It was love at first sight in 1998 for Christine McCann and the charming cottage on Gracelyn Court in Blacksburg. The big-city girl from upstate New York was ready for something different. “The curb appeal captivated me, and the gardens were magnificent. I’d been living in an edgy Capitol Hill neighborhood [in D.C.] with noise, crime and trash. In an instant, I could imagine my then 8-month-old daughter Meredith growing up eye high to day lilies and walking to elementary school,” she recalls.
From the front, the small brick house gives no hint of what lies beyond the front door. The traditional 1950’s era ranch architecture flows seamlessly into bright modern spaces that open to a three-quarter acre sculptured garden. The home’s origin story is steeped in Virginia Tech history. It was built in 1951 by Dr. and Mrs. Landon Fuller when Harry S. Truman was U.S. President and Walter Stephenson Newman was President of the university. Dr. Fuller was an English professor, and Virginia Tech’s Director of Admissions until he retired. The Fuller name remains on the brass front door knocker.
Four decades later, the house was purchased by Dr. Robert Lyons, a horticulture professor and co-founder and director of the Hahn Horticulture Garden at Virginia Tech. He used his expertise and creativity to develop wonderfully unique landscape and hardscape designs throughout the property.
While McCann enjoyed the house and grounds, there were limitations. “The inside was very well-maintained and decorated,” McCann continues. “But the kitchen was small, and we needed more living space.” She brought in award-winning Virginia Tech architect, author and artist, Donald Sunshine, to expand the kitchen and add a family room, play room, master bedroom and bath. Sunshine also created one of the house’s signature features, a four-level wood and glass deck that opens the house to abundant sunlight with cascading stairs to the gardens that wind behind the house. Benches and fanciful yard trinkets offer rest and whimsy among maples, magnolias, black-eyed Susans, sedums, peonies and roses.
When asked what she loves the most about her house, McCann responds: “The surprise element of walking into a traditional cottage that then flows into a modern, well-lit, open space. It’s not too big to keep up and offers mostly one-level living with separate wings that accommodate my daughter when she visits and my guests.”
Guests visit frequently since McCann opened the house as an Airbnb destination. The original hallway, two bedrooms and bath provide the perfect privacy and atmosphere for Airbnb guests, while the spacious master bedroom and bath off the original living room create a separate living space. The kitchen and adjacent family room are warm, hospitable spaces with natural light streaming in through large windows that illuminate McCann’s décor and collection of local art. Her collection of paintings and photographs include works by Ray Kass, Joni Pienkowski, Janet Niewald, Pat West and Reine Sloan (a VT alumna and Meredith’s first babysitter).
The home’s balcony is perfectly aligned for watching the colors painted by the setting sun, and the adjacent deck is an ideal venue for dinner parties or a quiet yoga session. The lower garden patio provides a shaded refuge for summer meals or quiet reflection. When not working or entertaining guests, McCann loves being able to stroll Blacksburg’s unique local businesses and attractions, including the Huckleberry Trail, Lyric Theatre and Moss Arts Center. Her Airbnb guests also appreciate being within walking distance of Cassell Coliseum and Lane Stadium on game days.
McCann feels fortunate to have the opportunity to make Blacksburg her home. “This is the longest I’ve ever lived in the same zip code,” she says. “Just like the trees and bushes in my garden, my roots are planted here. I have great friends and professional acquaintances in a community that is vibrant, supportive and kind. I can’t imagine being anywhere else.”
Text by Joanne M. Anderson
Photos by Kristie Lea Photography