s a magnificent home with little maintenance. “Well, it was a challenge to install heat and air conditioning, but certainly worth the effort,” she recalls.
“I enjoy entertaining and filling the house with people, and Christmas is always a very special season.” Donia begins decorating the weekend after Thanksgiving with a fresh, 10-foot tall Fraser fir chock full of tiny lights. Ornaments handed down in the family and others collected across decades adorn the tree.
Her favorite nativity is the focal point in the entry foyer with other nativity scenes throughout the house. “I arrange my collection of glass, crystal and silver candlesticks on the dining room sideboard, lighted from the bottom with tiny white lights. Then I do the same with brass in the living room,” Donia explains.
Family tradition includes eating well, and the menu is the same each year: Christmas Eve church followed by a little feast of beef tenderloin over thin slices of a good country ham. “The side dishes, wines and desserts change, but never the entree,” she smiles. Bring on the mimosas and bloody Marys to begin the Christmas Day brunch of breakfast casserole with lots of eggs, cheese and sausage, country ham biscuits and a hot fruit dish ~ simple and easy to prepare ahead of time. Mix in love and laughter for a beautiful celebration day.
While all of this takes place inside, the exterior decorating consists of large swags made from fresh greens, magnolia leaves, pine cones and berries with red bows on all the windows. More fresh greenery boughs go in the now-dormant flower pots, and flood lights illuminate the Eley house, as it’s known now ~ and for a long time yet. That’s the way things go over there.