A Perfect Fit

A Perfect Fit

Historic bungalow made-to-measure

By Deborah Salomon

Photographs by John Gessner


Residentially, Pinehurst is a many splendored thing, from Tudors to Taras, Cape Cod cottages to contemporaries mostly upward of 3,000 square feet. They have long pedigrees, and are furnished in family heirlooms with designer upgrades. Built in the age of maids and cooks, their utilitarian kitchens tucked out back have become appliance/gadgetry showcases and their bathrooms, spas.

Now emerges a separate class that defies classification: modest cottages built for resort support staff in a fringe neighborhood called Power Plant because, of course, that’s where the power plant was. The same applies to Laundry Hill and just plain Community Road. A list of Tufts’ employees reveals names like Shaw, Kelly, Fields and McCaskill, forever memorialized on street signs in toney Old Town.

Once left to graceful decay, these bungalows are on the comeback trail, renovated by retirees fascinated by their history, their ghosts.

In May, PineStraw featured an iteration of the cottage Rassie Wicker built for his family — Wicker being Tufts’ legendary engineer, historian, builder and town planner. Its current owner-renovators, Lisa and Bob Hammond, retired medical professionals who performed much of the labor themselves, are vibrant young grandparents captivated by Wicker and the Pinehurst saga.


But before Rassie provided a house for his wife and children, in 1919 he built a tiny cottage for younger brother Roswell Egbert Wicker, known as Bert. Bert installed the area’s first telephones and managed Pinehurst Electric Company. Since Bert and his wife had no children, the size of the home — under 1,000 square feet — was sufficient.

The cottage was named Merrimac. Why, nobody knows.

In 2012, its third owner undertook a major renovation and enlargement with attention to quality and detail, including fabricating a tool to produce moldings that matched the original ones. Heavy paneled doors were refinished; knotty pine floors scraped and stained a rich cherrywood brown; the bathroom modernized and a modestly sized but stunning black and white kitchen installed; screened porch and patio added; ceilings and roof lines modified; and so much more. Then, the owners furnished it with finds of quirky provenance: a Shaker cabinet, an oversized leather sofa beside a coffee table made by shortening the legs of an English kitchen table, a massive hand-hewn Amish dining table, bent-twig chairs, lace café curtains, and Tiffany-esque sconces.


Beadboard is lavished on walls and backsplash, even on a vaulted ceiling in the family-room addition.

The fireplace burns wood, not gas.

Merrimac became a rental property, smaller than most, but prettier than many.


Lorelei and Paul Milan — outgoing, fit, energetic retirees — met at tiny Elmira College in upstate New York. He was from Massachusetts, she from Buffalo. For 32 years they lived and owned a commercial cleaning business in Raleigh. They raised two children in a 3,500-square-foot house with a pool and horses in the backyard. But for retirement they wanted a small town with less bustle. Pinehurst had been a golf destination. Why not drive down, take a look? Their “look” lasted two years since, like many retirees, they wanted something in the village that had already been renovated, preferably a property retaining a charter membership at the resort.

“Let us know if you find a cottage with character,” Lorelei told the real estate agent.

Four days later she got a call. “We walked in and bought it.” Not just the house. All the furnishings. “I wanted it turnkey.”


That meant disposing of their furnishings and settling into a setting more Martha’s Vineyard B&B than Old South. Lorelei extended one kitchen cabinet for drawer space and replaced the stove with a duel fuel model. White walls became fresh pastels. They added two leather chairs and a rug to the family room and a king-sized slated sleigh bed that fills the master bedroom.

By admission, Lorelei is an anti-hoarder, so no clutter. Only her grandmother’s salt and pepper collection on a windowsill and her great-grandmother’s demitasse cups made the cut.

Then, they embarked on a major project: converting a small cart-and-pony shed into an extra bedroom (no bathroom) for visiting children, while also turning a building on the lot line into a three-bay garage, all using materials that matched the house. One bay houses their golf cart, another a giant closet for Lorelei’s outfits and, of primary importance, a third as the “beer fridge.”

About that off-premises closet: Closets had not entirely replaced armoires by the Wicker era. Paul gets the single narrow bedroom closet. He also has custody of the desk facing the front door, which makes this intended sitting room look like an office except for a plaid loveseat.


“Paul is a problem-solver,” his wife explains. Solutions, paperwork and his playlist come together easier when seated at a desk. Besides, friends know to enter through the screened porch into the kitchen which, although compact, exemplifies good design. On its wall hangs a framed photograph of Bert Rassie’s original cottage appearing rather drab compared to its update.

Lorelei misses having a pool, but Merrimac offered a new interest: Moore County history. She has researched the Wickers, their professions and properties, with the help of Jill Gooding, Bert’s grand-niece, who provided information from the Wicker family Bible. Lorelei compiled her findings into booklets, part of a submission to the Village Heritage Foundation, which in 2020 awarded this cottage — and Rassie Wicker’s — Pinehurst Historic Plaques.

Whether Bert enjoyed the decade he lived here is not known. Lorelei and Paul Milan’s delight is obvious. They can sit on the terrace and wave to passers-by. They are only a few minutes from world-class golf, a pool and other club amenities. Their home is small enough to be cozy, large enough to entertain. True, they have only one guest room plus the guest cottage, which their daughter reminded them won’t be sufficient for grandchildren. Paul’s eyes twinkle, as he whispers, “Hotel.”

The criteria for historic preservation varies. Nobody disallows air conditioning or WiFi. The best examples retain the ambience of antiquity. Old maps of young Pinehurst decorate the walls of Merrimac. Its paned windows remain wavy glass, and its dimensions, with the exception of the family/living room addition, match the needs of original occupants, who were skilled worker bees, not captains of industry from Pittsburgh, New York and Boston. A century old, this little gem is, above all, serendipity for modern retirees Lorelei and Paul Milan.

“It’s perfect,” Lorelei says, before dashing off to meet an old friend for golf. “We live in every square foot, every day. Aren’t we so lucky?”  PS

Residential Renaissance

Residential Renaissance

Art dominates Grandma Boyd’s “cottage”

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

The Breakers. Downton Abbey. Monticello. Taliesin.

Fancy family estates — real and literary — set the tone with fancy names. What could be more dramatic than the opening line in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca:

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.”

Locally, Weymouth — named for an English village — qualifies; and right next door, Inchalene, Celtic for “cottage at the edge of the woods,” adds its own mellifluous name to the list. The residence, designed by Alfred Yeomans, built in 1923 for James and Jackson Boyd’s widowed mother, Eleanor Herr Boyd, and now respectfully renovated, retains grandeur aplenty. During the Boyds’ heyday, Granny arrived from Pennsylvania in a private railroad car preceded by servants, supplies and silver. Once ensconced she kept tabs on her sons and grandchildren while hosting garden parties.

Eleanor Boyd died in 1929, son James in 1944. Inchalene declined until purchased in 2005 by a historic homes renovator and his sister, from Palm Beach. Their plan, similar to the Boyds’, was to create a family compound with their elderly mother nearby. But mother died and an unfortunate construction-related incident aborted Inchalene’s rebirth.

The grande dame of Connecticut Avenue was down . . . but not out.

In the spring of 2011, Inchalene once again bustled with activity, as workmen readied it for a designers’ showcase benefiting Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities.

The result: a double dose of classic opulence. Many furnishings from the showcase were still in place when the house was staged and listed for sale.

Eric and Nelsa Spackey had been looking for a year. “I passed by one Sunday at 6 a.m., hopped the fence and listened to the birds,” Eric recalls. “The house had a good feel, a welcoming flow, positive energy.”

“I fell in love with it,” Nelsa adds.

So impressed were they that in 2019 they bought the house and contents — lock, stock and Murano glass chandelier hanging over a hammered-copper dining table. What wasn’t included they tracked down at auctions, online and elsewhere. “We wanted (furnishings) related to when the house was built,” Eric says.

Turnkey sales of this magnitude seldom happen. Neither does an entrepreneur like Eric Spackey, who grew up in Michigan, trained in finance, set up a cellular network, manufactured uniforms for the military, and is now involved in developing a James Bond-worthy electronic communications device — among other pursuits.

“Sort of like Forrest Gump,” Eric says, as he kneads sourdough on the kitchen island. Besides baking bread, he cooks, cares for the horses, tends a garden, orchard and chicken coop. He plays the guitar and collects art, enough to transform the mansion into a gallery begging a docent. The first image inside the front door is a mother and child with cherries by Gilbert Stuart, whose other works include the iconic portrait of George Washington.

Eric relates best to Fauvism, popularized by Henri Matisse. Upstairs hangs a dreamy likeness of Claude Monet’s daughter and granddaughter, by Monet’s son-in-law Theodore Butler.

The Spackeys’ have four daughters and three granddaughters; living among them made him appreciate the soft femininity of these paintings, and the house. But not all his art is “pretty.” Eric displays Depression-era WPA depictions of factory workers in stark, angular forms.

The Spackeys’ other residence is a waterfront villa in Puerto Rico, site of Eric’s businesses. After hurricane Maria hit the island in 2017, they looked for a safer home base. Eric considered Asheville, then discovered Moore County while working with a government official from Pinehurst.

“I wanted more than a house,” Eric says. “I wanted a working farm with horses — and this was close to the military.” Perfect! “I use the hayloft as a meeting place and the tack room as a bar.”

As for Granny Boyd’s white stucco English Tudor cottage with mullioned windows: “The house itself is a work of art,” Eric says. To preview the interior he installed a 12-foot marble fountain adorned with lions on the circular drive.

Inchalene’s footprint and layout remain virtually intact, except for a solarium added at one end and a second-floor master suite cobbled from several smaller bedrooms and a porch. The longitudinal layout, however, is both interesting and typical of estates unconstrained by lot size. A “shotgun” hallway bisects the main floor, allowing straightline vision from the solarium at one end to a small office at the other. Off it branch the kitchen, dining room, den, entrance hall, powder room and a curious bedroom with door leading outside. Often called a pastor’s room built to accommodate itinerant clergy, these front-facing bed/bath/sitting chambers also appear in homes with elders who could not climb stairs. Or, it might have doubled as an office where the chatelaine received tradesmen without allowing them into the house proper. To that use, the sparsely furnished room includes a desk and a floor lamp from the reading room of a New York City library.

The kitchen, displaying art on a wall rail and countertops, introduces a color appearing elsewhere: the pale green of extra-virgin olive oil. Step down into the family dining area where hangs Eric’s talisman: a 10-foot-long, 450-pound Byzantine mosaic believed to be 2,000 years old that just happened to fit the wall over the table. Beyond that, the glass solarium surrounded by flowering shrubs sparkles like a diamond.

In contrast, the den is dark, clubby, bookish, with oversized pieces upholstered in leather, a primordial man cave where gents gathered to solve world problems over cigars and bootleg brandy.

That long hall opens out into the bright living room, where white sofas hint contemporary in contrast to an ornate gilded case piece in the dining room — imagine it coming from a Versailles tag sale, where Eric might have also found his musical clock, circa 1780s.

The second floor master suite is a clutter of charming objects in hues to match antique Delft tiles surrounding this and other fireplaces. Here and elsewhere, wall-mounted TVs stream fine art when not in use. Down the hall, a “princess” bedroom is scaled and decorated for granddaughters, including a bathroom with a 3/4-sized tub and sink. Next to it, a rough-and-tumble boys’ room has bunk beds and a wall painted to resemble a barn door.

Faux finishes appear on other walls, some resembling wood paneling; others textured Venetian plaster mimicking damask. Touch to believe.

Completing Inchalene’s idyllic portrait are two horses joined by Frida (as in the Mexican painter Kahlo), an affectionate and intelligent German shepherd rescue, and Luna, a long-haired Himalayan kitty big as a watermelon.

Eric insists that maintaining Inchalene’s acreage makes him feel connected. “The chickens produce manure for compost for the garden, a tie back to nature. There’s no better therapy than getting on my tractor. It keeps me balanced.” He finishes with a sweeping, “This was meant to be.”

All things considered, maybe more Lorenzo de’ Medici than Forrest Gump. PS

Home & Garden Tour

Inchalene is just one of the homes on the Southern Pines Garden Club’s Home & Garden Tour on April 9 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Buy tickets online at southernpinesgardenclub.com.

Story of a House

Rooms With a View

Getting a lift by the lake

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

Time was, before video games and apps, every kid wanted a tree house — a place to daydream, to pretend, to lick drippy popsicles on a summer evening. It’s not too late.

John Lennon built a beauty in Hollywood. Winston Churchill had one constructed on his estate, for the grandchildren. And, for $115 — less than the rack rate at a covey of hotels and motels — four people can stay in a little gem overlooking Lake Pinehurst, with a full magazine-worthy kitchen plus two bedrooms, a loft, a living/dining area, a bath and a half, three TVs, WiFi, heat, AC, a wraparound deck and built-in relaxation.

Sound like an infomercial? More like a PSA (public service announcement), since who isn’t soothed by a water view while greeting squirrels eyeball to eyeball?

From a distance, these octagons on stilts — they’re not actually attached to trees — resemble intergalactic pods preparing to blast off for home. Surely, everybody who has driven by this cluster on the way to Lake Pinehurst wonders what lies within.

The curiosity may be primordial. Earliest humanoids could well have slept in trees, unreachable by wild animals — though any archeological evidence of it would never have survived. Stilted structures, for storage and for living, were built in the Amazon region, all through the Indo-Pacific and in Africa. In the Arctic, stilts raise houses above the permafrost. And beach houses crowding the seashore and barrier islands up and down the Atlantic coastline have more stilts than YouTube has videos. You can find resort clusters in the Blue Ridge Mountains lifted off the ground and Rocky Mountain ski-in, ski-out chalets built into snow-packed slopes.

Backyard tree houses can be status symbols for artists, poets, philosophers and wealthy Peter Pans. An International Tree House Architecture Competition draws wild entries from Denmark to Switzerland, France to Long Island, New York.

Tree houses as vacation properties gained popularity in the 1970s — the Diamondhead era in Pinehurst — and were incorporated as part of the new lake community near the No. 3 course. The houses, ordered from catalogs (including Sears), arrived as kits to be assembled on-site. Their unusual shapes provoked mixed reactions from village traditionalists. Most of the original units have been remodeled, often glamorized beyond recognition. Some are owner-occupied seasonal vacation homes. Others are investment properties rented to golfers, wedding guests, family reunion out-of-towners, and businessfolk on retreat through Airbnb, Vrbo and local agents, including Sandhills Rentals.

Perfect, when the in-laws visit — but do advise them to bring sensible shoes, because this house-on-stilts rises nearly 20 feet, accessed by an exterior stairway.

Inside, the scale of this example in the Brae Burn enclave, at 800 square feet, feels compact except for the generous kitchen, with granite countertops, a full-sized fridge, built-in cooktop and oven, dishwasher, microwave, breakfast bar with adjoining dining table seating six, facing a living room with sofa and upholstered side chairs. Two bedrooms sleep four. Between the kitchen and sitting area, a desk accommodates the ubiquitous laptop. With COVID still restricting office attendance, what’s not to like about a tranquil, private work getaway?

The floors are easy-clean stained bamboo. Furnishings throughout blend a soothing grassy green with cream upholstery and dark woods. Tableware and linens are high quality. Curtains offer privacy since most of the tree houses are built in clusters. Every inch appears tasteful, spotless, well-maintained.

For pretty obvious reasons, barbecue grills are not allowed on the decks. As consolation, this tree house comes with a kayak, facilitating an escape when the tigers and gorillas drop by for appetizers.

Tree House

A tree house, a free house,

A secret you and me house,

A high up in the leafy branches

Cozy as can be house.

A street house, a neat house,

Be sure and wipe your feet house

Is not my kind of house at all —

Let’s go live in a tree house.

                   — Shel Silverstein  PS

Story of a House

Christmas and Beyond

Seasoned with a light touch

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

Minimalist. Christmas. Opposites.

Decorating a home for Christmas suggests tinsel, paper chains, gingerbread villages, candles, holly wreathes, mangers, Santas, angels, lights-lights-lights.

Not necessarily. A few absolutely perfect — in scale and taste — Yuletide arrangements can make a house glow. Especially when the house itself is tailored to its occupants’ lifestyle, where decorations lean toward the elegant, the traditional, the spare.

Garlands. Ribbons. Wreaths.

This happens at the Country Club of North Carolina home of Teresa Marshall and Rick Kline, who married in their new living room last December. Accommodations for the COVID-19 pandemic limited them to 10 guests sitting on white sofas arranged like pews.

Framing the scene were miles of moldings: crown, window, door. High ceilings completed the effect — airy and calm — which, all things considered, also provides the ideal stage for Christmas decorations.

No snowmen. No reindeer. No elves. Santa survived the cut.

“We just wanted a little bit of Christmas in all the main rooms,” Teresa says.

Helping to realize the effect was Matthew Hollyfield of Hollyfield Design. He was tasked with creating arrangements that could be augmented with red roses for the wedding on Dec. 27. In Teresa’s childhood home, the tree, decorated by her mother, was the focus. “I felt strongly about that,” she says. All Rick remembers is “just a tree and a lot of toys.” And butter cookies. Their wish was simple. “We wanted to establish our own traditions, carry over decorations and add to them every year,” she says.

Teresa wanted the main tree in the living room, in front of a window, and a tabletop tree visible from the bottom of a high staircase, festooned with greenery — the very staircase she descended in her wedding gown. Partial to large glass ball ornaments, she sat back, turned on the music and watched Hollyfield hang them. A tray of succulents extended over the kitchen countertop; a small arrangement centered the dining room table. Understated, but a presence.

Outside, more garlands of pine and fir, to be augmented this year by lighted trees. Teresa and Rick decorate immediately after Thanksgiving. Otherwise, there’s hardly time to enjoy. Greenery must be best-quality manmade, and reusable. Spray-on piney scents are optional.

Hollyfield confirmed the house was an excellent backdrop. The decorations didn’t have to compete with “a lot of heavy oil paintings,” he says. Rick and Teresa prefer landscapes by local artists, including one by Jessie Mackay, who lives just down the road. Otherwise, expanses of white walls, framed by those amazing moldings, beg seasonal adornment.

Ah, the house: White-painted brick stretches asymmetrically across a knoll overlooking the Dogwood Course and lake beyond. A circular driveway surrounds close-cropped grass, green enough for putting. Tall pines dominate the background, where a pair of eagles nest.

Location. Location. Location.

Teresa and Rick were living within sight of this prime property, conveniently vacant. Their house needed renovations. Why not start over, build their dream home on the lot with the million-dollar view?

Rick, an attorney, and Teresa, a retired banker, negotiated the purchase. They drew a layout suited to their needs, where the pool (with hot tub and sun shelf) is close enough to the living room — with its interesting tray ceiling — and adjoining screened porch to seem part of it. The dining room with built-in bar serves as a passageway into a large kitchen, all white and stainless steel, with miles of natural quartzite countertops, a chevron tile backsplash, and paned windows with nothing to obscure the vista — all for Teresa. She prepares Thanksgiving dinner for a multitude of relatives.

“I make Sunday breakfast,” Rick says.

Adjoining the kitchen is a small “keeping room.” Teresa adopted this New England designation that refers to a small area where family gathers around the fireplace in an unheated cabin come winter. More sitting room than den, this fireplace and TV are still the draw, especially when guests congregate in the kitchen. That leaves the dining room for contrast, painted a deep sea blue with teal overtones on the walls, ceiling, even the moldings.

The master suite is off the kitchen-keeping area, enabling an entrance from pool deck to bedroom. Here, again, a splash of wall color. Not mint. Not lime or avocado. Maybe celery. “It’s called Teresa green,” she says, therefore pre-ordained.

Area rugs over stained white oak floors throughout are colorful, but muted. The furnishings are in the comfort/contemporary mode, excepting several antiques from Rick’s family.

Upstairs the scale changes. Two comparatively small bedrooms, each with a bathroom, accommodate family and guests. Yet, citing the careful design, they use each room, almost every day.

We have been very blessed,” Teresa says. “I had the ability to retire, and we’re both healthy.” Their decision to marry in December ensured that Christmas will always be doubly special. As for the house they built for their wedding and beyond:

Serene. Beautiful. Absolutely perfect.  PS

Story of a House

Cottage Colony Redux

Caribbean colors heat up village landmark

By Deborah Salomon   •   Photographs by John Gessner

Pinehurst: Retirement nirvana for the fortunate few who have played the best courses, traveled the world, appreciated good food, good company and reasonable health.

That would be Carnie and Sharon Lawson.

Previous inhabitants — together or separately — of impressive Northeastern residences, the Lawsons found an original Tufts-built “cottage” already upgraded, remodeled and enlarged to the hilt with exquisite taste in the village center. While rocking on their front porch they can smell the spices wafting from Theo’s Taverna, watch guests arrive at the Magnolia Inn, and wave at friends strolling by on an autumn’s eve.

Ah, the very, very good life.

But wait: A surprise lurks inside The Oaks, as their home is named. Imagine hibiscus blossoms on a holly bush. Hot pink, acid green, lemon yellow, cerulean blue, aquamarine and coral splash across fabrics and walls in rooms furnished with carved mahogany, inlaid cherrywood, 19th century tables and chairs, bureaus and cabinets, desks and breakfronts — a titillating juxtaposition that works. One created by New Englanders (Connecticut and Massachusetts) who for years wintered sea and land in St. Lucia.

Note the 4-foot model of Carnie’s boat, La Gitane — French for “gypsy girl” — that he hopped aboard after retiring from the financial world at 47. “My parents died young. I wanted to enjoy life,” says the man 37 years later.

A closer inspection reveals a décor composed of more than souvenirs. Between them Sharon and Carnie have five daughters and nine grandchildren whose photos cover tabletops, shelves, walls. Their original art reinforces the Cole Porter lyrics for Anything Goes. Over a luxurious down-filled sofa, upholstered in a Chinese print, hangs a nouveau folk art canvas of four derrières lined up at a bar. It was painted by Sharon’s daughter. Carnie smiles. “I call it beach buns.”

Flanking the fireplace in a smaller gathering room is a year-round, table-top Christmas tree. The two rooms are ground zero when the Lawsons entertain.

Elsewhere, a collection of tiny Limoges pillboxes covers a tabletop. A display of Chinese dragon roof ornaments is arranged on another. Big metal Tonka trucks fill a bookcase. Miniature clowns cavort in a shadowbox. Masks from carnivale in St. Lucia appear here and there. Even a ceiling fixture has a history, removed from the Île de France, the first ocean liner built after World War I, launched in 1926.

Who needs to dream about a Tuscan villa when you’ve got 6,000 square feet (including five bathrooms, some with original claw-foot tubs) of prime Pinehurst real estate, all of it utilized when the children, their spouses and grandchildren gather for Thanksgiving, filling the house proper, the guest quarters and an apartment over the garage?

Yet, what grabbed Sharon’s attention on first perusal was the wallpaper, practically everywhere, with Asian/Indian/Indonesian motifs: lions and tigers and costumed natives; wild flora and fauna that riot across the walls, enlivening a small under-the-stairs powder room, a windowless kitchen, and a sunny master suite.

“We’ll take it,” Sharon said in 2010. 

James Walker Tufts would not recognize the simple four-room cottage first dubbed The Nest (no kitchen, no bathrooms, no electricity or central heat) he built in 1896, the same year as the Magnolia Inn, for approximately $1,600.

The Nest was renamed The Crown when it doubled in size in 1901. That’s also when it was occupied by J. Ernest Judd, D.D.S., operating the Crown Dental Parlor, described as “a completely equipped establishment for up-to-date and sanitary dentistry which removes the terror of dental operations.” Among its modern features was a “fountain cuspidor.” Sir Laurence Olivier in Marathon Man would have been envious. Or not. The house was redubbed The Oaks by 1902.

Among other early residents were Fredrick Bruce and his spinster sister, Mary Bruce, a socially prominent duo from New York who purchased the home in 1907. A year later landscape architect Warren Manning created the much-admired garden behind the house. After the death of his sister, Fredrick continued living there until he passed away in 1928. Subsequently, the cottage was sold in 1931 to what seems to be a rather short-lived organization called The Oaks Club. Membership dues were $100 a year, $125 for non-residents. Coincidentally, perhaps, Prohibition ended on Dec. 5, 1933, and in 1934 the house was bought at auction by Franz Hugo Krebs, a Northeasterner who had been a frequent guest at the Holly Inn.

Cathy and the late Bill Smith, of the Southern Pines Ford dealership, accomplished a further enlargement, remodeling and retooling of the home in 1996, its 100th anniversary, with wallpaper added by interior designer and resident Cassie McCord.

The result: a modest frontage behind a picket fence that spreads backward into an outsized — by cottage standards — house with a fenced garden, home to a fountain, a pineapple (symbol of hospitality), light stand and five birdhouses.

Carnie knew Pinehurst from a family golf jaunt when he was 10. He and Sharon were dividing their time between homes in St. Lucia and Chappaqua (New York) when they decided to consolidate, settle down, and trade sailing for golfing.

“Where would you like to live?” Sharon asked her husband.

“How about Pinehurst?” he answered, recalling a resort community resembling a New England village but with a temperate climate.

Sharon had grown up in a historic house. She appreciated that component but wasn’t ready to take on a renovation. Been there, done that. She wasn’t keen on a gated community either. Carnie didn’t want a swimming pool. Been there, done that, too. But they both appreciated a house with character and found one in this extended cottage with its convention-defying layout.

“I have no idea what this was supposed to be,” Carnie says of a room between kitchen and sunroom, itself an addition. Perhaps for dining? Happily, they owned a billiard table (constructed in 1896, same as the house) to fill the space while allocating formal dining to a smallish octagonal music room with built-in china cupboards and woodwork transplanted from a house in England.

Remembering that Tufts’ “cottage colony” homes had no kitchens — guests ate at the Casino building, a communal dining hall — the one added to The Oaks falls outside contemporary glamour norms. Raised-panel cupboards are painted a pale yellow, more pineapple than lemon. A black ceramic tile backsplash adds an art deco touch. In the absence of windows, natural light is conveyed through skylights. A rack holds wide, brightly colored service plates from St. Lucia. The kitchen’s main attraction is an Aga range, the Rolls-Royce of appliances, crafted in the United Kingdom from a Swedish prototype, which cooks with radiant heat and is always “on.”

Outside the kitchen, a dining deck with long table and retractable awning suits a crowd.

Up a narrow flight of stairs, the bedrooms, done in white and pastels, offer the freshness of a Nantucket Bed-and-Breakfast. Queen Victoria may have reigned when The Oaks was built, but her era doesn’t dominate its rooms, awakened instead with the vibrant island hues common to the queen’s contemporary, Paul Gauguin.

Not all retirees choose to live on a bustling lane within sight of shops and bistros. Some want a compact layout, on one floor. Sharon and Carnie Lawson still require space for possessions and memories. “I like to sit and look around; each piece reminds me of something that happened. I call this a big little house,” says Sharon.

“I loved living in St. Lucia and New Hampshire,” adds Carnie. “The people have lived there for many generations. But here, everybody’s from someplace else . . . they are open to new friendships.”

And the feeling is mutual.  PS

Story of a House

A Perfect Unmatch

Historic cottage exudes comfort, harmony

By Deborah Salomon   •   Photographs by John Gessner

Just because “big” and “beautiful” start with the same letter doesn’t signify a relationship. What could be prettier than a modest house filled — not crowded — with carefully chosen objects, where nothing matches but everything fits?

Should the house and contents also reflect its occupant, bravo.

Virginia Gallagher teaches yoga. She lives yoga. Her artifacts and décor reflect its tenets and practices. Crystals cover many surfaces. She speaks of chakras, the body’s seven energy centers. Even the uninitiateds absorb the calm.

That calm begins on the front walkway, composed of stepping stones, rimmed with perennials, then weed-free grass, where a small sign announces the Enchanted Castle. The clapboards are painted a green south of avocado. Celery, maybe? The front porch ceiling is sky blue, considered a good omen. Hanging from it, a white woven rope hammock from Mexico, where Virginia led an instructors’ retreat. “I love the Mayan culture, the spirituality,” she says.

The foliage attracts birds, which Virginia identifies with a guide kept nearby. Ancient trees and vines shelter the meditation garden from summer’s heat. Gingerbread rims the roof lines of a dwelling built in 1924, according to a brick set into the vestibule floor . . . but by whom? Mother Goose? Lewis Carroll? J.R.R. Tolkien?

Virginia — an adult aficionado of Alice’s wonderland — doesn’t know. Most likely a shopkeeper who appreciated walking to Broad Street as much as Gallagher likes walking to Hot Asana, her teaching studio. However, beware of bricks bearing dates; documents provided by the Moore County Historical Association move construction back to 1895, commissioned by C.T. Patch of Peacham, Vermont, a partner at downtown business Patch & Robinson. Another 20 years would pass before snowbirds and townies of substance hired architects to design fancier cottages uphill from the train tracks.

Then, as now, people kept time by the trains, which bother Virginia not at all. “The sound is comforting,” she says.

Gallagher’s décor, too, answers to “comfortable.” A pair of upholstered chairs fill her sitting room, with bay window. Everything is child-friendly. Virginia has six. Kevin, a son killed in a tragic accident, is memorialized throughout the house. The others know her door is open — and often take advantage of a “boys’ suite” in the converted attic with slanted ceilings: two bedrooms, a bathroom, a sitting room with TV. Simple. Practical. Comfortable.

This cottage represents Gallagher’s second lifestyle — the first being traditional wife and mother — living in a house fronted by tall pillars in a fashionable neighborhood. Once single, she discovered yoga through a friend: “I was overweight and unhealthy. I went to yoga to get skinny and flexible. After the first class I thought ‘weird,’ and that I’d never do it again.”

That was 2007. Weight loss attributed to the lifestyle captured her mind and body. By 2009 she had become an instructor. In 2010 Virginia opened Hot Asana adjacent to the Sunrise Theater, a short walk away from home. It’s only natural that her house includes a small yoga room where she Zoomed classes during the virus shutdown.


A Southern Pines native and enthusiastic downtowner, Gallagher rented the Enchanted Castle for two years before deciding to buy in 2012. Other possibilities didn’t come with “a story.” Neither did this one so, relying on the presence of previous residents, she made one up.

“I get energy from them,” she says.

Equally gratifying: “This is the first house I ever purchased by myself, with money earned by my own hands and skills.”

Ownership allowed adaptations, not always in the expected places.

“I love a big bathtub,” which wasn’t possible given the long, narrow bathroom that had been added onto her front-facing bedroom. Instead, she installed a hot tub in the fenced backyard. Next, multi-level decks with a trellis-covered dining table, sectional sofas, a swinging bed, gardens with a bubbling fountain shaded by an ancient pin oak, and statue of Kwan Yin, Buddhist goddess of peace and harmony.

“It’s just heaven out here,” Virginia says of her al fresco year-round living space.


No single word, not even eclectic, describes the interior, with a floorplan that appears to have been rearranged and enlarged, helter-skelter, by previous owners. Opposite the small sitting room is a master bedroom, filled almost entirely by a king-sized bed with elaborate headboard, that looks out onto the front porch. “So I could see how late the kids came home,” Gallagher says. A crystal mini-chandelier hangs over the bed. Her dresser is painted metallic silver, the walls yet another shade of green.

Floors are original pine, stained dark, partially covered by colorful crewel rugs. Throughout, Virginia strives for a feminine presence, something missing in her previous homes.

Beyond the sitting room, walls appear to have been rearranged to create a dining room, large for a cottage of its era. The table, made of distressed wood slats, is surrounded by a variety of seating: bench, upholstered and other chairs. Over it hangs a light fixture built from the top third of an enormous glass water jug hanging by cords emerging from the narrow neck. A contemporary glass china cupboard displays pottery in Virginia’s favorite turquoise. What’s the good of having pretty things if you can’t see them, she explains.

An elongated kitchen attached by a previous owner appears to stretch into tree branches visible through windows on three sides. Even kitchen colors — brown and an earthy green — suggest bark, moss and leaves, rather than white-and-granite glamour. Instead of an island, a long worktable down the center holds glass jars filled with beans and grains and seasonings common to a healthy lifestyle cuisine.

Art is what you make of it. Or what it makes of you. For Virginia, this means framed quotations from favorite books. An enlarged photograph taken in Alaska of horses frolicking through the snow, printed on canvas to resemble a painting, is vaguely mystical — a gift from a friend. A barn quilt pattern hangs outside, in Kevin’s memory. Family members have tattoos in the same design.

Completing the scene are a friendly Toto-dog named Baxter and Luna, a mostly blind marmalade cat.

The template for this serene environment is not completely rooted in yoga. Gallagher grew up in her grandparents’ house in Hamlet, where her grandfather owned the local Coca-Cola plant. “I identify with my grandmother, and their home,” she says. “It had lots of nooks and crannies. I was allowed to touch things. The way it felt was magical.

“I was loved in that home.”

These experiences, past and present, influence her attitudes as well as her living space. “What I learned about yoga is that it helps you feel more comfortable in your body. And home — more comfortable than refined — is a practice of yoga.”  PS

Story of a House

The Other White House

Retirement leaps out of the rocking chair, into the barn

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

Their go-to color is a non-color, white. For Elizabeth “Boo” DeVane and her husband, Ron Gibson, this preference starts at home, where a white wooden porch swing hangs from an ancient pin oak centering the circular driveway, flanked by white gateposts.

Their white brick house on a sculpted five acres near the Pinehurst-Aberdeen line explores other possibilities: white, barely touched with green for most interior walls; hardwood floors painted glossy white; white area rugs and white upholstery. Gradually, in rooms off a “spine” hallway that runs the width of the house, pure (but never stark) white melts into vanilla, cloud, sand, latte, putty, ash and, finally, cocoa.

Even the English bulldog, Bella, continues the palette.

Beyond the white-out, in the sunroom bay stands a gleaming black baby grand, which Ron plays. Off the living room, a darkened alcove holds two 180-gallon tanks, one run by a computer, both protected from power outages by a designated generator, containing an aquarium-worthy array of tropical fish and live coral. Their plumage and movements — calming, mesmerizing.

They are Ron’s babies.

Boo’s babies decorate the landscape visible through arched, elaborately framed oversized windows — two quarter horses (one white, one tan) and young donkey twin sisters (grayish-beige and very friendly) who live in a white barn adjoining the pasture. Bella has her own grassy enclosure surrounded by a white picket fence.

However, Boo — born on Halloween, nicknamed by her brother — and Ron have not forsaken all color. They collect art . . . bold, exciting canvases in primary hues selected by Boo’s educated eye. A room at the Fayetteville Museum of Art was dedicated to her parents, collectors Jim and Betty DeVane.

Ron and Boo, handsome retirees oozing energy, lived previously in Fayetteville and Topsail Beach. He was a school psychologist and military consultant specializing in autism. Boo left North Carolina at 18, attended New York University and worked in Manhattan managing arts-related nonprofits before returning to the family business. Along the way she accumulated interior design experience implemented by friend, designer and fellow horsewoman Cathy Maready.

In retirement, Ron’s tan comes from gardening, not golf. Boo works with rescued horses. How they met and accidentally eloped to Costa Rica after a 12-week courtship resembles a 1990s date flick starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.

The equestrian community drew them to Moore County, first on an isolated farm, then a too-small house in Pinehurst.

Let’s reverse the retirement trend and upsize, they decided.

“While Ron was away, I checked around to see what was out there,” Boo recalls. Tinker Bell couldn’t have found anything more perfect.

Twin Oaks Farm, as they named it, was built in 1997 by Robert Clarke, a California “architect to the stars,” for his own family. This usually bodes well for materials and originality. Clarke’s home, however, presented a mixed bag, with those top-dollar windows sited for maximum natural light but Pergo laminate floors and a small unimaginative kitchen. Fixable, Boo decided. The five overgrown acres beckoned gardener Ron. Boo envisioned two pastures and a barn, which they built after moving in. Both were fascinated with the ceilings: vaulted, angled, slanted, mansard, one with a clerestory which draws light into the white living room, another supported by a trapezoidal beam — anything but flat.

They grabbed the house in 2019 and went to work.

Up came the Pergo, down went hardwood covered with layers of glossy white paint. The story-and-a-half floorplan remained intact except for the kitchen, which Boo gutted and replaced with something from a magazine. The result, definitely not white, stands apart from Pinehurst glamour kitchens. It’s a moderately-sized galley with a worktable, no island, earth tones, clean lines and natural materials that impart an Asian aura. Countertops are marble but not tombstone white. Instead, they have a brown-grey toned leather finish, the same coloration appearing on wood cabinetry, dishwasher and refrigerator fronts. Cupboards are textured metal and frosted glass. A small coffee bar faces a smaller wine rack. No faux-farm sink, no visible breakfast bar until Ron, with a wicked smile, draws a folded flat surface from beneath the countertop, opens it out and pulls up two chairs. Just as original is a small gas fireplace sealed waist-high into a brick column — instant comfort on a chilly morning.

There’s no formal dining room, either, just a large sunroom adjacent to the kitchen, with a round hammered copper table seating eight.

Woven area rugs, upholstery and linens in the main floor master suite and guest bedroom combine pale earth tones with tiny geometrics. Several family antiques — including a secretary and drop-leaf table Boo grew up with and a guitar from Ron’s father — blend nicely with metal headboards and a reupholstered slipper chair from Ron’s mother. Fearlessly, in the hallway and master bedroom Boo added massive tables and benches fashioned from tree-trunks. Their heavily glossed knots and grains contrast to more delicate patterns and colors used throughout, including shimmering drapes in the guest bedroom, the only window with a fabric covering.

Stairs to the second floor rise from near the end of that spine hallway. Here, Boo has an office-sitting room furnished with less white and more brown, although her desk is assembled from a distressed white antique door, its frame serving as legs. She repeats the wall-enclosed gas fireplace for thermal and decorative purposes.

The upstairs bedroom, prettier than a coastal B&B, accommodates Boo’s adult children when they visit.

Boo really lets loose in the bathrooms, perhaps to compensate for original white tiles outlined in black, which she disliked. However, instead of ripping them out, she let the geometrics set a tone. One wallpaper is made from shredded newspaper while another is black curls splashed against a white background. Whimsy rules the upstairs bathroom, where black stick figures in colorful garb imitate the drawings of Paul Klee or, perhaps, Wassily Kandinsky.

As for art, all bets are off. Pale earth tones don’t apply. Brightly-hued animal subjects include a folk art pig in one bathroom, a fanciful horse head by local artist Meridith Martens in the hallway, and upstairs, a bright, cartoonish guinea hen with a story. They saw it, liked it, but it was gone when they returned to purchase it, expense be damned. Years later, guess what showed up in another gallery?

Their favorite painting is an abstract in warm Southwestern colors by Dan Namingha, a Hopi artist from New Mexico featured at the Smithsonian Institution and British Royal Collection in London.

The grounds satisfy Ron’s near-metaphysical connection to nature, developed as a backpacker in Colorado. Not only did he remove overgrown crape myrtles and Japanese pears, he grew weed-free grass from seed, which he crops closely on his riding mower. “I’m like a kid, riding along with my headphones on,” he says. Flowers are absent, except for a few perennials, always in what Ron calls “calm colors, no yellows except for daffodils.” Boxwoods are trimmed into curves, not flat-tops or angles or topiary. A small Tuscan-style garden with fountain and pergola located just outside the dining room brings greenery up close.


Ron and Boo are busy retirees who miraculously report agreement on all decisions concerning the house. Ron admits he’s happiest with a project. Next up: an aquarium store in Wilmington. Boo mucks her own barn. She wants to rehab needy racehorses. For now, she feeds the menagerie, spends time in the heated, air-conditioned gazebo-turned-tack room adjoining the barn, a veritable girl-cave filled with equestrian equipment and memorabilia that sometimes doubles as a meeting place for their Bible study group.

What’s missing? Enormous TVs plastered on multiple walls and laptops galore. “The world was a better place” before electronics took over, Ron believes. He and Boo have other toys: two horses, two donkeys, one dog, one barn cat, two aquariums, five acres, plenty to do and the strength to do it.

“This is a place of peace,” Ron says. Boo adds, “We’re going to try to keep everything standing and moving forward, including ourselves. We are blessed.”  PS

An Asian Aura

Reviving mid-century modernism at CCNC

By Deborah Salomon   •   Photographs by John Gessner

Minimalism treats space as an object. Therefore, the 6,500-square-foot residence of Dr. Sun Moon Kim and his wife, Sylvia Jeongmin Kim, flows around multiple open spaces. Light streaming onto forest and ponds creates seasonal backdrops seen through tall, unshaded windows. Furniture, where required, is spare and sculptural.

The result: serene, quiet, contemporary with an Asian buzz and a transformative history.

If ever a house reflected its occupants, this is it.

Sun Moon and Sylvia are a fit, handsome, thoughtful Korean couple who know what they like. Their adorable daughters — Adrianne, 7, and Lillian, 3 — chatter in English or Korean in a family room where toys are the only clutter.

“We don’t like clutter,” Sylvia says, with a slight frown.

“We grew up that way — neat, clean, no clutter,” her husband adds. Already, the children understand tidying up.

The environment they have created matches a description of Korean architecture as naturalistic, simple, displaying an economy of shape and avoidance of extremes. However, the story of how the Kims found this house deep in the Country Club of North Carolina residential enclave illustrates serendipity, or luck.

Sun Moon was born in Brooklyn, where his father studied medicine. He returned to Korea for seven years before settling in the United States. While an undergrad at Georgia Tech he met Sylvia, a stunning Korean flight attendant who traveled worldwide for Etihad Airways, based in Abu Dhabi. She would arrange her flight schedule to coincide with his whereabouts. Sun Moon’s medical training and cardiology specialty took him to the West Indies, Kentucky and Chapel Hill where, now married with children, they squeezed into rented townhouses.

Settling in a small town wasn’t their agenda. However, when Sun Moon, a golfer, learned of the Reid Heart Center in Pinehurst, he said, “Let’s go visit.” He was impressed not only by the medical facilities, but by the area where “kids run around among trees and nature.”

“We fell in love,” Sylvia said.

Enough in love to accept a position at Reid and look for a home that met their stringent specifications.

Move-in condition was not one of them.

Central North Carolina in the post-war 1950s was no hotbed of architectural innovation. Ranch houses with breezeway and attached garage sprung up everywhere, interspersed with brick Colonials, clapboard Victorians, shingled Cape Cod cottages, a few predictable split levels or, in gated country club settings, ante- and post-bellum Southern mansions.

Then, N.C. State University College of Design imported young Japanese-American architect George Matsumoto from California, who introduced a style soon applauded around the nation: mid-century modernism — described as angular, spare, flat, glass, wood and, yes, faintly Asian. Matsumoto’s homes stood in stark, often shocking, contrast to their neighbors. They definitely required related lighting and furnishings, as well as amenable residents.

Because flowery chintz and wall-to-wall carpet don’t belong in mid-century modern.

Matsumoto’s students and successors spread the concept through the Research Triangle and tri-state areas. Ed Lowenstein, another modernist who revolutionized Greensboro, sent Thomas Hayes to Southern Pines, where Hayes settled and built not only his own home, but several others in Weymouth, Knollwood and elsewhere.

In 1952, the all-boys club received a woman’s touch when Elizabeth Bobbitt Lee became the first of her gender to graduate from the N.C. State design school. By 1986 Lee, now an established architect, was hired to design a house at CCNC.

Like its prototypes, it was described as “very brown,” meaning the exterior faded into the wooded acreage, but its outlines suggest an Asian influence. The Kims saw beneath the flowered chintz upholstery and wall-to-wall carpet within.

“The architecture was way ahead but (the interior) was stuck in the ’80s,” Sun Moon says. “We walked in and saw the house as our own sanctuary.” In 2019 the house had been on the market for a while. “It needed total renovation.”

No problem. They were young, brave, strong, ready to tackle the job, in part with their own hands. Besides, they found a talisman left hanging on the living room wall: a large painting of a kimono, common in Korea as well as Japan.

“This is it,” they decided, and looked no further.

Renovating a 6,500-square-foot house with six bedrooms (each with a balcony) and eight bathrooms (previously 10) while Sun Moon practiced cardiology and Sylvia cared for two young children proved a challenge. They acted as general contractors, hiring professionals for plumbing and electrical, heating and AC, but did much of the design and grunt work — stripping wallpaper, painting, carpentry, installations — themselves. Enclosed spaces were opened, a flow established from the enormous family room leading onto an equally enormous deck, through dining room, living room (with fireplace in the center rather than on an exterior wall), built-in bar area and hallway to all main-floor bedrooms except the master, which is located off the family room. In the true spirit of minimalism, this master bedroom is simply a low platform bed in a room, with tissue-fabric window coverings and a wall decoration composed of slats. No chairs, no chests or tables, no bureaus. Adjoining is a windowless bath-dressing room-closet suite the size of a studio apartment, centered around a double shower with glass walls on three sides. The entire house, previously carpeted (even the bathrooms), is unified by PVC floorboards, a contrast to light area rugs.

“This is good for the kids and the dog,” Sun Moon says.

Because the house is built on an incline the basement is above ground, with a central room, still empty, proportioned for floor hockey or tricycle races; also a kitchen and two guest bedrooms with bathrooms perfect for grandparents, still in Korea.

Just outside the glass doors, the girls play on a colorful gym set like those found in the best parks.

Realtors suggest a house sinks or swims in the kitchen.

The Kims are foodies. “We live to eat,” Sun Moon says. Travel destinations include culinary meccas. The Kims demolished the original kitchen — huge, well-equipped by 1980s standards, with light paneled wood cabinetry — to install a smaller version, designed by Sylvia, where every square inch has a purpose, every cupboard holds enough, but not an overabundance, of dishes. Where the highest-end appliances work to optimum efficiency. Where the Asian aura continues in sleek black, brown, sand and white surfaces. Where Sylvia and Sun Moon prepare beautiful, healthy Korean and American meals.

In a bold but logical move, this couple decided to leave almost all their furnishings behind and start anew. High Point wasn’t an option. Sylvia measured carefully, then shopped online for simple pieces, some statuesque, others spectacular, like the dining-area chandelier. She chose neutrals, avoiding primary colors except in the princess-style girls’ rooms in pink and mint green.

“I looked at thousands of pictures for inspiration but I didn’t copy anything,” Sylvia says.

The 5 acres surrounding the Kim residence have been left au naturel except for a stone walkway linking the house and two ponds, one with a footbridge, each with a geyser fountain, both large enough to accommodate fish. Another water sculpture stands between the circular drive and front door, creating an expectation of what lies ahead. Foliage hides the house from the road. Moss covers much of the ground. Azaleas and dogwoods bloom in the spring, but formal beds would look contrived.

Minimalism as practiced by the Kims is more than a style or a period, furniture or decor. “I try to apply it to general life,” Sylvia says. “I spend time researching before I shop, think a lot about minimalizing the amount of stuff in our lives.” Buying less allows buying better. This applies to groceries and clothing.

“We want each piece of furniture to go along with the rest of the house — and let the house do the talking,” Sun Moon adds. “We want to breathe the house, enjoy it with five senses.”

Luckily, husband and wife share the same taste and philosophies. Otherwise, “People can get divorced when renovating a home,” Sun Moon says.

Not the Kims. Their house represents a partnership moving in the same direction, inspired by an American feminist trailblazer who challenged Southern tradition with an architectural mode distilled from Frank Lloyd Wright, George Matsumoto, Scandinavian modern and classic Asian, which coalesced when a Japanese-American came to Raleigh in 1948 to inspire a coterie of architects chafing for change.

“We’ve seen photos of Miss Lee on-site,” Sun Moon says. “I think she would be proud, how we preserved the story of the house and honored the architect,” in part by returning the interior to its intended karma. “My motto, don’t follow any one trend. Instead, do what expresses us in the best way.”  PS

Story of a House

The Upscale Downsize

Relocation at its best

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

According to Alfred, Lord Tennyson, “Old age hath yet his honor and his toil . . . ”

Maybe, but the inevitable task of dividing up possessions and moving from a beloved family home is usually more toil than honor. This process, now called downsizing, may cause trauma for elders and squabbles among children.

Not for Jane and Dan Clark. Heavens, no.

“I took all my pretty things,” Jane says, upbeat and with a touch of defiance.

This defiance created in a 1,500-square-foot Penick Village cottage a microcosm of the Clark’s 5,000-plus-square-foot manse on Massachusetts Avenue and, more recently, an Aberdeen home of equal size set on 12 wooded acres, suitable for the lifestyles of Dr. Dan Clark, a radiologist, and Jane, Southern Pines mayor in the 1980s. In addition, the Clarks retain a charming historic coastal home in Southport, which Jane calls her “happy place.”

Jane and Dan played marbles in kindergarten. Their friendship continued through school in the farming community of Everetts, current population 179. They married, were deployed by the Army to Texas and Japan, settled in Southern Pines in 1970. Dan established Pinehurst Radiology, and Jane took up politics. By the late 1980s she became Southern Pines’ Madame Mayor. 

This power couple needed space to raise four daughters and entertain. Jane filled it with lovely things found in the shops of Charleston, Savannah, New Orleans and elsewhere.

No auctions. “I might go over budget.”

Her method: “I see it; I like it; I buy it.”

Decades of forays resulted in sizable collections of “pretty things” like blue and white china; lamps to canisters; plates to pillboxes; brass candlesticks from mini to massive; copper pots; kettles; jugs; and heavy silver serving pieces.

But, like with many couples reaching their mid-80s, spatial requirements had changed. Their daughters were long grown and gone with homes of their own and little need to raid the family nest.

“We needed to downsize for me,” Jane says. “I had to do everything.”

They looked at apartments, which Jane dismissed as “like a hotel.” Instead, they chose an attached two-bedroom brick-and-shingles unit in a quiet Penick corner backing on Weymouth, where they watch equestrians through a fence or from a deck that Jane had extended 3 feet and painted mossy green. Their private garden is even sweeter since maintenance is provided.

The Clarks moved in on March 1, accompanied by most of Jane’s “pretty things.” The trauma was lessened by friends and professionals who packed and unpacked more than 100 boxes, arranged furniture and hung paintings, sometimes with Jane’s input, sometimes on trust.

“I’m not bossy. I just have better ideas,” Jane says.

At first glance it appears that Jane must have brought everything. However, this panoply of beautiful objects is arranged so as not to overwhelm, aided by a soaring cathedral ceiling with skylight that bounces sunbeams off the gleaming silver serving pieces. Interspersed are family photos, each telling a story, including one of Jane and President Joe Biden.

The spacious unit with an efficient little gem of a kitchen redone in white and stainless steel is a retirees’ dream, though Jane rarely cooks anymore. But she longed to leave her mark: Narrow-strip wood flooring was replaced with wider boards, stained dark, like the home she left. Ceiling moldings were added. A wall dividing living room from sunroom was opened up and shelved for books. Throughout, corners were filled with adorable small tables and cabinets.

Jane was adamant about bringing three large chest/buffet/sideboard pieces, one found in Cherokee, which she stripped and refinished. When she deemed their dining room table seating 10 too large, she replaced it with an elongated sofa table with drop-leaf panels.

Sentimental value supercedes price: She could not leave behind a table spotted long ago in Rhinebeck, N.Y., while on a bus trip. “That was when you could fold things up and put them under the bus.”

Paintings lean toward dark classical land and seascapes except for a large unframed still life of pears, hanging beneath the skylight.

For pure charm, however, nothing comes close to the breakfast nook with a small round French wine-tasting table, also a sunroom overlooking the garden, furnished in matching armchairs upholstered blue and white, a primitive pine TV table, footstools and a crate with a blue and white pad for Martin, their Yorkie. This sunroom also displays Jane’s prized and well-worn 17th century pottery olive jug from France.

Dr. Dan’s collection of antique ship’s clocks is secured in the second bedroom.

“I’m a blue person,” Jane says, describing her go-to color, not her personality, which remains as vivacious as in the good old days.

Set off by the dark floors, Oriental and other rugs combine Prussian blue with an intense red, picked up by high-back chairs found secondhand for $25 apiece, and reupholstered. The same colors continue into the master bedroom, with Chinese motifs outlined in blue on bed pillows, and lamps made from blue-patterned vases or ginger jars. A window with wide, wood slat blinds runs the length of the room, framing the garden, alive with birds, rabbits and squirrels.

“It’s so wonderful to wake up to that view,” Jane says.

Another view, for her eyes only. In the master bathroom, one wall is covered in photos of the Clarks’ grandchildren. “I spend a lot of time in there, so I like to look at them,” Jane says, smiling wickedly. 

This has to be relocation at its best. Who knows better than AARP?

“Downsizing tends to be more successful when the downsizers are making a conscious decision about how to live their lives,” an AARP publication states. “Considering it an adventure and being part of the process is key to a good outcome. When completed, the sensation of freedom can be quite powerful.”

Jane Clark, dressed in blue and white, flits from room to room pointing out details, recalling the provenance of each precious “thing” without bemoaning the few that were left behind. Long famous for one-liners, she sums up what could have been an angst-filled upheaval in two words,

“I’m happy!”  PS

Story of a House

Time Warp

A modern family flourishes in a century-old house

By Deborah Salomon  •  Photographs by John Gessner

At first glance, the interior of Ashley and David Johnson’s house bordering the Southern Pines Historic District resembles a movie set. A silent movie, of course, since the house was built in 1920. On the walls hang portraits of somebody else’s relatives. Furnishings — a few heirlooms among the reproductions — lean toward weathered leather and dark woods. Beds have metal frames, and sinks look like layouts from Better Homes and Gardens, first published in 1922. Instead of native heart pine, the unusually narrow floorboards revealed under layers of carpet and linoleum are oak, signaling . . . what?

Obviously, the Johnsons are sticklers for the authentic, continually sleuthing used furniture stores and architectural salvage warehouses. Because, as Stephen King wrote, “Sooner or later, everything old is new again.” That applies to push-button light switches enjoying a revival throughout the Johnson homestead.

Time was, young couples with growing families wanted new houses tricked out in the latest gadgets. In the extreme, this spawned “smart” homes with Siri and Alexa calling the shots. Ashley and David missed that trope. They represent a group intent on reproducing the past, within reason, financed by sweat equity. Nobody shuns air conditioning or dishwashers, decks or gas grills. But the Johnsons don’t mind occupying a work-in-progress with their five home-schooled children, ages 5 to 13, and an adolescent Great Dane named Odysseus, whose blue-gray coat matches the kitchen cabinets. Like almost everything else, these handsome cabinets were wrought by David, meaning that if a molding or door frame needed replacing, he would reproduce it.

A winding but not unfamiliar road led them to this project, which they hope to complete by 2024. “My five-year plan,” David calls it.

Ashley grew up in a historic home in Charleston renovated by her father, David, on a farm in western Canada. He learned carpentry and construction from his father, a general contractor. Ashley studied design. Both come from moderately large, home-schooled families.

David joined the military, and while at Fort Bragg, spent a weekend in Charleston, where he met Ashley through her brother, at a home-school event. After their marriage, David was stationed in Colorado until their infant daughter was diagnosed with cancer. The military approved a compassionate relocation to Moore County, which was closer to Ashley’s family, and Duke, where Payton, now 12, received chemotherapy.

First they rented a home in Seven Lakes, but as “doers,” wanted their own place. They found it while talking to the Levy family, owners of the Toy Shop in downtown Southern Pines and this cottage.

Little is known of the house built during the pre-Depression boom except a general description from the National Register of Historic Places, which “attributes” the design to architect Aymar Embury II, an active participant in the growth and popularity of Southern Pines. “Dutch Colonial style, distinguished by gambrel roofs, shed dormers, German siding,” it reads. No occupants are listed, suggesting spec-built.

With few photos available, the Johnsons went to work researching or imagining what once was. They decided to alter the footprint as little as possible. Then, two days after they moved in, David was deployed for six months.

“While he was gone I did some painting,” Ashley says. And planning, since nothing inspires renovation more than occupation. Otherwise, the six of them “just hung out.”

After David returned, the first thing they tackled was the master bedroom, previously pine-paneled, located just beyond the living room, with plumbing for a shower in between. Off came the paneling, on went vivid blue paint. Ashley liked the look of a fireplace, so David assembled a decorative one, with an antique grate and mantel but no chimney. A tiny bathroom with window became their closet-dressing room while the larger existing closet became a bathroom.

Next, they tackled the floors. Those narrow oak boards were removed, very carefully, a subfloor laid, the strips retuned and refinished. Their older kids helped pull up the nails. A door between kitchen and dining room was widened, and the front hall coat closet is now a powder room.

Ashley’s hunt for furnishings and period décor is ongoing. Nothing matches, everything relates. “I’m obsessed with antlers,” she admits. Several pairs hang from the parlor wall along with hunt-themed prints and a boar’s head bagged by somebody else. The sofa is leather; a massive spinet and son Holden’s cello anchor the music corner.

Ladies in long skirts and corseted bodices (not Roaring ’20s flappers) would look quite at home taking tea here.

The children sleep upstairs. Do the math: five kids, two bedrooms. (A third is being renovated as a guest room.) The boys, Holden, 9, and Gunnarr, 7, occupy bunk beds in the smaller room, while daughters Payton, 12, Haydanne, 13, and Charlotte, 5, have the original, long, sun-splashed master bedroom, with three frilly white beds lined up dorm-style. The five share a typically ’30s black-and-white bathroom.

Ashley concedes that this arrangement may change as the girls become teenagers.

The Johnsons eat all their meals in the dining room, sparsely furnished with a long narrow table, bentwood chairs (another of Ashley’s obsessions) and a sideboard.

Nowhere is the couple’s ingenuity better displayed than in the kitchen of moderate size with a refrigerator made by The Big Chill, resembling an old-timey icebox on steroids. A brass rod added to the dishwasher matches fittings on the gas stove. Instead of a range hood David installed an exhaust fan behind a classic wall grate over the stove. A friend offered them the ancient porcelain sink, just worn enough to confirm its age.

At the back door, a clam-shell sink from Ashley’s Charleston home encourages the kids to wash up after playing outside.

Restoration stops at the large deck on stilts overlooking the fenced (for Odysseus) yard and chicken-duck coop, which the girls helped build.

Few cottages of that era had basements. The Johnson family needed one. Here, down a narrow, steep flight of stairs, the children sit at desks while being schooled by Ashley — also a play area with TV (watched sparingly), a laundry nook and fitness equipment.

Somehow, by allocating every inch of space, seven people fit into 2,400 square feet without crowding or clutter. “This is big. The house we moved out of was 1,500 square feet,” Ashley recalls.

The work-in-progress is also an experiment. When David leaves the military he plans to consolidate his research and construction expertise along with Ashley’s design skills into a business focusing on turn-of-the-century homes.

“We’re always dreaming,” Ashley admits.

Which still begs the question: For an active young family, why is old better than new?

“The history and craftsmanship, the beauty and design,” Ashley answers. “And the simpler lifestyle is good for our family.”  PS