A piece of Americana — a mid-century modern house perched 100 feet above falls on the James River on a 13-acre island across from Pony Pasture — has been sold into private ownership.
“I have never seen a view like that anywhere,” David Cottrell, the new owner, said Tuesday. “To be able to say you live in a home like this on an island in Richmond; it’s pretty cool.”
Cottrell and his wife, Christy, closed on the Rice House in December, buying it for $2 million from the Science Museum of Virginia Foundation.
The house, built in 1963, was donated to the foundation in 1996 by Walter and Inger Rice, who retained lifetime rights to live in the house.
Walter Rice, an executive at Reynolds Metals Co. and American ambassador to Australia under President Richard Nixon, died in 1998. Inger Rice stayed in the house until late 2007, when she moved into a Richmond retirement community.
The Rices commissioned famous West Coast architect Richard Neutra to design a house unlike anything in the Richmond area. The modern structure is an example of Neutra’s philosophy that design should connect man with nature and blend the interior with the exterior.
The house is one of the few Neutra structures east of the Mississippi River.
The Rices gave the house to the museum with the understanding that it could never be torn down and it would be shared with the community.
The museum held a charrette — a brainstorming session — with architects in 2008 to determine how best to update the glass and marble house at the end of Old Locke Lane near Windsor Farms.
The house needed a new roof, electrical work, flooring, deck and railing. The museum fixed it and made it available for rentals, but it was difficult to maintain it as a public venue.
“It needed a lot of upkeep,” said Chrissy Caldwell, manager of communications and curiosity at the Science Museum. The residence was used over the years for parties, weddings and meetings, she said.
The Cottrells, business partners and investors, had tried a couple of times over the years to purchase the multi-tiered house, and Mrs. Rice recognized that the best use for the house was to return it to private residence.
The long-time community benefactress sanctioned the sale and redirected a $3.5 million endowment to support the museum’s educational programs.
“I am so glad the buyers truly love the Neutra design in this house and I hope they will enjoy it and the beautiful view as much as we did. I know they will take care of it and honor Richard Neutra,” Inger Rice said in a statement. “The museum has been an ideal steward of the property over the last several years.”
The museum will dedicate the Inger Rice Learning Center in April. The center encompasses the revitalized western wing of the museum’s second level. It combines art with science and will include an art lab, a live animal lab and an art gallery.
Cottrell said he and his wife will be good caretakers.
They are in the process of remodeling the house but will make sure it remains listed on the National Register of Historic Places, he said. The house was named to the register in 1998 as the only international style house in the Richmond area. In 2001, it won the Virginia Center for Architects’ Test of Time Award.
“The overall footprint won’t be changed,” Cottrell said. “The rooms will remain the same. We will add new wiring and a new kitchen and we will likely build a studio somewhere on the property but we will make sure the house remains historic.”
The remodel will be an 18-month project to bring the house up to today’s standards, he said. “It hasn’t been updated since it was built.”
The Cottrells live in a Tudor-style home on the 18th green at the Country Club of Virginia. David Cottrell said he never thought they would sell this house, which was built circa 1920, and their new residence couldn’t be more different.
However, he has always been fascinated by mid-century modern architecture, in particular this house. “It’s very special,” he said about the Rice House.
The Cottrells own Retail Data, a retail pricing research firm that Christy founded in 1988. They are investors in the Quirk Hotel and other projects in the Richmond area, including Broad Hill Centre property in western Henrico County.