Credits: From the New York Social Diary
Written By: Carol Joynt
This is what happens in Washington when the calendar begins to move toward autumn: we think of Virginia, especially the verdant Piedmont region, which stretches from nearby Leesburg down to practically the North Carolina border, with the Blue Ridge to the West and the Potomac to the east. Within these boundaries are sprawling estates, fox hunts, cattle ranches, vineyards, an evolving colony of artists, trees bearing a dozen or more varieties of apples and pears; abundant good food and a ravishing palette of autumn color. Theres also, I learned over Labor Day weekend, the lure of luxury in particular, world class jewelry.
Manhattanites may claim jewelry designer Elizabeth Locke as theirs, but the truth is the lovely pieces she sells on Madison Avenue and in stores from Charleston to Beverly Hills are conceived and designed at practically the banks of the languorous Shenandoah River. All within a few miles of each other are her home in Millwood and her company headquarters in Boyce. To say its a one stoplight rural area is an understatement. Were talking one stop sign and a railroad track.
While Elizabeth is a native of the area, which is hard-core hunt country, and her local clients and friends are the landed gentry, her designs are not gold stirrup earrings and horse head pins. Oh, no. These are sophisticated baubles for a lux lifestyle: gems, precious stones, glass intaglios, ancient Roman and Greek coins, South Sea pearls, antique mosaics and lots of gleaming yellow gold. They reflect the sensibility of Elizabeth, who is, above all, a passport-wielding citizen of the world.
Still, home is where the heart is and for Elizabeth and husband John Staelin their 19th century farmhouse, Clay Hill, is another beloved work of art, one they just lavished with a complete upgrade and redo. Anybody whos ever renovated a house knows completion of the project is a moment for celebration (after months of threatening murder and contemplating suicide).
For Elizabeth and John the jobs end was reason to pitch a big tent, hire a caterer and dance band, and toss a swell party for more than 100 friends. An added bonus was that it occurred on one of the more spectacular days of the summer, with dry and cool air, and a painters sunset.
Elizabeth invited me when she learned I would be a houseguest of our mutual friend Jean Perin who, along with Alison Martin, did the interior makeover of Clay Hill. My friendship with Jeannie dates from the early 80s, when I lived in Upperville and she lived outside Middleburg.
Over the years I relocated to Georgetown and Jeannie settled in Upperville, where she created one of Virginias most exquisite mini-estates. Not only is she a gifted interior designer, but also she makes poetry with landscaping. Garden groups come from all over to admire Les Jardins de Jean Perin. Its a treat to be her houseguest. Each morning I woke to a view that was a landscape painting.
Given the holiday it was surprisingly easy to get out of the city Friday. I arrived in time for an afternoon swim and a chance to savor twilight, a quiet intruded upon only by birds, frogs and crickets. A family of deer romped across the field.
Jeannie is Bunny Mellons next door neighbor, though in this part of the world next door can mean separated by dozens of acres, even hundreds. Her many beautiful views include the Mellon jet landing strip, designed to accommodate the latest Gulf Stream. Only in the land of Mellon could a private airfield be considered beautiful; even the trees are so artfully tended they define well pruned.
In advance of the Clay Hill party Jeannie had some plans for us, but first thing Saturday morning she said, you must go to see Elizabeths store in Boyce. Good advice.
Its a sweet town but completely rural and the last place one expects to find a high-end jewelry emporium thats done up like an Italian palazzo, but thats what I found, complete with columns, a hand-painted faux-marble floor, swaths of gold silk, an elaborate ceiling and cases of precious gems.
Bit of the décor are loopy due to a side story Elizabeth created of an imaginary twin sister who is a wayward Contessa, thus the haute invitations tacked to the mirror in the faux bathroom, an alluring boudoir and a shrine to Elvis. If you arrive minus appropriate clothing, never fear; the shop sells stylish caftans that go well with palazzos, gold and gems.
The store is open on weekends. Its less than a half hour from Middleburg and a 70-minute drive from Washington, but loyal customers have been known to fly in private to do their shopping.
Nearby in Millwood is the Locke Store (same name but no relation) where I stopped both coming and going, because the peanut butter chocolate chip cookies were that good. They have other well made prepared foods, including potpie, meat loaf, chicken salad, assorted sandwiches, apple crisp; also wine, beer sodas and coffee. Carry your food across the street for a picnic by the cascading race of the restored 18th Century Burwell-Morgan Mill. That would be a perfect autumn day history, jewels and a picnic . . .