by Liza Roberts
photographs by Lissa Gotwals
Brooks Bell and Jesse Lipson knew what they wanted, and they had a list. Their new house had to have a fenced yard for their terrier, Theo, and a screened-in porch. A freestanding bathtub, radiant heat, a shower big enough for two. And copper pipes.
Busy professionals – Lipson helps run ShareFile, the business he founded and sold to software maker Citrix, and Bell is CEO of her self-named online testing firm – the couple wasn’t willing to undertake a renovation to meet their idiosyncratic needs.
“We approached it from a very logical perspective,” Bell says, ticking off items one-by-one as they canvassed the market.
On the verge of putting in an offer on a townhouse near Blue Ridge Road, Bell suddenly spotted an enticing listing for a ’50s-era ranch in West Raleigh near Banbury Park. It was “wildly out of our price range,” she says, but appeared worth investigating. It took one step inside to make up their minds: “We were hyperventilating,” she says. “It was our dream home.” (They decided to look the other way on the PVC pipes).
Designed by renowned North Carolina architect F. Carter Williams in 1951, the house had been freshly renovated. It had a new gourmet kitchen and saltwater pool, and had been awarded the 2007 Sir Walter Raleigh Preservation Award.
But Bell and Lipson aren’t the first couple to move into their dream house only to find that it might need a tweak or two. It wasn’t until they’d lived there for a while, for instance, that they realized the grass surrounding the pool was more often muddy than manicured. They ended up deciding on a full-scale overhaul of the whole exterior landscape.
And their first forays into interior design were a bit hit-or-miss, resulting in a haphazard array of earth tones, cream-colored furniture, and a giant white lacquer chair in the shape of a wobbly egg.
Five years and a few interior designers later, the couple is now happily ensconced in a luxurious, surprising house designed with comfort and entertaining in mind. “We ultimately ended up changing every surface, color, and texture. It takes a lot of good design to make it work,” Bell says. That design, ultimately, came from Durham’s Heather Garrett, who started out two years ago with a brief for the master bedroom and ultimately re-did the entire house.
Garrett brought in bursts of saturated color like an acid-green leather love seat, a Chinese red mirror, and a marine blue wall. To an otherwise sleek midcentury aesthetic, she introduced organic textures like pebbled wallpaper, a patchwork rug made of hide, and grasscloth-covered cabinets. Driftwood forms the base of a glass coffee table, and round forms are everywhere. Mirrors, lamps, and bowls bring in curvy shapes, as does a large sculpture of felt boulders. A chandelier of glass orbs and a mirror with a peacock-feather-style fringe shine in the living room.
Garrett also figured out exactly how the couple used the house, and made it work. She took an unappreciated television out of built-in niche above a fireplace and put twisty strips of balsa wood in its place: instant art. She turned a guest room into an airy poolside cabana that can still house guests when it needs to.
And in subtle ways, she made things sparkle. Chrome pendant lights in the kitchen are perforated with star-like pinpricks; a geode shimmers on a side table. One cushion in a uniform velvet pile glints with the texture of reptile skin. There are mirrors in every room.
It all makes for a fitting backdrop to the couple’s collection of contemporary art. Canvases by local artists Jason Craighead and Shaun Richards and sculpture by Thomas Sayre keep company with works collected on their travels. The whimsy of an oversized, commissioned painting of Theo the dog overlooks the sitting room/dining room/kitchen thoroughfare of the house, ensuring none of it gets taken too seriously.
Knowing that they’re here to stay has been liberating, Bell says. “It’s helped us invest emotionally in Raleigh,” she says.
“I think it will be our forever house.”