Economies of scale


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photographs by Nick Pironio

When Kim Shirley and her husband Graham decided to move out of Five Points to build a house on a spacious corner lot in West Raleigh, they wanted light, efficiency, and a home better suited to their lives as busy empty-nesters.

They also wanted whimsy, which is clear as soon as a visitor stands before the house’s arched front door.

“I would call it a little bit storybook, with gothic elements,” Shirley says, “and cottagey.” It’s also contemporary. The unique mix makes for daylight-flooded, efficient rooms with personality. Shirley, a designer for Dixon Kirby Homes, brought years of experience to the job of creating a home to suit herself, her lawyer husband, and their 23-year-old twins.

But the wooded, quiet neighborhood they chose and have come to love was new to her.

“I’ve been in Raleigh for 18 years, and I’d never heard of this street,” she says. “We got here, and all of a sudden, we can hear birds, not Glenwood traffic.” The couple took two years to think about the house they wanted and to draw up plans. Because no one had lived on the lot for years, it was wildly overgrown. Under tangled vines, the couple found hearty azaleas and camellias. When they cleared out debris and overgrowth, a burbling creek emerged.

The Shirleys tucked their 3,500-square-foot house to one side of the picturesque setting, allowing streaming daylight and the sounds of nature to fill its rooms.

Shirley’s design touch inside is a light one and thoughtful. Floors made from irregular oak reclaimed barn wood bring the outdoors in, and add a rustic counterpoint to sleek windows, light fixtures, and hardware. “I tend to like things that are classic with an updated twist,” she says.

Charm and practicality go hand-in-hand here. Kim and Graham both work from home part of the time, and each has a place for that. The upstairs is largely the kids’ domain, so the Shirleys can live almost entirely downstairs when the twins aren’t visiting. The living spaces are modestly proportioned and spare, allowing design elements like windows and light fixtures to shine. “We don’t have any dead space,” she says. To a visitor, it’s all wonderfully alive.  -L.R.