Built off the bones of an early 19th century barn, and on land previously owned by a Hollywood heavyweight, a 21st century riverside estate has been put up for sale by the owner of a local roofing firm.
Graham Aston, owner of Paul Saunders Roofing Co., recently listed the 6,000-square-foot house he built at 271 John Tyler Memorial Highway, off Route 5 in Charles City County just across the Henrico line. The listing price is $2.3 million.
Called Barnstone, the Tudor-style house with six bedrooms and 6½ bathrooms is on a 13-acre parcel just upriver from Shirley Plantation and across from the Presquile National Wildlife Refuge on Turkey Island. Aston said he identified the site while searching for riverside property where he could restore an old barn.
As it turned out, the land was owned by Richmond native Vince Gilligan, the writer-director behind the TV series “Breaking Bad” and spinoff “Better Call Saul.”
Aston said he initially reached out to Gilligan’s agent in the early 2000s and was told he wasn’t interested in selling because he planned to retire there someday. Sometime later, Aston said the manager called him back and said Gilligan was considering selling the land if he was still interested.
“He gave me the price, which was exorbitant,” Aston said. “But there was nothing on the river of that quality.”
With the land lined up, Aston found an 1820s-era post-and-beam threshing barn in Pennsylvania that could be disassembled and moved and rebuilt on the site. He enlisted Vintage Log and Lumber out of West Virginia to do that work, and hired local architect Keith Hunter to design the house around it, with area contractor Pete Heiberger serving as project manager.
Two tractor-trailer loads of lumber and two and half years later, the two-story house that resulted is a blend of rustic woodwork and Tudor-style spaces, complete with a great room with exposed wooden beams, a 25-foot-high ceiling and a balustrade made from an old widow’s walk from a home on Monument Avenue.
The barn’s siding and stonework was incorporated into the house, and its 2-inch-thick pine flooring was milled from the barn as well. James River Exteriors placed the exterior stone and built an interior stone wall, and the house includes three fireplaces and a flue for the kitchen’s English-style Aga stove. The kitchen also includes Caribbean walnut cabinets by Richmond carpenter John Smith.
“We built around the barn and didn’t interfere with it. In fact, we almost didn’t interfere with anything,” Aston said. “I wanted to keep the barn structure intact as much as possible. If there’s a post in the middle of the bedroom, there’s just a post in the middle of the bedroom. That’s what living in a barn is all about.”
Aston moved here from England 30 years ago to help manage Saunders Roofing, which was founded by his father-in-law Paul Saunders. When he built the house in the mid-2000s for himself and then-wife Irene Ziegler, a writer and actress, Aston said his long-term plan was to turn the house into a bed-and-breakfast.
With retirement around the corner, he said his plans have changed as he prepares to hand over the family business to his son-in-law, Jarrod Frakes. They recently relocated the company from its longtime home on Marshall Street to its new home at 129 Richmond Highway.
“I just turned 70, I’m retiring from Saunders Roofing, and what I really want to do is more traveling,” Aston said. “I have other things I need to do, and I need less space.”
Aston listed Barnstone with Sharon Nicholson, an agent with The Steele Group | Sotheby’s International Realty. Since listing it in late May, Nicholson said she’s fielded several inquiries from prospective buyers, including one she described as a high-ranking colleague of Tesla owner Elon Musk.
“This buyer is probably going to be from New York or Connecticut or California, somebody that wants to be on the water and have acreage,” Nicholson said, adding that the property is permitted for a pier to be built.
“The site is just amazing,” Aston added. “Very peaceful, beautiful. You see eagles out over the river all day, a lot of wildlife. A very cool place.”
Charles City County has assessed the property at $963,300. Online property records do not show how much Aston paid for the property, which was transferred to a trust in his name in 2020.
Aston said he’s hoping the house finds the right buyer, adding that he’s not in a rush to sell.
“I don’t have to sell it. I just feel it’s a good time to sell it, and I would like for someone to come and really enjoy it in the way it should be enjoyed,” he said. “Everyone who walks in goes, ‘Oh my god, I love this.’ But it’s not everyone who’s going to walk in and go, ‘Oh, I love this. I’m going to buy it.’
“It’s not your regular house,” Aston acknowledged. “For someone who wants traditional walls and moldings and sheetrock-designing spaces, it’s not that. It’s not the norm. It’s going to take maybe longer than a conventional house would to sell, but when the right person comes, they’ll see it’s a pretty exceptional space and house.”
Barnstone joins other multimillion-dollar listings with water views in the Varina area.
In May, the 38-acre Eberhard Pond estate hit the market with an asking price of $4.3 million. And along the river, state Sen. Joe Morrissey continues to seek a buyer for his former residence at 8700 Osborne Turnpike. The 5,100-square foot house is listed at $1.4 million, reduced from its initial $1.9 million listing in 2019.