“It was one of those things where you don’t really know what you’re getting into,” Courtney Cox says, referring to the “sweet Cape Cod” she and her then-fiancé bought in Alexandria several years ago. Structural issues led to them taking the entire house apart and building a much bigger, stately Georgian in its place, but Cox’s comment could easily apply to everything else that would follow.
The co-owner of Ivy Lane Living and Linens—two adjacent shops that opened in Old Town Alexandria in October—Cox was engaged to her husband, William, when they purchased the house just blocks from where she grew up in Belle Haven. Within a handful of years, she was pregnant. “I had kids on the brain, but I didn’t really understand what that meant,” says Cox, who nonetheless got to work creating what would be a family home.
The Coxes chose Alexandria architect Stephanie Dimond to design a house with a layout conducive to children—large, free-flowing rooms where, as Cox says, “the little people can go flying from one side to the other.” She wanted the interiors to reflect her husband’s love of traditional style and her passion for nature-inspired patterns and light, neutral colors.
Cox had a baby boy, and a little girl arrived three years later. All the while, she filled the house with new things, picking out the backdrop of the setting she foresaw for her brood. She was also switching career focus—the former owner of Alexandria’s Hysteria boutique moved from fashion to interior design with the help of her partner, Alex Deringer; Ivy Lane came into the world along with her children, growing at a comfortable clip.
But life intervened last year, when Carter was four and his sister Virginia was one. Carter seemed to be getting pneumonia again and again, with no signs of improvement. He was diagnosed with leukemia last July, and the Coxes moved him to Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia for treatment. Carter, his mother, and his father stayed there for a month, with extended family helping to care for Virginia at home in Alexandria.
It was then that Cox realized the power of the surroundings she’d lovingly created. “Because of being in and out of the hospital for an entire year, coming home to this house was the biggest gift in the whole world,” she says. “You don’t realize how important your home is until you sleep in a hospital in Philly for a month.”
A tour through the home is a study in calm—relaxed yet elegant interiors, infused with generous helpings of natural light. Despite the white-and-cream palette, the upholstery is indoor-outdoor, so no one has to worry about spills or stains.
“I’m not a big color person, and I like things that relate to nature,” says Cox, who grew up spending weekends at her parents’ country house in King George, Virginia. “I like animals, I like butterflies, I like birds, I like trees.”
That’s why she loves the work of artist Hunt Slonem, whose fanciful paintings of rabbits, birds, and butterflies fill every room on the first floor. The first few paintings were a surprise gift from her husband when the couple visited Slonem’s gallery in New York while the house was being built, and she’s collected more of his work ever since. “It was the most fun experience of my whole life,” Cox recalls of the trip. “It was so romantic. It was so spur-of-the-moment, and I never tire of his art.” So much so that Ivy Lane Living is now Slonem’s DC-area dealer.
The open plan of the home’s back rooms—the kitchen, sunroom, breakfast room, and family room—was designed in part for ease of entertaining, but there hasn’t been much of that since Carter got sick. Yet Cox has found that the space lends itself beautifully to family gatherings and activities. “This is where we live our life,” she says. At the huge kitchen island, drenched with sun from an equally large skylight, “the kids sit here all day—this is where they eat, this is where they color, this is where they do Legos.”
Carter developed keen Lego skills during his hospital stay, a pursuit his father joins him in at the breakfast table. “Daddy and Carter will sit here and build for hours,” Cox says. “This is our happy space. I like being back here.”
Upstairs, the master bedroom has become sleeping quarters for the whole family—especially for Virginia, who sorely missed her brother and mother while they were away. Like the rest of the house, it’s full of light, pale colors, with crisp white linens. “We generally have two adults, two kids, and two dogs in this king-sized bed,” Cox says. “This is our cozy room.” After the kids are up, Cox and her husband share a morning ritual: “Every morning, my husband and I—even if it’s just for five minutes—have a cup of coffee in bed. The bedroom is very soft and peaceful.”
Carter is still in outpatient care, but now that he’s in remission, the family is ready to start emerging from its cocoon. The house is ready, too, from the gracious foyer—the original home’s living room—to the large dining room with a new dining table that awaits guests. “We are so ready to party,” Cox says. “We are so ready to have our friends over who’ve been there for us.”
Just the Facts with Courtney Cox
Best holiday decorating tip:
Put the kids to work! Let them decorate their own tree, and ask them to paint or color a picture of the family. They’re wonderful keepsakes—and often provide a much-needed laugh.
Hot chocolate and cashmere.
Favorite party tablescape:
A stunning arrangement by Margaret Bush, bespoke embroidered linens from Ivy Lane, and vintage china.
Hoping for a white Christmas, and relaxing at home with the kids.
Hunt Slonem’s art, D. Porthault linens, our new puppy.
Winter fashion wish list:
Rani Arabella sweaters and Mantu’s flounce-back long coat. An awesome pair of Aquatalia boots from the Shoe Hive.
Some very special pieces of jewelry that were gifts from my husband: a ring from his grandmother, for whom my daughter is named; a bracelet engraved with our son’s motto, “Carter Strong”; and a gold “dog tag” that he designed for me with our children’s names and birthdates.
Choice items at Ivy Lane Living:
Timeless necessities like beautiful linens, stationery, and accessories, as well as unique artwork, antiques, and private-label furniture.
Favorite family outing:
The farmers market and trips to the country.
Best home-shopping advice:
Purchase what you love and you’ll always find a place for it. Mix high and low—a big-box store piece can mix well with an incredible antique.
Favorite local home stores:
Tone on Tone, Marston Luce—and Target!
Landini Brothers in Old Town.
Staying in PJs all day for the girls. Snowmen and snowball fights for the boys.
Go-to gown for holiday galas: