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The Curated Estate

History rules in Homewood

By Deborah Salomon     Photographs by John Gessner

The first quarter of the 20th century saw Pinehurst emerge as the “in” winter watering hole for the big city, big money crowd. They hired architects to build elaborate cottages and mini-estates from the village outward. Meanwhile, another group selected the rolling hills surrounding Southern Pines. Setting the standard, in 1918 Pennsylvania iron and steel tycoon W.C. Fownes commissioned a magnificent house on the corner of Crest and Midland — 10,000 square feet, surrounded by terraced gardens designed by no less than Frederick Law Olmsted’s firm.

The enclave would be known as Knollwood.

Just as the Great Depression took hold, a group of residents appointed a committee to build a showplace with hotel-worthy amenities, on spec, without regard to cost, next door to Fownes’ house. Hopefully, a family that had survived the stock market crash in ’29 might be tempted. Fine craftsmen needed work, and the best materials abounded. Bricks were hand-made to resemble those imported from England, pre-Revolutionary War, in payment for cotton and tobacco.

The result, with tennis court, goldfish pond and pool, became known as Homewood at Knollwood Heights. The mansion was first occupied by the Beckwiths, who were responsible for the original gardens designed by the visionary landscape architect E.S. Draper. They were followed by Dennison and Kaye Bullens and, in 1977, Homewood became the residence of renowned ophthalmologist Dr. Gale Martin, co-founder of Carolina Eye Associates.

“It needed considerable fixin’ up,” Martin, who would die at home in 2008, told friends.

Martin’s daughter married in the gazebo where, decades later, present owner Ted Owens and his bride, Dr. Queeney Tang, exchanged rings.

The estate, fronted by eagles atop brick columns framing the circular drive, remains rivaled in scope and presence only by Hollycrest, built on Linden Road in 1916 for U.S. Ambassador William Hines Page. The modern Homewood integrates the architecture of Westover of Byrd dynasty in Virginia while staying faithful to the original Homewood — the Maryland ancestral home of the Carrolls, a family that includes Charles Carroll, a signer of the Declaration of Independence.

The result is both massive and intimidating. Some areas, like the stretch kitchen, have been modernized. The former three-room servants’ apartment (the chauffeur slept in the basement) has been combined into a media room with projection TV and computer central. The living room, off the patterned marble foyer, memorializes the past. But it is to this parlor that Owens, a retired attorney and self-described European and Chinese history buff, gravitates with Queeney, his cardiologist wife.

Owens discovered Southern Pines when he visited his parents, who retired to the Sandhills in 1981 for golf. He had grown up in Pittsburgh, in what he calls a middle-income neighborhood. “I loved the air, the blue sky here,” he says. “You only get that four or five days a year in Pittsburgh.”

He decided to move in 2018 but wasn’t looking for an estate. “My wife grew up in one room. I grew up in a nice house,” he says — but nothing like Homewood. Once inside the front door, the hidden historian prevailed.

“Welcome to the Oval Office,” Owens beams, opening doors encrusted with moldings as elaborate as icing on a wedding cake.

Creating an homage to the Oval was an ambition, with period-original furniture and reproductions in place during the George W. Bush administration. The oval shape could not be duplicated, but Owens researched and commissioned chairs upholstered in the correct fabric by the Kittinger Furniture Co. of Buffalo, New York, founded in 1866 — a longtime supplier to the White House. Tables, lamps, paintings — originals and otherwise — are the result of similar research. A white sofa reappears, as does a made-to-order rectangular carpet in the same colors as the oval one found at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

At one end, a grand piano is reserved for Queeney’s son, a concert pianist. Her other son, a restaurant chef, commandeers the kitchen during visits. Among its appliances is the largest side-by-side refrigerator made for residential use.

Off the marble foyer, the study/office displays a panel of hand-blocked wallpaper depicting New York harbor by Jean Zuber, a renowned French wallpaper artist, circa 1824. A sunny gallery connects the core building to space repurposed as the master suite, den and a giant dressing room for two with furniture-grade fittings. Throughout, ceilings approach 10 feet.

A long, steep stairway ascends from the marble hallway to the second floor, where the original master suite and family bedrooms are located, each with a bathroom. Dominating the stairwell is a weighty lighting fixture enclosed in beveled glass panels. Think space capsule circa Louis XIV. Owens believes only two exist, worldwide.

The third floor open space with dormer windows is a perfect rainy day playground for small grandchildren.

Homewood was fortunate to have been curated into another century by owners who have not imposed “great rooms” on the great rooms. On a quiet summer night, the voices of now-famous authors can almost be heard drifting out of nearby Weymouth. The horses whinny in their stalls. And at residences like Homewood, money is spent on things that endure beyond rainforest shower heads and kabobs sizzling on a grill bigger than a Volkswagen.  PS