middleburg life

Best of Hunt Country Weddings 2022

Hunt Country had no shortage of gorgeous weddings in 2022. From a traditional Hindu ceremony at Goodstone Inn to a classic Hunt Country celebration at Stoke Farm, here are some of our favorites that are easy to love.

Nikita & James

Goodstone Inn & Restaurant, Middleburg, VA
6.2.22 – 6.4.22

Nikita and James celebrated their nuptials across two days with both a traditional Hindu ceremony followed by a Cinderella-inspired celebration complete with a baby blue dress. The couple shares, “Our two-day fusion wedding was a dream come true in every way possible! We hosted a traditional Hindu ceremony on the first day that allowed James and I to fully embrace my Indian background, while sharing all the cultural significance with our loved ones. … We couldn’t have imagined a more magical time with our friends and family!”

Vendors:
Venue & Catering: Goodstone Inn & Restaurant 
Planning and Design: Cherry Blossom Weddings and Events
Photographer: Jordan Maunder Photography
Florist: Wild Fleurette Floral
Hair: Shannon Kappel and Maria Arsha
Makeup: Sara Mabrou
Officiant: Rakesh Pathak and Wedding Ceremonies by Jeff
Horse: Harmon’s Carriages
Cake: Market Salamander
Henna Artist: Maria Arshad
Indian Attire: Custom Shyamal & Bhumika

Morgan & Joseph

Red Fox Inn & Tavern, Middleburg, VA
6.18.22

Morgan and Joseph exchanged vows and hosted guests in the heart of Middleburg. Their ceremony was held at Emmanuel Episcopal Church and followed by a reception at the Red Fox Inn & Tavern. Morgan and Joseph share, “Our wedding perfectly married who we are as a couple and our love for Middleburg, the place where we grew most as a couple. So much credit is owed to our incredible planner, Kim Newton. We explained to Kim that we wanted the details to accentuate our incredibly beautiful venue, Red Fox, which to us is the epitome of Middleburg charm.”

Vendors:
Venue: Red Fox Inn & Tavern
Planner: Kim Newton Weddings
Photographer: Vicki Grafton Photography
Florist: Floral & Bloom
Cake: Market Salamander’s Jason Reeves
Rentals: Party Rental Ltd., White Glove Rentals, BBJ La Tavola
Tent: Sugarplum Tents
Band: Good Shot Judy

Emily & Micah

Rust Manor, Leesburg, VA
9.16.22

Emily and Micah’s late summer celebration could best be described as “marvelous,” with touches from the Marvel universe like the Infinity Gauntlet and Captain America socks, a glow stick send-off, and an abundance of love which is apparent just from the photos. Pops of dark green and pale gold added extra elegance to this stylish wedding weekend.

Vendors:
Venue: Rust Manor House
Wedding Coordinator: Meghan Farra
Photographer: Karis Marie Photography
Florist: Wander & Whimsy Floral
Hair & Makeup: Beauty by Aubrey
Cake: Honey Bee Pastries
DJ: Ian Lade

Kelly & Andrew

Stoke Farm, Middleburg, VA
9.17.22

Andrew and Kelly’s Stoke Farm wedding is classic Middleburg with Hunt Country touches around every corner. When asked about his wedding day, Andrew says, “Two moments stand out to me when I think back to our wedding in the fall. The first was seeing Kelly walk through a pergola of wisteria down to the garden where our ceremony took place while a string trio played our favorite song. It was the exact scene that we had dreamed about for over seven years since we first came to Stoke Farm together. 

And the second was when we were finishing up our dinner at the sweetheart table and looked out across the tables of guests. Not one person wasn’t engaged in conversation with someone else, a lot of them [just] meeting for the first time, and it filled us with so much joy seeing everyone else laughing and smiling with each other.”

Vendors:
Venue: Stoke Farm
Catering: Bluewater Kitchen
Planner: Joy Suits
Photographer: Danielle Towle
Florist: Mini Rose Farm

Ryann & Kevin

Mortgage Hall Estate and The Middleburg Barn, Middleburg, VA
10.14.22

Ryann and Kevin describe their wedding best, saying, “It was really important to us that our wedding was a true representation of the people that we are. We are proud to have showcased that in all of the details that we included on our big day. From our epic entrance, dancing on a cloud, a horse at cocktail hour, our late night speciality cocktail, a getaway car, and cold sparks, our wedding was a dream and we feel lucky that we were able to celebrate our special day at two of the best Middleburg venues, the Mortgage Hall Estate and The Middleburg Barn.”

Vendors:
Venue: Mortgage Hall Estate and The Middleburg Barn
Catering: Main Event
Planner: Alyssa Carl from B.Mingled
Photographer: Kir Tuben
Florist: Lisa from Rosy Posy
Desserts: Simply Dessert 
DJ & Special Effects: John Howard from A2Z Music Factory
Hair: Nam Nguyen
Makeup: Kaytee Spanoghe
Tap Truck: Bubbles & Brews
Videographer: Michael Lemley
Stationary: Designs by Allison Rene

Jessica & Brandon

Great Marsh Estate, Bealeton, VA
10.23.22

For Jessica and Brandon, the color orange took center stage at their Great Marsh Estate wedding. The groom’s suit, groomsmen’s ties, pops of orange in the table settings, and the venue’s fall foliage all added up to a very autumnal feel. The duo exchanged vows in front of friends and family on the sprawling lawn with the statuesque Manor House as the perfect backdrop to their big day.

Vendors:
Venue: Great Marsh Estate
Catering: Serendipity Catering & Design
Planner: Vida Events
Photographer: Jennifer Gray Calcagno Photography (Second Shot under Victoria Heer Photography)
Florist: Sarena Floral Designs 
Hair & Makeup: Evergreen Beauty Makeup & Hair Design 
Desserts: Signature Sweets by Amanda
DJ: Repeatable DJ

Rubano’s: Culinary Ambition in Aldie

Written by Bill Kent | Photos by Michael Butcher.

All restaurants are no more than a dream before they open, when nothing is certain and big plans materialize as effortlessly as steam from a coffee cup.

But Carlos Miranda, owner of future Hunt Country restaurant Rubano’s, isn’t dreaming. “I know, right now, this restaurant [will be] a success,” he says with a right place, right time mentality. “I can feel it. I am completely certain.”

In the last six months, Miranda acquired the Aldie Country Store and a 20-acre farm on Sally Mill Road where Chef Brad Rubano is currently living. The farm will supply many of the fruits, vegetables, and spices for Rubano’s farm-to-table menu.

Miranda describes the video he plans to post online about the new Aldie restaurant in the months before he and Rubano open in May. “It will begin with a drone shot … with the Seaspice octopus logo on the outside of what was once a white building, now painted a bold matte black,” he says. “Then we go through the front door,” he continues. The footage would then rise up over the dark, rustic reclaimed wood tables, meander toward the bar, drift over the 10-seat tasting table, offer a glance through the pass-through into the persimmon-colored kitchen walls, then linger on a matte black, white-and-persimmon painting of horses that Miranda and his wife Maryam bought in the Dominican Republic. “That ties it all together, don’t you think?”

Miranda, a Florida native, has a design degree from Marymount University. It was there that he met Maryam, who was studying business. They went on to open restaurants in the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, and to design restaurant and hotel interiors for Starwood and Mandarin Oriental. 

Since last summer, Carlos Miranda has been between Florida and Middleburg, having set up shop with his family at a Snickersville home the couple purchased two years ago when the family decided to send their daughters to Foxcroft School. “Of course we fell in love with Middleburg,” Maryam Miranda adds. “Who wouldn’t? It is one of the world’s most beautiful places.”

Of the new restaurant project, Maryam Miranda shares her aspirations. “When we open, we’re going to be the French Laundry, only [in] Middleburg,” she says.

With Carlos Miranda adding, “We’re going to be better. We’re going to be like the Inn at Little Washington. We’re going to bring in people from Washington, D.C. — everywhere.” 

The Rubano’s team is even considering the use of a helicopter to transport celebrities from D.C. and even further, who, he is sure, will come to his new Hunt Country restaurant after having dined at Seaspice Brasserie, his south Florida seafood restaurant on the Miami River.

Given the high level of Italian cuisine already represented in Washington, D.C., and Hunt Country, this could be a daunting task. Rubano, however, has no qualms about having his name on the restaurant.

“If this had happened to me twenty years ago, I’d be a little bit scared,” Rubano admits. “But I’m 45 now. I’m ready for this. This is [exciting].”

Born on Long Island, New York, Rubano is of Sicilian descent. “I have a dozen aunts and uncles and cousins from Taormina,” he shares. “Everybody cooks. As a baby I smelled the sauce on my grandmother’s braciola. She’d start it on Saturday so it would be perfect on Sunday.” After getting an associate degree from the New York Restaurant School, Rubano and his father Tony opened a fast-casual restaurant in Merrick, Long Island, called The Pit Stop. 

Experience Rubano gained at his father’s fine dining restaurant — the now-closed Wild Fish Raw Bar in Freeport, Long Island — set him on a path to the kitchen at a new restaurant called Seasalt and Pepper, carved out of a warehouse in a Miami River neighborhood better known for its auto body shops than its cuisine. Eventually rebranded as Seaspice, the 250-seat restaurant became a surprise hit. 

“Before they opened, everybody told them the location was wrong, that nobody would come,” Rubano remembers. “Carlos and Maryam [have] been in the business long enough to have an instinct for these things. So, last July, when I was in my office at Seaspice and Carlos came in and said, ‘I’ve found our next place,’ I didn’t have to ask where. I found out a half an hour later when a voucher for a plane ticket to Washington appeared on my phone. A few months later, I [saw] snow for the first time in ten years.”

Since then, “It’s been non-stop because there is so much going on, in terms of what is grown, and the variety of what is grown [in Virginia],” Rubano notes regarding his ingredient list. “I’m just amazed by the range of what’s here. I just had some incredible venison and wild berries. It’s like I’m discovering a new world.”

Part of that world will include local wines, spirits, and beer with Italian vintages and brews — some of which he expects to sample at the end of this month. To solidify their menu, Rubano and the Mirandas are traveling to Italy where they will sample both traditional and trendsetting Italian cuisine. 

So confident is Carlos Miranda of his restaurant’s success that he has already made plans to open a branch of Rubano’s in part of a Miami nightclub and hotel complex in 2024. In 2025, he plans to open a Rubano’s in Washington, D.C. For now, until the whirling rotors of helicopters can be heard overhead, every table is filled, and there is something Sicilian to savor from the kitchen, the lofty ambitions in mind for Rubano’s are just that. However, the restaurant is certainly worth keeping an eye on. ML

This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue.

Meet Your Neighbor: Romey Curtis

Written by Laticia Headings | Photos Courtesy of Romey Curtis

Romey Curtis. Photo by Laticia Headings.

When Romey Curtis first visited Middleburg, Virginia, it brought back memories of Hampshire, the quaint village where she grew up in England. The pastoral countryside and sprawling fields and farms were familiar echoes of her childhood and serve as one of the many reasons why she loves living here today. “I do love it here, it’s a very pleasant lifestyle,” she says.  

The youngest of three children, Curtis was raised near a port where her father served as a Royal Navy officer. Prior to the escalation of World War II, the family moved west to the countryside for several years to escape the risk of potential bombing. “Of course, the grown-ups were always talking about the war,” Curtis remembers. “We moved to the deepest, darkest part of Somerset where nothing ever happens — to a safe place.” 

Throughout her early childhood, the young Curtis and her siblings lived simply and attended a village school. She was later enrolled at a primitive boarding school without heat where the inkwells would freeze during the winter, an experience she understandably disliked. 

During the war, she remembers the family’s diet being very limited and, like the rest of the country, having government-issued ration coupons for food and clothing. “There was a little shop that had biscuit boxes that should have been filled but, of course, they were empty. I used to look longingly at them,” Curtis recalls. “I had no idea what an orange or a banana was like because we didn’t get any imported during the war.” 

In 1950, Curtis’ father was sent to Washington, D.C., for a two-year assignment. With her sister training to become a doctor and her brother an architect in England, Curtis moved with her parents. She finished her last two years of high school at National Cathedral School.

Like her two siblings, Curtis was career-focused. She knew from an early age that her path would involve the arts and went on to become an accomplished actress, playwright, and author.

Curtis had a natural flare for writing and theater as a young girl. Through the years, she took dance classes and wrote poetry, but didn’t formalize her acting skills until after high school because no acting programs were available. “I don’t remember how I got the acting bug, but I got it,” she explains.

Upon returning to England after high school, Curtis was accepted into the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) in London and completed the two-year curriculum. “I give great credit to my parents who allowed me to apply to RADA,” Curtis says. “A lot of parents would have thrown their hands up in horror and said, ‘Do something sensible, child!’” 

After RADA, Curtis went on to become a repertory actor and performed in various plays. “Theater is a love of mine and it’s a joy to be part of,” Curtis shares. “Being on stage — it’s a huge responsibility and you’re very exposed. For me, it’s not so much about the performance as much as it is the journey.”

Though she never made an appearance on London’s West End, she did land several television roles. 

In 1959, 23-year-old Curtis married her race car-driving sweetheart of three years, Timothy Curtis. Her husband transitioned from cars to boats after they were married, both racing and selling them. The couple had three children: Lucinda, Matthew, and Catherine.

Curtis paused her acting career for a number of years to raise her children. Timothy got a job with Zodiac, the iconic inflatable boat brand founded in France in 1896. Shortly after, Curtis once again found herself in America when Timothy’s job brought them to Annapolis, Maryland. 

“Timothy was good with languages and spoke French,” Curtis says. Zodiac was expanding into the American market and with Timothy’s experience and linguistic abilities, he was an ideal representative for the company.

While in Annapolis, Curtis joined the Colonial Players, a local community theater company. She also got involved with Maryland Hall Story Theater, an outreach program committed to bringing the cultural enrichment of theater to the children of Anne Arundel County. “It was a very special time,” Curtis says. 

The couple eventually found their way to Costa Rica in the mid-1980s. Now empty nesters, they spent 13 years living the “Pura Vida” lifestyle. Curtis worked at an English language newspaper and expanded her love of the written word. 

Their next adventure landed them in Hawaii. What started as a visit to an expecting daughter and son-in-law turned into a 15-year stay on the island of Kauai. During that time, Curtis got involved with a women’s theater group and founded Kauai Shorts, an annual festival featuring 10-minute plays. Once again, she found herself acting, directing, and penning short stories.

A natural writer, Curtis decided her next artistic progression would be to write a book. Being a lover of murder mysteries, she wrote her own entitled, “His Death of Cold. “The more you read, the more inspired you are,” she explains. “One naturally comes with the other for me.” The dedication in the front of the book is to her husband, Timothy, who supported all of her creative endeavors over the years. 

Curtis admits the publishing process was difficult but worth the effort, mentioning that “His Death of Cold” can be found on Amazon. “I think it’s a truism that everyone has one book in them,” she says. 

The many chapters of Curtis’ life led her to the Middleburg area in 2018, where her eldest daughter, Lucinda, lives. “I love the size of Middleburg and the feeling of a village; it reminds me of home,” she says. 

Curtis still finds ways to stay involved with the arts. For the past two years, she has volunteered for the Middleburg Film Festival. “It’s fun and gives you a sense of belonging and contributing, both of which you need if you come to a place where you plan to settle,” she says.

Though her writing days are over, the grandmother of four and great-grandmother of two is still an avid reader and doesn’t rule out performing again should the opportunity arise. “Nothing is more exciting. It’s not just the performance, it’s the rehearsal…There’s a lot of exploring that happens and you learn a lot about yourself,” she says.

Curtis is grateful that theater was a guiding force for her throughout the decades. Without doubt, her lifelong passion for writing and performance has allowed her various talents to shine and make an impression on many. ML

This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue.

Wallet Wellness: Make the Most of Your Money

Written by Diane Helentjaris

“Planning really moves the needle,” Amanda Merrill says when discussing how to build financial stability.

Merrill, a wealth advisor for Buckingham Strategic Wealth, is a certified financial planner with a law degree from Case Western Reserve University. Though everyone’s economic situation is unique, she offers some general tips to consider. 

Putting together an emergency fund is first on her list. Life has unexpected surprises ahead for everyone. However, with at least six months of income set aside, disruptions lose a bit of their sting. Merrill notes, “An emergency fund assures a person can avoid portfolio liquidation at depressed rates. Volatility is upsetting. It’s always prudent to prevent [unnecessary] selling when investments are down.” Having money tucked away and ready for the unexpected moments in life can prevent one from accruing avoidable debt and neglecting other needs.

Additionally, Merrill encourages people to take the time to know where their money is and how it has been allocated. This allows one to adjust and customize their holdings. Being cognizant of interest rates for savings accounts and comparing them to other possible investments helps investors make strong decisions. 

The best mix of stocks, bonds, and alternative investments varies with a person’s appetite for risk, their stage of life, and even their anticipated longevity. Life expectancy is projected to continue rising — according to a 2020 report from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average life expectancy for Americans will grow by six years and rise to an average of over 85 by 2060. Merrill confirms that increased longevity and family history of longevity are important considerations in financial planning for retirement. 

On average, everyone can expect to experience at least one recession during their lifetime. Economic slumps can create opportunities to “capture a tax loss.” Painful and counterintuitive as it might be, selling investments at a loss may be a good idea in some cases — later, when the market improves, these losses could offset gains.

A free and straightforward task for individuals looking to build their financial stability is to access their personal credit reports from the three major credit reporting bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian. These companies are required by law to give a free report to consumers annually which they provide on their websites. The three reports differ slightly, so checking each one is important. Doing so allows one to correct any errors and to track changes in credit worthiness. 

Another potentially profitable and very simple action to take is to check for unclaimed money. Virginia’s Unclaimed Property Program returns “money, stocks, bonds, dividends, utility deposits, insurance proceeds, tangible property and more” to residents who may have moved, lost a check, or forgotten about a bank account. VaMoneySearch.com is the place to start. The federal government has additional information on finding unclaimed money at their USA.gov site. A few years ago, Merrill’s mother checked for unclaimed property belonging to her and discovered a small retirement fund from a long-ago teaching job.

An annual review of insurance coverage can also save consumers money. Supply and labor costs have increased in recent years due to inflation and old insurance levels might not be adequate. For Hunt Country residents who own historic homes and lands, the need for special skills or materials to restore damaged properties may justify increasing insurance levels. 

Merrill notes that umbrella insurance — policies which provide extra insurance beyond standard home, auto, and boat insurance — is “tremendously affordable.” Umbrella insurance can kick in and provide coverage when homeowner, auto, or boat insurance has tapped out. It also may cover claims excluded by other insurance policies. Individuals who serve on boards, own horses, employ staff, or have a high public profile might consider buying umbrella insurance, Merrill advises.

Finally, Merrill recommends people have an estate plan (at minimum, a will) and review it for completeness. This may include arranging appropriate guardians for children who are minors and other dependents. The Commonwealth of Virginia has laws covering those who die without a will. Property in that case is dispersed among relatives using a formula set by the state. For instance, in an example of special interest to equine owners, horses whose owner has died could end up the property of a relative who may not have the resources or interest to properly care for them. Merrill notes that a trust may include horses, with specific language to assure their wellbeing.

When it comes to financial planning, Merrill makes it clear that simple actions and attention can reap rewards in the future. ML

Buckingham Strategic Wealth

112 West Washington Street, Suite 204

Middleburg, Virginia 20117

Telephone: (540) 931-9051

BuckinghamStrategicWealth.com

This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue.

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Relax the Body and Mind at BodyBloom

Story by Lia Hobel | Photos by Michael Butcher

A few steps from the hustle and bustle of downtown Middleburg’s shopping district is a massage therapy studio that has comforted the community since 2018. BodyBloom, nestled on a quiet residential street, offers all who enter the promise of tranquility in the capable hands of Peggy Finnegan. 

The name “BodyBloom” refers to how massage and bodywork can help one’s body “bloom” with an improved sense of strength and wellbeing according to Finnegan, the owner and therapist. “I create a peaceful, private, and unhurried experience for my clients from the moment they arrive,” she explains. “My cozy studio is designed to feel restful and inviting. Clients receive my undivided attention for their entire appointment.” 

Finnegan works as a solo therapist. She starts by carefully listening to her clients’ preferences and needs. From there, she works quietly using skilled, compassionate touch and a slower pace to help soothe the nervous system while softening and loosening muscle tension. “For most people, it’s a welcome treat to have this uninterrupted downtime with zero demands on them,” she says. “Clients tell me they feel totally safe and cared for when they’re on my table.” Each session includes comforting extras like a heated table, eye pillow, hot stones, and steamy towels — the perfect accoutrement for an exceptionally relaxing experience.

Taking care of people comes naturally to Finnegan. She was a United Airlines flight attendant for 20 years, exploring the world while providing front-line safety and service to the traveling public. “On my days off from flying, I did rewarding work as a certified nursing assistant and also served for many years as an in-home hospice volunteer,” she says.

Finnegan was ready for a change after 9/11 and chose to follow her therapeutic spirit. She knew a quieter and more intimate setting appealed to her. After graduating from massage school and getting her license in 2012, Finnegan began work at a luxury spa and opened a private practice in Hudson, Ohio. For the next few years, she juggled both jobs, took advanced training classes, honed her skills, and built her clientele. In 2016, everything came to a screeching halt due to an unexpected health crisis which left Finnegan physically unable to do massage therapy work for nearly a year. “During my recovery, I experienced immense healing from a variety of complementary therapies including reflexology,” she says. That’s when she decided to make use of her time off from massage by getting trained and certified in the Ingham Method of reflexology which she has proudly offered at her Middleburg studio since she moved to the area with her husband. 

Since opening its doors, BodyBloom has been a retreat for anyone looking to decompress in a peaceful atmosphere. Finnegan is trained in a variety of therapeutic modalities including deep tissue massage, neuromuscular therapy, and Thai massage. She has chosen to focus solely on restorative relaxation work “because it’s what I love the most and I believe that [it] is exactly what a lot of folks need,” she shares. Finnegan helps many people seeking relief from general muscle tension from physical activity or from long hours sitting at their computer. “I also see many others who are feeling stressed out, anxious, or overwhelmed.” Her clients include all genders and range in age from 16 to 93. 

Massages not only restore the body, but also the mind. Finnegan says the relaxation massage stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system which reduces your body’s stress reactions. This is also known as the rest and relax response. “As the physical touch of massage activates the parasympathetic system, your heart rate naturally slows down. Then breathing also slows and your blood pressure lowers. Your hormones are also affected.” Stress hormones like cortisol drop off and serotonin, the feel-good hormone, spikes. This provides that improved sense of wellbeing and peacefulness that people feel after a massage. “I believe that the additional nurturing and care [clients] receive at BodyBloom just adds to those good feelings,” Finnegan emphasizes.

Finnegan also strives to build a nourishing relationship between client and therapist. “My favorite part about having my own practice is being able to take the time to get to know my clients as people, not just bodies,” Finnegan says delightedly. “I love building a therapeutic relationship of trust with my clients, getting to know their needs, likes, and dislikes. I don’t like to rush, and I never want you to feel rushed, so I leave myself plenty of time between my appointments so your whole experience feels relaxed and unhurried.” ML

BodyBloom Massage & Reflexology
107 West Marshall Street, Suite 106
Middleburg, Virginia 20117

BodyBloom specializes in restorative relaxation services including massage therapy, foot reflexology, and luxurious body scrubs. Those considering booking can do so through the BodyBloom website: bodybloommassage.com.

This article first appeared in the January 2023 issue.

Terrific Toys at the PLAYroom

Written by Sarah Hickner
Photos by Callie Broaddus

On West Washington Street, just a few doors down from Middleburg Common Grounds, is an unusually PLAYful store. Even for an adult, a step inside feels like walking into a magical place.

A wall lined with books beckons young readers to take a seat on the bench and dive into a new tale. Wooden cars beg for little ones to zoom them around. A rideable toy horse stands proudly, greeting customers. Whimsical pendulum clocks ping back and forth on the wall behind the checkout counter. And, for the holiday season, adorable fabric animal ornaments adorn lit Christmas trees and colorful stockings hang in every corner of the shop. 

Chris, Michelle, and Maverick.

Keep going, and customers will find a mini theater set, ready for whatever productions a kid can dream up, a book tree, a busyboard fire truck, a magna-tile build area, and a huge Lite-Brite!

“We want to have things you can’t get at the big box stores.”

– McNaughton

More than just the quantity of toys, it’s their quality that adds to the appeal. Years ago Michelle McNaughton, owner of the PLAYroom, read an article explaining that when toys are aesthetically pleasing, adults are more likely to get involved with playtime. The retro wood kitchen and toy rotary phone sitting next to a display of eccentric fabric dolls proves that the article’s argument rings true. 

One of McNaughton’s favorite things about her business is watching the families she serves grow. “We’ve only been here a year and a half,” she shares. “But even in that time, we had ladies come in who were expecting, and now their kids are a year old!” 

Vilac Vintage Car.

In owning a toy store, McNaughton has become a toy expert. One thing she has learned is that kids don’t need a large collection. Instead, a handful of good toys is plenty because it encourages children to exercise their imagination more. Often people will hold up a toy and say, “What does this do?” She responds with a big smile and a twinkle in her eye: “Whatever you want it to!” 

Most items in the store are made from wood, fabric, or paper. McNaughton works hard to provide products made of sustainable and natural materials. “When we do carry plastics we try to make sure they’re healthy plastics, so mostly food grade,” she says. McNaughton also loves to support small vendors and stock plenty of American-made toy options. “We want to have things you can’t get at the big box stores,” she says.

When asked about her favorite toys in the store, McNaughton made a beeline for a set of car tracks called “Way To Play Roads.” They are simple pieces of black silicone that can be pieced together to make a track for toy cars. Her face lights up as she talks about her son playing with them every day. “We play with them in the snow. We’ve made monster mud pits, and I just hosed them off when we were done. We brought them to the beach and played in the sand!” 

Hanging ornaments.

McNaughton is undeniably passionate about play. She dreams of her store being a place for people in the community to read, play, and imagine. “Our goal is really to be a part of the community. We’ll have folks come in on a Wednesday and read and play for thirty minutes. We want to be a resource for those families to come in and think of new things they haven’t seen before…and think about play a little differently than just ‘how do I entertain my kid?’”

“The key to buying a gift for someone is your own excitement about it”

– McNaughton

With the holidays around the corner, McNaughton shares her advice for gift buying. 

“The key to buying a gift for someone is your own excitement about it,” McNaughton explains. “If you’re not excited about it, I say just put it back. Then get the item that excites you.” If you are still on the fence, give the staff the chance to do what makes them come alive — helping you choose the perfect gifts for the kids in your life. You won’t be disappointed and neither will your child. ML

The PLAYroom is located at 108 West Washington Street in Middleburg, Virginia. Hours are Monday through Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

This article first appeared in the December 2022 issue.

Meet Your Neighbor: Eloise Repeczky

Story by Kaitlin Hill 

Eloise Repeczky

On November 1, Eloise Repeczky took on the role of executive director of the Windy Hill Foundation, an organization dedicated to providing affordable housing to low-income individuals, families, and seniors, and also those with disabilities in Loudoun and Fauquier Counties. A month in, Repeczky reflects on what brought her to Middleburg, her plans for the foundation, and her hopes for the future in an exclusive Q&A with Middleburg Life. 

ML: What brought you to Middleburg? 

ER: My husband, Will Nisbet, was offered a position to work in the development department at The Hill School. We moved out here in June of 2017. It was such a great opportunity and we already enjoyed visiting the region on weekends, but I kept my position in DC and was commuting in [while] I decided what to do with my career. 

ML: What is your professional background?

ER: After graduating college, I initially wanted to work for a non-profit. Unfortunately, I also had student loans, and paying for student loans with a small salary was not sustainable in DC. So, I applied for an international trade and arbitration legal assistant position. I did that for two years and decided I liked working with attorneys, I liked type A [personalities], having the opportunity to learn different subject matter, and working on different projects. Then, I moved into a business development and marketing role and did that for eight years at different law firms in DC. In one of those roles, I managed a 280-attorney nationwide real estate and land use practice.

ML: What led you to apply for the Windy Hill position? 

ER: During the pandemic, I was working remotely, and, like many people, I reprioritized and thought about what I wanted to do. With my husband’s encouragement, we decided it would be nice for me to take some time off and really think about my next career step. In July of 2021…I went on a three-plus month road trip across the US with our dog, Soufflé. When I came back, I really focused on what I initially wanted to do, which was work with a non-profit. 

I was thrilled when Windy Hill became an opportunity because it’s in town, it’s local community members, and I get to know the residents and their needs. I felt like I could have a deeper impact here than elsewhere. 

ML: Was the foundation new to you or had you been previously aware of its work? 

ER: Years ago, we were introduced to Windy Hill through Beth Ann Mascatello, a former Windy Hill board member who was involved with the fashion show, gala, and many other endeavors throughout the years. We had been invited as her guests to the Windy Hill gala.

ML: Just a few weeks in, how are you settling in at your new post? 

ER: It has been wonderful! As with any new job, any new industry, [I] certainly have a lot of information to understand, a lot to learn in a very short amount of time, and [I am] trying to get up to speed on projects that are already three-quarters of the way finished, or just beginning. But it has been fantastic! The Board is incredibly motivated. They have been really helpful in providing a lot of historical information. 

And, I’ve also been meeting with residents to better understand their needs, and with our volunteers to get a full picture of what we are doing now and what we can do going forward. 

ML: Speaking of moving forward, what plans do you have for the future of the organization? 

ER: It has been a phenomenal organization with an incredible mission for over 40 years. 2023 will be the 40th year. I am at the stage of understanding what we’ve done and the incredible story. 

Also, I think there are a lot of people who would be eager to get involved with Windy Hill, and who may not know how they can participate. Reaching out to the community to see what services we can provide our residents and what they need is going to be really exciting. 

ML: Are there any particular programs you are looking to revamp or expand? 

ER: We have a great community of children. We have been leaning on the local churches and schools for programs, so continuing to partner with them and make sure that our children are taken care of is a priority. 

We’re also looking at introducing group therapy or vocational training and other educational opportunities to support our residents. 

ML: Since taking the role, have you felt embraced by the community? 

ER: I definitely feel that way. Again, the board has been really helpful throughout my whole [on-boarding] process and very open with communications, as have our numerous partner organizations. Also, there are a lot of community members who knew me through my husband, and who have known I wanted to be locally based. It’s been really thrilling that so many people are excited. 

ML: Any final thoughts you would like to share with our readers?  

ER: There are a lot of different needs that people have. So, whether it is working with Windy Hill or the organizations we partner with, it is really important to support our community. I would encourage folks to find something [they are] passionate about and then use the skills [they] have to help [a] neighbor who might need assistance. ML

This article first appeared in the December 2022 issue.

Middleburg Film Festival: Still Magnificent 10 Years On

Written by Laticia Headings
Photos by Shannon Finney Photography 

While walking the 340-acre property where the Salamander Resort & Spa now stands, actor Robert Redford suggested to his friend, owner Sheila Johnson, that she start a film festival. The conversation ignited a chain of events that ultimately led to the launch of the inaugural Middleburg Film Festival in 2013, the same year the Salamander Resort opened. 

Now celebrating its tenth year, the Middleburg Film Festival is a tour de force that rivals the likes of Sundance and Telluride. It quickly gained a reputation as a must-attend contender festival on “the road to the Oscars,” and has even received a prominent write-up in the October 5, 2022, issue of Variety Magazine, the entertainment industry’s leading weekly publication. “We set out to build something special that would be embraced by film lovers and ten years in, we’re proud of where we are and of what this festival has become,” Johnson says.

Longtime film producers Ron Yerxa and Albert Berger, founders of Bona Fide Productions, have been on the festival’s advisory board since year one. Over the past three decades, they have  produced dozens of Oscar-winning and nominated films and audience favorites, including “Little Miss Sunshine,” “Election,” “Cold Mountain,” and “Nebraska.” Five of their films have been screened in Middleburg, including this year’s “Somewhere in Queens,” starring and directed by Ray Romano, who was also in attendance. Yerxa says, “I’m a big, big supporter of this festival because no other film festival has music, the kind of community, discussions and films, and this level of guests.”

Other prominent guests attending the festival this year included actor Brendan Fraser and screenwriter Samuel Hunter (“The Whale”), writer-director Rian Johnson and film editor Bob Ducsay (“Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery”), director Gina Prince-Bythewood (“The Woman King,” “Love and Basketball”), director Noah Baumbach (“White Noise,”“Marriage Story”), director J.D. Dillard (“Devotion”), and actors Micheal Ward (“Empire of Light”), Anna Diop (“Nanny”), Stephanie Hsu (“Everything, Everywhere All At Once”), and Dolly De Leon (“Triangle of Sadness’). 

Yerxa adds that the international acclaim the four-day event has received makes it a desirable destination. “Studios and production companies feel like they need to have their film here, their clients, their director. They want to be here,” he says. “The festival has a lot of pre-existing conditions to support it but it’s mainly Sheila and Susan [Koch] being unrelentingly ambitious, and it’s paid off.”

Executive Director Susan Koch explains that the hard-earned success comes with year-round planning and extensive logistical execution. “It takes a tech crew of 15 working for four days to turn four venues -—Salamander Ballroom, Middleburg Community Center, Hill School’s Sheila Johnson Performing Arts Center, and the National Sporting Library — into state-of-the art movie theaters,” Koch says. 

A large outdoor tent is also set up to accommodate additional events, special concerts, and Saturday night’s after party at the Salamander. The resort’s elegant library is a favorite spot to hear Q&A’s with notable filmmakers, writers, directors, actors, and composers. “I love the library for conversations,” Yerxa says. “For seeing films and meeting people, this is the best film festival out there.”

This year’s milestone celebration was preceded by a Middleburg Film Festival 10-Day Countdown. Each night, a different local business hosted a free community event from 5:30 to 7 p.m. “We’re very grateful to the Town of Middleburg for all their support,” Koch emphasizes.

The Salamander Resort & Spa kicked off the countdown followed by Mt. Defiance Cider Barn, Boxwood Estate Winery, Lost Barrel Brewing, Master of Foxhounds Association, McEnearney Associates with co-sponsors Middleburg Life & Greenhill Vineyards, the National Sporting Library & Museum, Middleburg Community Center, The Hill School, and Old Ox Brewery. 

Terry Harrak and David Leifer, residents of Vienna, Virginia, attended three of the community events. “It was the best. We met all of these people and everyone was so welcoming, it was just like a big hug,” Leifer says. “We come to Middleburg all the time but have never been to the festival and didn’t really know anyone.” 

The couple attended all four festival days. “When we saw everything that the town was doing to support this, the 10-Day Countdown, we said let’s really dive in,” Harrak remembers. “If it weren’t for the countdown, we wouldn’t have extended our AirBnB and I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable as I did coming into this. I already felt like we had built a community and knew people.”

Community is a big part of what makes the Middleburg Film Festival run smoothly. It relies heavily on its local volunteers and those who make the annual autumnal pilgrimage from surrounding areas just to be part of the excitement. Roanoke resident Warren Dreiling says, “Getting to share and draw on that excitement…is something I really enjoy.” 

Dreiling is a first-year venue manager at the National Sporting Library and has volunteered at four previous festivals. “Being able to build people up – our volunteers, special guests, sponsors, film goers — and also help to enable all of this to happen is a big aspect of why I enjoy it,” he says. 

Romey Curtis is a Middleburg resident and volunteer who was born and raised in Hampshire, England. As a former actress, Curtis appreciates having the film festival in her backyard. “I love meeting the people and feeling that I’m making a contribution by supporting an artistic event, which is my particular interest,” adds the second-year volunteer who wants to lend her time again next October.

From the beginning, Sheila Johnson focused on making music a key cornerstone of the festival. Classically trained in piano and violin, Johnson has an esteemed musical background and taught music at Sidwell Friends School for three years. “It’s also about celebrating the film composers and the other unsung heroes behind the camera whose names you might not know but whose contributions are invaluable to the great films we screen at the festival,” Johnson says. 

Every year, a “Distinguished Composer Award” is given to honor the achievements of a film composer or songwriter, and the honoree is invited to give a live performance. Past recipients include Emmy and Oscar-winning artists Mark Isham, Marco Beltrami, Kris Bowers, Charles Fox, Nicholas Britell, Terence Blanchard, and songwriter Diane Warren. 

For the 10th anniversary, a special concert featuring this year’s honoree, Michael Abels (“Nope, Get Out, Us”), in addition to many past recipients, captivated the crowd. During the 90-minute event, each artist gave a live performance accompanied by a 45-piece orchestra while clips of their films and television shows were shown. 

“It was such an honor to be a part of that concert with so many incredible composers and artists who I’ve admired for some time. I greatly appreciated being included in that list,” says composer Kris Bowers (“Green Book,” “King Richard,” and “Bridgerton”). “Sheila Johnson is an inspiration, and it means such a great deal to have her support.”

The Middleburg Film Festival is known for its heavy-hitting Hollywood blockbusters, but it also offers a well-rounded roster of something-for-everyone films and documentaries. “I brought my nieces because I wanted them to see all of these powerful leaders and women of color in the industry who reflected what we look like,” says Terry Harrak, who is half Moroccan, and whose nieces are Moroccan and Latinx. “I wanted them to watch a film and then have the experience of diving deeper into its meaning.”

Diversity is a significant consideration when selecting films for the festival, and this year’s 45 carefully curated films were no exception. Sherrie Beckstead joined the Board of Directors in February 2022. “The festival’s mission recognizes and supports the power of film to inspire, educate, and engage audiences of diverse backgrounds and perspectives – and through this it helps build bridges of empathy and understanding,” says Beckstead, Partner of Liljenquist & Beckstead and President of The Lockkeepers Collection.

Films like “Good Night Oppy” harness the educational component of storytelling. The documentary chronicles the remarkable true story of two NASA robot rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, and their mission on Mars to find evidence of water. Oppy, as she was affectionately nicknamed by NASA scientists, was only expected to stay functioning for 90 days, but remained in operation for 15 years. 

“Kids are buzzing about the film. We love that an 8-year-old girl seeing a Black female engineer who’s one of the lead NASA scientists on the mission may say, ‘I can do that!’” says Director Ryan White. “This film is about the best of humanity and coming together to do something extraordinary.”

In fact, extraordinary may be the best way to describe this year’s festival of films. “Those who were here felt it! It’s been magical and it will be lasting,” Harrak emphasizes, noting that she and Leifer will mark this weekend on their calendar every year. 

The future is bright for the Middleburg Film Festival and for those who want to share in its spotlight. “I am excited to begin planning for the next 10,” Beckstead says. “The human connection and camaraderie is a synergy and the best of what life offers to us.”

“There’s so many rewarding moments but I think the ones that mean the most to me are the comments from filmgoers who tell me they look forward to returning every year and that this is their favorite weekend of the year,” Susan Koch says. “It’s very special to us to experience the genuine sense of community that’s created by a shared love of film.”

Until next year, that’s a wrap! 

For more information, visit: middleburgfilm.org.

This article first appeared in the November 2022 issue.

Online Exclusive: Conversation with Kenny Grandon of Goodstone Inn

Written by Kaitlin Hill

In September, Kenny Grandon took over the helm as Goodstone Inn’s new Wine Director. The Woodstock, Virginia, native and certified sommelier shares with Middleburg Life, in an exclusive online interview, what guests of the Hunt Country retreat can expect when they come looking for a good glass of wine.

When asked what brought him to Goodstone Inn, Grandon says it was, “the opportunity for growth and to expand my horizons” that really attracted him. He adds that he plans to “take on the already nice wine list and push it forward.”

Grandon comes to Goodstone after five years at the Inn at Little Washington, where he was the cellar master. In his new post he will manage wine needs for both The Bistro and The Conservatory and also hopes to “revitalize the retail wine program.”

Expanding on that, “I think it was started back in [the height] of COVID,” he says. “It gives guests the opportunity to email me their preferences of what they like, [so that] I can help them discover new wines in the range of what they would like to spend.” He finishes, “The guests have to come pick up the wines, so it’s a great reason to come to dinner as well!”

In addition to revamping the retail program, Grandon has his sights set on prestigious wine awards. “Right now, we have the second Wine Spectator award, but we are certainly pushing to get the Grand award of which there are only 97 in the entire world.” He adds, “That is my first goal. To do what I can to get that award.”

As for what types of wines he plans to bring to Goodstone, it will be a mix of vintages sourced from around the world and just around the corner. “I am going to have some old worlds because you have to have your French wines like Bordeaux and Burgundy. There will be some Italian and Spanish as well,” he says. “But I also certainly have a soft spot for Virginia.”

His partner, Melanie, is the winemaker at Cana Vineyards. “I have added some of her wines to the list and Boxwood as well.” He continues, “I’m excited to continue to expand the Virginia wine sections and use some in our upcoming tastings menus.”

Grandon is looking forward to the collaboration with the Goodstone kitchen staff as part of his new role. “Wine dinners will happen in the near future…I definitely plan to bring some winemakers in and do some fun dinners on the weekends. [That way] everyone can actually enjoy themselves. We can sell out The Conservatory and people won’t have to go to work the next day.”

More than wine dinners, his work with the kitchen is centered on a common goal. “We as a team are certainly pushing for Michelin recognition in the future. It’ll take all of us hard work to get there, but that is our goal.  I’m looking forward to being a part of the process.”

As for personal goals he shares, “I plan to continue to study. Studying and reading to be continuously engrossed in wine.”

For those who cross Grandon’s path at Goodstone, they are in for a treat. Not only is he knowledgeable enough about wine to recommend the perfect bottle he says, “I’m a people pleaser. So, whatever I can do to bring a smile to someone’s face, to be a part of their experience, that has driven me for the past 16 years.”

This article first appeared online in November 2022.