After Canterbury was built some 80 years ago in Virginia, it was hailed by the American and French Society of Architects as one of the most beautiful homes in America. Constructed between 1932 and 1936 at the request of Col. Albert E. Pierce, a commander of United States troops in France during World War I, the residence was designed by noted Chicago architects Walcott & Work, who built elegance into every room.
Canterbury’s current owners are Haifleigh Pritchard, a fashion consultant, and her husband, Tommy Pritchard, an investment banker, who bought the 373-acre, 30-plus-room estate in 2006 and, shortly after, embarked on its most recent renovation. Their former home, in New Orleans, which had been undergoing renovation, was damaged during Hurricane Katrina. “We’d been thinking about moving to Virginia because my wife and I had attended college here, and our son was in boarding school here. So being Katrina refugees, it just seemed like the right time to do it,” says Tommy.
Among the more breathtaking interior design elements on the main level are the marble foyer floor, the two-story windows in the Canterbury Room facing the river and the Blue Ridge mountains, and the stunning, three-story Carrara marble “floating” staircase—one of the few like it in the world. Inlaid wood floors, detailed millwork, and carved French limestone fireplaces attest to the consideration of every feature.
Down to its basic structure, the estate is unique. For safety’s sake, Col. Pierce had demanded that it be as fireproof as possible, so base flooring is poured concrete, walls are thick masonry, and the roof is copper. The entire façade is imported, handmade Flemish-bond brick.
From 2007 to 2008 the current owners gave the home a Georgian Revival update, including a Clive Christian kitchen featuring a marble- surface island, marble counters in “Calcutta Gold,” and stunning gray custom cabinetry. They also replaced all electric and plumbing, added energy-efficient heating and air-conditioning, and created a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor.
Guests who settle into the six suites on the second and third floors will find full baths and fireplaces, while the lower level is home to the medieval-inspired Hunt Room (complete with spiral fluted columns and a generous fireplace) and a 2,000-bottle wine cellar. Outdoor activities are centered around the tennis court and adjacent swimming pool with cabanas at the base of the terraced lawn, but it is the Canterbury Room inside that is the Pritchards’ favorite. With its richly paneled walls, handsome fireplace, and breathtaking views, they say it is the ideal spot to relax and enjoy each other’s company.
Though the estate is not the oldest nor the largest of the Warrenton Hunt properties, its setting makes it the most desirable. Perched on a bluff overlooking the Rappahannock River, it boasts 3,500 feet of riverfront and views of the mountains. The hardscape style of Ferruccio Vitale, famous for designing the plantings of Washington’s Meridian Hill Park in the early 20th century, is still evident amid the lawns and stone walls. Access to the estate is via a mile-long road that winds its way over bridges and along the edges of Fauquier Springs Country Club and an 18-hole golf course.
Although Canterbury has hosted its share of elegant social events, the owners have most enjoyed its warmth and cozy charm during family gatherings. “I love to cook,” says Haifleigh, “so sometimes the kitchen is where we all gather, and it’s a wonderful place in the summertime.”
Since two of their four children are now away from home, the couple has decided—with mixed emotions—that it’s time to downsize. “But we most likely will stay in this lovely area,” Haifleigh notes, adding that it has become a peaceful refuge.