Better Together: A Young Family Builds a Modern and Fun Place to Gather
The Leaston family’s home on Ridge Road combines European influences with texture, patterns and art that speaks to their heritage. by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Catherine Nguyen
As you open the door to the home that Mandi and Chris Leaston share with their three daughters, the first thing you see is a giant dining table surrounded by comfy chairs. “I grew up with sit-down meals for the holidays, but Chris’ family was more into paper-plates-and-buffet-style celebrations,” Mandi says. For them, the open dining area bridged those two spirits: it’s inviting for everyday dining, but can get dressed up for special occasions.
It also reflects the spirit of the home, which the couple wanted to be a gathering place for family, friends and neighbors. “Being creative with color and pattern is a joy, but our real dream for this space is that every inch is designed to be used and shared well,” says Mandi.
The couple bought the lot on Ridge Road in 2014 and spent a few years touring houses on the Parade of Homes to gather ideas. “We knew we wanted to be in this neighborhood,” says Mandi
“We revised our blueprint probably 15 times.” Architect Tony Frazier of Frazier Home Design started their plans and they ultimately worked with Rex Bost of Bost Custom Homes on the final layout and build. “Tony really understood making the house work functionally, with no wasted space,” Mandi says, “and Rex has that very creative left-brain vision.”
“My biggest thing was I didn’t want any wasted spaces,” says Chris. “I wanted to make sure we really use all the rooms in the house.” The couple broke ground in 2019, but the project was slowed by the pandemic. They moved in in 2021.
Along the way, they enlisted designer Zandy Gammons of Miretta Interiors — who attended East Carolina University with Mandi — to help finish the space. “The fun thing about working with Mandi is that she knows what she likes and has cool ideas,” says Gammons. “She just loves design and everything about it, so she’s willing to try something different.”
The overall style idea was a sort of European modern. “Mandi liked the feel of white walls, but with some heritage and eclecticism,” Gammons says. Throughout, there’s a balance of more formal furnishings with playful touches, particularly through the use of wallpaper. “Mandi and I both love wallpaper — it adds a cool layer to so many spaces,” says Gammons.
She worked with Mandi to stay on a budget, mixing higher-end pieces, like dramatic lighting in the dining area and kitchen, with more affordable pieces in secondary rooms. Mandi and Chris shopped around for furniture from local stores, The Green Chair Project and retailers as far as Asheville and Hickory.
“We enjoyed looking for things we can use, and we took all these mini trips together,” says Mandi. “They would find things here and there and set them aside — I love that the home feels gathered instead of staged,” says Gammons.
On the first floor, the dramatic staircase is the focal point. There’s an office to the right of the entryway, but otherwise it’s an open floor plan: dining area, living room and kitchen. The space also opens to a screened porch overlooking the back yard and pool.
“They love to cook and entertain, so they wanted a big, multifunctional space,” says Gammons. “I love that you can go onto the porch and talk to people in the living room,” says Mandi.
Upstairs are two rooms for their daughters, twins Cali and Cai and their younger sister, Chloe — though right now, all three prefer to share one room. There is also the primary bedroom, a guest room and the laundry room. “I have a funky, eclectic style, but I reserved it for upstairs,” Mandi says.
“Downstairs I tried to stay classy and timeless.” The grand staircase leads from the second floor down to the ground level, where a family room, game area and theater open to the back yard. Mandi was an only child, but Chris had two brothers “and the whole basketball team lived at my house,” he laughs. “So it was important to us to have a space where our kids and their friends want to hang out.”
And now that they’re settled, that’s just what the space has become: an easy place to host a sit-down meal with other couples, but one where their kids are excited to welcome their friends. “We have the space to play, laugh, run and rest well,” says Mandi. “A place where we can open our doors and our hearts to whoever comes our way.”
This article originally appeared in the February 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.