by Katherine Hafner
You may have spotted the house while driving through Ghent. The wall facing Olney Road is made of glass, and a huge American flag hangs down for all to see.
Bad weather, rather than aesthetics, led to the flag’s placement. Owners Bruce and Christina Dalcher originally flew one out front; a special American flag taken from his mother’s funeral. It was shredded during a storm, so the next one went inside. Now it’s kind of a local icon.
“You know that weird house with the glass back?’” Christina says she’ll tell people. “And they’ll say, ‘Oh yeah, I know it. The one with the flag.’
“They know of the house but not about the house.”
Dalchers moved into their home on Fairfax Avenue six years ago and have been
working to put their own spin on the place – mostly in bits and pieces.
“Putting our names in the same sentence as design sensibility” would be misguided, Christina says with a laugh.
Bruce, 62, and Christina, 52, met in Washington, D.C., while she was working on her doctorate in theoretical linguistics at Georgetown University. Bruce had been in the Coast Guard and landed in the area after stints throughout the south, including in Miami and New Orleans.
He retired, and together they moved to London for her first post-Ph.D. job, as a researcher. They lived in a small, 500-year-old house in Hertfordshire where “you’d be hard-pressed to find a 90-degree angle,” she says. Then Bruce got a job in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and the couple moved again. A few years after that they picked up again, this time to Sri Lanka.
“We’ve probably moved more than anybody except active-duty military people in those first several years of marriage,” she says. “We really weren’t doing that much in Sri Lanka. Just sort of hanging out, trying to decide what came next in a place where there were parrots and monitor lizards and scorpions and mongooses running through the yard. But it was really interesting. And then we came here, and we haven’t left.”
A friend recommended Norfolk when the couple looked to return to the States. They knew they wanted to be in the South, on the water, somewhere pretty. A friend mentioned Ghent.
The couple purchased the Fairfax Avenue home quickly. They needed something move-in ready and were drawn to its combination of old and new. Aside from the glass back, the three-story home has some other quirky contemporary features: a funky light fixture in the downstairs bathroom they’ve nicknamed the “Death Star,” a library-style ladder to access wine in the kitchen and magnetic child or pet barriers that can spin out from the walls near stairs.
“The fun thing about the house was learning all these hidden” things, Christina says.
Enter through the front and you can see straight through the first floor to the backyard – the front living room, kitchen and dining area are all airy and open. The yard has a patio and small garden of peppers, herbs and tomatoes.
The previous owners grew bamboo that rose some 30 feet on the back wall. The Dalchers say it was beautiful but grew so quickly that they had to take it out.
There are four bedrooms, though the Dalchers use some for other purposes, including Christina’s office on the top floor. Last year she released her debut novel Vox, a dystopian thriller about a world in which women have to wear bracelets that count their words and cut them off after reaching a daily limit of 100.
The Dalchers’ touch on the house is mainly through its décor – trinkets from time abroad accent the walls and floors, including a needlepoint map of Hertfordshire. Bruce has a collection of antique geometric, tribal-style rugs that are displayed throughout the house.
“This is the first time we’ve been in a living situation that is pretty contemporary. And so much of what we have is not contemporary,” Christina says. “So, it’s funky. Everything is just a mix.”
The best thing, Bruce says, is the location; a neighborhood where you can walk and greet neighbors as they pass.
“This is actually, together, the longest we’ve ever been in one place,” Christina says. “We’re getting to that point we talk sometimes – hmm, do we have itchy feet? Are our passports starting to smoke? But every time we have this conversation it comes back to, ‘But we really like it here.’”