Home profile: World-class fiddler tells personal stories through interior décor of Old Town home

Home profile: World-class fiddler tells personal stories through interior décor of Old Town home
Flooding the living room with light, the windows of Bonnie Rideout and Jesus Medrano's home overlook the Potomac River, a nearby playground and the Wilkes Street Tunnel. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

By Olivia Anderson | oanderson@alextimes.com

Panoramic views overlooking the Potomac River, a tabletop handcrafted from burled maple and landscape paintings decorating the walls like ornaments are just some of the many flourishes that bring renowned Scottish fiddler Bonnie Rideout and husband Jesus Medrano’s home to life.

When they bought their Old Town brick townhouse in 2009, the couple knew immediately that they wanted to imbue it with light and nature.

“We wanted to bring the outside in,” Bonnie said. “You just walk in and it opens up right into the park. … We just wanted it to be about outdoors.”

Both the home’s storybook aesthetic and intertwining of indoors and outdoors contribute to a place that Jesus and Bonnie’s daughter, Clarice, called “truly their dream home.”

But the home didn’t always look so bright and spacious. While Bonnie — who has recorded 15 solo albums, written seven music books and been nominated for three Grammy awards in her storied music career — said they were instantly enamored with the space itself, the couple didn’t officially move in until a year and a half after the purchase due to a series of renovations meant to breathe life into their bold vision.

Bonnie and Jesus added large bay windows to every level. Bonnie often plays her fiddle on the deck. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

Originally, upon walking into the house, one would have encountered a hallway, a closet to the left and a wall that led to a “little tiny dining room,” according to Bonnie. Tucked back around a corner was the entire kitchen, which is currently where the pantry is located. The bathroom was situated in the middle of the room, before the main living room. Jesus and Bonnie had that wall torn out and replaced with two pristine white pillars and several archways. They also added expansive bay windows to every floor. To walk into the house now is to walk into a wide open, light-soaked space.

“There’s enough privacy, but there’s a very thin veil between us and the space outside,” Bonnie said. “ … And we just didn’t want people too distracted by all our items; it’s a simple place.”

While simplicity was an important goal for the home, so was intentionality. It is all about the little things: The doorknobs on the first floor are iron, the doorknobs on the second floor are brass and the third are crystal.

The wall colors follow a similar pattern, becoming lighter as elevation increases: The lower levels are composed of grays and beiges, and the upstairs palette is a mix of pale blues and creams.

Meticulously detailed paintings hang in almost every room, many of which are from contemporary local artists. The painter of a parkway piece above their bed, for instance, was a French woman named Yvette St. Laurent who lived in the couple’s neighborhood and contributed several works to the Huntley Meadows Nature Center and the American Horticultural Society.

Another artist featured in Bonnie and Jesus’ home also happens to be Bonnie’s uncle, William Black. The first-floor walls double as a large backdrop for the 19th century illustrator’s black and white etchings of his travels through Edinburgh and Paris.

Walking through the home, it’s apparent that nearly every room shines a light on the couple’s passion for globetrotting in some way.

As a nod to Jesus’ Honduran roots and travel excursions, Mayan artifacts and trinkets adorn many shelves in the house. This connection to Central America engendered the couple’s formation of the Celtino Foundation in 2001, which is a nonprofit that has built 52 primary schools and organizes yearly medical brigades in rural areas of Honduras.

Meanwhile, the downstairs bathroom features fluorescent vanity lights akin to a backstage dressing room, referencing Bonnie’s experience as a celebrated performer and Scottish fiddler. Several of her past performance posters are pasted to a wall that is also buried under signatures from friends who have passed through the home.

“It was just so funky because it’s so 1970s, and when I walked in there, I thought, ‘My god, this looks exactly like the backstage of the Birchmere,’ where I played for years,” Bonnie said. “When you’re a performer, the walls backstage at all these places you’re traveling are signed by musicians who have performed there, … so I thought, ‘How fun would this be?’”

Bonnie collected stones from Maine and linked up with Rhode Island artist Pat Warwick to create a tile fish painting in the kitchen. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

A trip into the kitchen leads to one of Bonnie’s most precious possessions: a tile fish painting that sits directly above the stovetop. Lined with stones Bonnie procured herself from her home state of Maine, the painting depicts a combination of mackerel and rockfish.

Bonnie sent drawings she created to Rhode Island artist Pat Warwick, and the two worked closely to flesh out the concept, colors and tiles, which were bought locally on Union Street.

Creative, personal touches like these fulfilled the couple’s vision to make their house into a home — a dream that had at one point collected dust while they lived out in the suburbs to raise their family, Bonnie said.

Prior to buying the Old Town home, Jesus and Bonnie resided near Mount Vernon Hospital in a house with a large back yard that backed up to a creek. Though it provided a comfortable environment for their children to grow up in, Bonnie said this wasn’t originally part of the couple’s plan.

“When Jesus asked me to marry him, I initially said, ‘Okay, as long as I’m in the city or in the country; suburbia terrifies me. And of course we ended up raising our kids in suburbia for 26 years,” Bonnie said. “It was beautiful, but it was still suburbia.”

Clarice said she was very aware growing up that the plan was for her parents to move out once she graduated.

“I had a beautiful childhood in the suburbs, and I think they wanted to treat themselves to a place where they could see themselves retiring,” Clarice said. “I think my mom really values beauty, and when you wake up and surround yourself with beauty, with things you find valuable, it really improves your quality of life.”

Once their children had flown the coop, Bonnie and Jesus still wanted to move to the country. However, Bonnie was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2001, and it quickly became clear that her dream of investing in a farm to start fiddle camps for school orchestra programs would not materialize.

Bonnie enjoys people-watching from her bedroom. The painting above the bed was created by local artist Yvette St. Laurent. (Photo/Olivia Anderson)

Instead, they shifted gears toward another dream of moving to Old Town, which is where the couple lived prior to having children.

“We always loved Old Town so much and we really wanted something that would fit us, so we looked around for many years,” Bonnie said.

With their preferred neighborhood pinned down, Bonnie said a big draw to the home was the fact that a corner of the back yard held just enough room to place a hot tub that would help treat her pain from M.S.

Additionally, Jesus and Bonnie liked that the home included “the challenge” of stairs to keep Bonnie fit but was also an end-unit in case they needed to implement an elevator.

“We could have gone straight into a one-story place somewhere and I said, ‘No, I’m not that bad yet.’ I don’t go down easy,” Bonnie said. “So far so good. It was the silver lining of a difficult time, and it ended up being perfect.”

Twelve years later, Bonnie and Jesus’ history is embedded deep within the fabric of their home – from the tiles of their kitchen down to the knobs on their doors. When it comes to the overall vision, Bonnie said they could not have executed their goal more seamlessly.

“It’s got rocks and sea and forest and memories of places we’ve been,” Bonnie said. “… [It’s] a place where I can sit and look out over the park and watch life happen. The whole house just brings you into the park; you just feel like a part of life.”

See more of Bonnie and Jesus’ home below. All photos by Olivia Anderson. 

  • The kitchen table was handcrafted from the burl of a birdseye maple tree Thomas Jefferson planted, and sits in front a renovated archway.