ABINGDON, Va. — Michael and Margie Munsey’s backyard getaway is fit for a fairytale.
The couple love that their Abingdon historic Carriage House is a roadside attraction, decorated in a magical Old World European style.
People in town sometimes ask to take prom and wedding pictures in front of the early 19th-century structure. Visitors even drive by to get a good look at the recent restoration.
“We’ve met people from all over the world who stop to hear about the Carriage House — some of them in the community who lived here when they were newlyweds years ago,” she said.
After three years of work to restore the historic building, the Carriage House will open in August as an Airbnb, offering two units for guests to rent. The business will be owned and operated by the Munsey’s son, Isaac Munsey of Abingdon.
“I think it’s interesting that neighbors just down the road have said they want to spend the night here. It has a lot of appeal.”
The Carriage House is one of nine homes in town that will be part of the 2021 Abingdon Historic Homes Tour, an event offered during the Virginia Highlands Festival. Their restored structure is behind the couple’s home, the Daniel Lynch House circa 1832, at 304 E. Main St.
The self-guided historic home tour is 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. July 31, offering opportunities to tour the interiors of the preserved houses, most within walking distance of downtown.
A rich history
The Carriage House, once used as a utilitarian structure, boasts a rich history with plenty of stories to tell.
With the invention of the automobile, the Carriage House was built around the turn of the century, serving as a garage to store Model T vehicles. It also included an apartment upstairs to house guests.
Today, the structure is surrounded by English gardens and what Margie Munsey describes as her “woodland fairy garden” bursting with summer flowers added to the property to enhance the Town Creek that meanders and winds through the property.
A large freshwater spring on the property was the original water source for Abingdon and where Daniel Boone and other pioneers camped as they traveled on the road to Kentucky.
Inspired by travels
About three years ago, the Munseys decided it was time to give the relic a facelift.
The couple, both 61, said slowing down is not an option for their lifestyles now. She is a group fitness instructor in town, and he is an Abingdon attorney.
A major clean-out had to take place before the project could begin. For the past 25 years, the house had been used as a storage building for church supplies and family memorabilia.
“I knew I wanted to turn it into something special — fairytale-like,” Margie Munsey said. “But I also wanted to make it fully functional.
“I wanted to restore it back to what I think it used to be.”
She was guided by the house’s distinctive features during the renovation process. An open main floor created an area that offers a bedroom, living room and kitchen, all decorated with unique pieces of artifacts.
Inspired by their trips to places like Italy, Paris and the Cotswolds, a range of rolling hills in England, the couple concentrated on decorating the garage in an Old World European style, lending a sense of antiquity while calling attention to days gone by.
She wanted the décor to have natural elements — brick, wood and stone.
“And to be nature-inspired, too,” she said, standing over a large display of painted birds.
They often found antiques for the house during their travels.
“This is reclaimed white oak,” said Michael Munsey as he pointed overhead to the natural wood beams. “We found the period windows in Front Royal, Virginia, and the iron work was found at an antique place in Strasburg, Virginia.
The couple turned to local skilled craftsmen to help put the magic back in the structure.
“We stayed away from using anything that was faux. We wanted everything to be handcrafted as much as possible and showing architectural details,” she said.
Another find is a newel post, a supporting pillar of a staircase that was repurposed to decorate the stairway to the upstairs unit.
The original door to the structure was refurbished, using reclaimed white oak and incorporating tree branches from Clinch Mountain Forest. The hardware for the door is hand forged wrought iron from Germany.
Margie Munsey chose to cover the stone exterior of the house with stucco, a hand troweled masonry plaster mixed with paint for the desirable color. The textured exterior gives an appearance of European architecture, she said. With the help of John Heckford, of Lebanon, Virginia, the process took approximately a year to complete.
“We busted out walls inside the house and found old windows and installed them. We used old brick found in Old Abingdon sidewalks and incorporated them into the stucco design. The whole thing just seemed to evolve,” she said.
She found many odds and ends to help complete the restoration.
“I found a candleholder and took it to my friend, Nancy Harte, at Shady Business for her to convert it to electricity. So many local people have contributed to this adventure.”
The couple is furnishing the house with local artwork, including older works of artists Shawn Crookshank and D. R. Mullins, as well as others.
She said the whole idea is to make the house a magical place and a fun retreat.
“I just want this to be a happy and joyful place. My goal is to bring happiness to people.”
Carolyn R. Wilson is a freelance writer in Glade Spring, Virginia. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.