Local interior designer Janie Molster – a frequent partner with H.J. Holtz & Son on residential projects – says Holtz work is on display throughout her new book “House Dressing,” even if the company name is nowhere to be found.
“My editor advised me not to name vendors and business partners, because I was sure to forget someone,” she laughs. “But Holtz is basically the star of the book.”
“House Dressing” was published in early September and features five chapters on single-home projects and four thematic chapters – or “design lessons,” Molster says – on topics such as color and mixing styles, among others. “I wanted to show some things that were very fresh, and also very much wanted to show the range in what [my team can] do,” she says.
Molster credits a friend for first suggesting the idea of a book and her public relations agent for continuing to nudge. “Every good PR person thinks their seasoned designer needs a coffee table book,” she says. “I wasn’t completely convinced, but then I met with a wonderful book agent who helped ensure I had a book with a unique perspective. In the end, we had multiple offers for [publication].”
In the book, Molster emphasizes the importance of creating a home that is faithful to its occupants. “I’m shooting myself in the foot a little here,” she says, “but having the perfect home from a design perspective is so much less interesting than having the home reflect the family that lives there.”
When she works with clients, Molster likes to separate their current holdings into three categories: What’s on its way out the door? What is negotiable? What will always be with you? In this way, she says, she helps people identify what’s essential and where room exists for something new and wonderful.
“To be memorable, every room needs the ‘off’ thing – the off-colored painting, the off-colored pillow,” she says. “That’s the thing that separates the cookie-cutter room from one that is authentic.”
That willingness to incorporate something unusual or “off” is something that she’s developed through experience, Molster says.
“I don’t know I would have thought that 20 years ago” she says. “Now I’ve seen enough to know good design is important across the board, but we see so many rooms without personalization, without authenticity. That has given me the platform to say, ‘If you want something that is memorable, make it personal.’ ”
Molster’s fall has been busy with travel up and down the East Coast, giving talks and attending book-signings in support of the book’s publication. “My husband jokes that for three months, it’s been like having two jobs,” she says, noting that she’s thankful for her design team in Richmond that is continuing to work with clients. “That’s why we’re here – to help people with their projects,” she says.
A recent floor project gave the H.J. Holtz & Son decorative painting team a chance to have some fun as they executed a complicated faux marble floor design.
The repeat customer, a design professional, approached Brian Smith, Logan Porter and Eli Smith with a vision of a faux marble floor that would transform the worn wood flooring in his entryway.
The three were happy to jump in.
“The floors were super old with lots of cracks and imperfections – a basic wood floor in an old historic home,” says Brian Smith. “The main reason he wanted the painted design is because the floor has been sanded down so many times, you don’t have much left to sand.”
The key to any painted floor project, but especially one as precise as the homeowner envisioned, is careful preparation, Smith says. That began with the homeowner presenting the Holtz team with several ideas, all centered on a 3D marble effect. From there, the team created 4’-by-4’ board samples, painted just as they would be on the floor itself.
The sample boards featured different color combinations and patterns, and were transported to the home so they could be seen in situ, against the existing paint, wallpaper and furnishings.
“[The homeowner] gave us an idea of colors based on what he had in the house,” Smith says, “because you have to make sure it matches before you get started painting.”
There also had to be agreement on the size of the pattern, Smith says, noting that small patterns can be busy but a big pattern can’t always be seen clearly in a small room. “If you have a bigger space, you want a bigger pattern,” he says.
Physical factors also play a role; interruptions such as doorways, staircases and vents all have to be accounted for, as well as any irregularities. Oftentimes, Smith says, homeowners want the pattern to fit corner to corner. “In that case, you have to measure the room and base the pattern on the dimensions of the room,” he notes. “There are always areas where you have to fudge it. Nothing is a perfect square or rectangle. You have to work the pattern around the space.”
Once finalized, the pattern is laid out on the floor using purple tape – which is less sticky than painter’s blue tape. For this design, each block has three square faces, with multiple layers of paint creating the desired effect of different slabs of veined marble. Smith says most homeowners don’t realize that this type of painting project isn’t a simple, one-day job. “We have to take it in steps, switch up where we work,” he says. “You have to move yourself around so it looks natural and organic.”
The painting of the veins is especially delicate, he notes, adding that he enjoys that step. “For me, it’s relaxing; I’ve been doing it a long time,” he says.
Last but not least, several clear finishing coats are applied, to protect the surface.
“At first [the homeowner] wanted a glossy finish, to match the look of real marble,” Smith says. “But we put a coat on and he saw how glossy it was, so we topped it with satin instead.
“It’s got just enough flair.”
Chloe Ball and Kathleen Conroy don’t just finish one another’s sentences; they finish one another’s thoughts. It’s a relationship that serves them, and their customers, well.
Ball opened Kenny Ball Interior Design & Consulting in Charlottesville in 2009, as a companion to her father’s antique store, Kenny Ball Antiques. Conroy, who had been a customer, stepped in to fill a gap.
“It was fate,” Ball says. “An employee quit before my father and I were leaving for France [on a shopping trip]. I needed help desperately.”
Each brings her own perspective to design work.
Ball studied communication in college, but had grown up alongside her father and his Charlottesville business. Conroy had been involved in product packaging design in the cosmetics industry then worked as an event coordinator. Friends often asked her for assistance with their home design projects.
“Chloe and I are both creative people and we love doing creative things,” Conroy says. “We have been very fortunate that we have something in our genetic makeup that fosters this ability.”
The two take a tag-team approach as they work with their Charlottesville-based clients to discover what is needed and makes sense for each project. “We play to our customers’ style,” Ball says. “And also challenge them,” Conroy adds.
Several years ago, their go-to wallpaper hanger retired. They were referred to H.J. Holtz & Son by Stephanie Cullen Snyder at Palette Paint in Richmond. The partnership has thrived.
“Nobody hangs wallpaper better than Holtz,” Conroy says. “If the wallpaper is the least bit complicated, they’re the ones you have to call.”
“It’s like laying tile,” Ball says. “There’s a real art to [hanging wallpaper]. You need professionals.”
With more wallpaper options than ever – luxe materials, artistic prints and bold patterns – a surge in demand sometimes means installation takes longer than expected. “We tell our customers, ‘You’ve got a lot invested in this paper; you’ve got to wait for the professionals to hang it,’” Conroy says.
To ensure efficiency, Ball and Conroy meet weekly with company president Rick Holtz and project coordinator Holley Nilson, reviewing the shipments that have arrived and the status of ongoing projects. “He meshes with us,” Conroy says. “Our personal ethics and our business ethics – they’re very dear together.”
Ball adds: “We’ve navigated difficult situations together; it’s a real blessing to have them part of our team.”
One of the benefits of being an interior designer is knowing who to call.
Avery Sefcik, principal of Avery Frank Designs, first became familiar with H.J. Holtz & Son at the start of his career, when he was working in another Richmond design firm. Sefcik opened his own business in 2014, and at the same time, bought a house in the Fan. With a list of envisioned changes and improvements for his personal living space, Sefcik has turned to Holtz & Son again and again.
“They’ve done lots of typical painting [for me], but also lacquered ceilings in the dining room and foyer, and are currently lacquering a bar a deep oxblood red,” he says. “They know all sorts of high-end finishes and details a typical painting company wouldn’t know.”
Most recently, Holtz & Son paper hangers handled the installation of Gracie Studio wallpaper in a first-floor room of Sefcik’s house. The heavy, hand-painted wallpaper is considered among the world’s finest. The company was founded in 1898; a fourth-generation family member is currently at the helm. Artists in New York and China train extensively before contributing to an order, and many finished papers have the work of multiple artists, each of whom has a specialty. All papers are custom-made to clients’ specifications, ensuring a perfect fit and aesthetic appearance.
Sefcik’s row house, which dates to the early 1900s, lacks a large wall that would typically display a Gracie pattern. Still, he was determined to find a way to use the paper, ultimately settling on what he calls parlor No. 2, the middle room on the first floor.
“A lot of people put it in massive rooms, but the impact is still strong” in a smaller space, he says. “Even with three openings and two windows, the room becomes its own cocoon.”
Sefcik began considering Gracie wallpaper for his house in mid-2018. Once he settled on the design – Winter Garden – the order took nearly five months to be completed. “Most Gracie is very colorful; this one is more monochromatic,” he notes.
To install, Holtz paper hangers first hung muslin cloth on the walls, as a foundation for the paper and as an easy mechanism for removal.
“You’re putting art on your walls, and you want to be able to take your fancy paper with you,” Sefcik notes, adding that a recent Instagram post from company president Jenn Gracie shows her easily removing a section of paper from a wall in the company’s headquarters.
Sefcik says stereotypes surrounding wallpaper don’t take into account its benefits. “We went through a period where people thought of wallpaper as the hideous burgundy and greens from the 1980s,” he says. “Wallpaper adds dimension and texture to a room that is very difficult to do with paint. You can make a room feel like a jewel box.”
Working with the craftsmen at H.J. Holtz & Son is always a pleasure, he says.
“I love design and am a bit more adventurous than many homeowners. When it comes to lacquering a ceiling, painting floors, getting outside the box, they know how to do that,” he says. “They are very professional.”
It’s more likely than ever that H.J. Holtz & Son is called to a home by an interior designer managing a project, says company president Rick Holtz.
“Designers create welcoming and comfortable environments, and we help them by bringing the expertise needed to execute their design,” he says. “We enjoy working with designers on projects large and small.”
A homeowner trusts a designer to devise a plan that encompasses multiple elements: comfort, convenience, and aesthetics. Often, significant time and effort goes into the process that yields a workable vision. But the plan can go only so far without proper execution. That’s where H.J. Holtz & Son comes in.
“We have good relationships with many designers, because they know we know how to work with them and deliver results,” Holtz says.
For example, Holtz & Son was recently called in by one designer whose client was adding an outdoor fireplace and wanted a mantle to complement the home’s existing style. The designer sketched a vision that included traditional elements alongside whimsical embellishments. She handed the design to Holtz carpenter Jeff Nonnemacker, who brought the sketch to life with assistant K.C. Killinger.
In another instance, a designer called on Holtz paper hangers to transform a dining room into a lush landscape. The team had to devise a plan for hanging luxurious Schumacher wallpaper, visualizing how the repeating pattern could be placed to best showcase its design while taking into account multiple window and door openings.
“We have talented craftspeople — men and women — in every division,” Holtz says. “Challenging tasks don’t scare us, because we do them all the time. And if a designer asks for something out of the ordinary, our team gets excited, because they love doing something new.”
Holtz says he especially appreciates when a designer calls on the firm to work in the designer’s own home, which happens frequently. “That tells me we’re doing something right,” Holtz says. “When someone calls us to work on their own home, we’re honored to have earned that trust.”
AT H.J. HOLTZ & SON, WE:
have extensive experience with high-end products that designers recommend, including master certification with Fine Paints of Europe, training in Venetian Plaster, expertise in luxury, hand-painted wallpapers, such as Gracie and de Gournay
have the necessary tools and equipment to properly prepare surfaces
know how to safely work in historic structures
can handle carpentry, wallpaper, and painting without calling in subcontractors
are respectful of client homes;we treat every house as our own
follow rigorous COVID protocols
Eric and Vicki White, whose home at 1534 Park Avenue in Richmond’s Fan neighborhood is on this year’s Garden Club of Virginia Historic Garden Week tour, have opened their home to the public before.
More than five years ago, the Whites participated in the Fan’s annual Christmas tour, which is a significant fundraiser for the neighborhood. When the couple was asked to be on this year’s Garden Week tour list – the first time the event has included homes in the Fan – it was an easy yes.
“This is good for the community, and it’s a good cause,” Vicki White says. “Plus, this [tour] is wonderful because the Garden Club comes in and does all of your flower arrangements.”
The Whites’ historic home was built in 1915 by noted architect Duncan Lee. As the Garden Week of Virginia program guide notes, the house has been altered over the years, changing some of Lee’s vision but creating spaces more attuned to modern-day living.
“We really liked how the house was freestanding and has a nice – and small – back yard,” White says. “There’s a solarium as you enter, so it’s very light and bright, when so many Fan houses are dark.”
The Whites have relied on H.J. Holtz & Son for numerous projects since 2009, when they moved into the home and Holtz was recommended by their interior designer, Robert Rentz. Over the years, Holtz team members have repaired plaster and woodwork as well as painted throughout the house.
To prepare for Garden Week, H.J. Holtz & Son painted the home’s exterior last year and freshened the shutters, which included removing them for inspection, repair and repainting. The company also painted a small basement – walls and floor – and painted outdoor furniture that is used in the back yard.
Vicki White says she’s been delighted to have office manager Carol Hudson as her primary contact because Hudson understands the importance of Garden Week.
“Carol is always on top of everything,” Vicki says. “She has been really great about working everything in. She e-mails me and keeps me updated.”
The company’s communication and responsiveness are top-notch, White says.
“Everything is well-coordinated among supervisors, and everyone is really responsive,” she says. “When they say they are going to be here, they’re here. Everyone is knowledgeable, and they do a great job of cleaning up.”
Ultimately, White says, she knows she can trust H.J. Holtz & Son.
“You find somebody who does what they say they are going to do, it’s worth a lot,” she says.
Garden Club of Virginia’s Historic Garden Week is April 27-May 4. Proceeds support the restoration and preservation of 40+ historic public gardens and landscapes, a research fellowship program, and a Centennial project with Virginia State Parks. Tours in Richmond include the Fan, Westhampton and Manakin-Sabot. For schedule and ticketing information, visit www.vagardenweek.org.