In Their Element: An Art-Filled Mid-century Modern Home

Thoughtful renovations and an eye for collecting are the hallmarks of Dan Fulkerson and Rey Garcia’s lovingly restored home.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre |  photography by Trey Thomas

Dan Fulkerson and Rey Garcia weren’t really on the market for a new home in Raleigh. They were talking about investing in a mountain house. But the minute they walked in the front door of this North Hills ranch, Garcia turned around and said, “This is our house.”

“It was the slate floors,” he says. “They reminded me of home, growing up in the Philippines.”

The home is a small 1960s construction, one some might consider a candidate for a tear-down. But the couple loved its Mid-century modern character, and how you could see straight through the front door to a wooded tract off the backyard. “Somehow the house spoke to us; we loved its bone structure,” says Fulkerson.

From the beginning, Fulkerson and Garcia knew they would want to modernize the home but keep it largely the same. “We absolutely wanted to maintain the integrity of the house, we were very conscious of that,” says Fulkerson. “We wanted to maintain the footprint and respect the time period in which it was built, so it would look the same from the street.”

The couple kept the home’s original doors and slate floors. Photographs by Cuban brothers Eduardo and Orlando Garcia grace the entryway.

They removed some dark-wood built-ins and updated the bathroom and kitchens — for example, moving one entryway to the kitchen to align with an office window. “Before, there was no light coming in,” says Garcia. They also worked with custom cabinet maker Jeff Dopko to update the cabinetry in the kitchen, which had undergone a remodel in the 1980s, with sleek white faces. “We wanted it to be clean and modern to match the architecture of the house,” says Fulkerson. But they kept the slate floors, sunken living room, brick fireplace and original front doors that gave the home its character.

When it came time to decorate, many of their furnishings already fit with the home. “We both have an admiration for Mid-century modern furniture, and we have several pieces by Florence Knoll and Herman Miller,” says Fulkerson.

They had already consolidated from two homes to one, so their furnishings were a blend. “Well, they’re mostly his,” laughs Garcia, a clinical research associate, nodding to Fulkerson’s job as a residential and commercial interior designer.

Fulkerson arranged the sunken living room to have three distinct zones: a large seating area, an intimate spot in front of the fireplace and a formal dining area that seats up to six for dinner parties.

The couple intentionally left the kitchen closed off to the larger living area to encourage people to use these spaces. “Too often, you throw a party and everyone ends up in the kitchen,” says Fulkerson. “So if we have apps, we’ll get a tray and sit by the fireplace, even during the summer months.”  (Same goes for the couple’s evening ritual: appetizers and a cocktail around 5 p.m. in front of the fireplace, retire to the larger couch or den by 7 p.m. to watch Lester Holt of NBC’s Nightly News, then dinner at the dining table afterwards. “We really do try to use the whole house,” says Fulkerson.)

But more than the furnishings, visitors notice the couple’s extensive art collection. Fulkerson and Garcia are drawn to sculpture, painting and folk art — and every piece speaks to them in a deeper way, whether it’s through a visceral reaction or a relationship they’ve formed with the artist, or because it evokes a memory or a laugh.

One of Fulkerson’s favorite pieces is a large sculpture by Raleigh artist Mickey Gault in the dining room. The sculpture, which has the body of a human but the head of a rabbit, incorporates multiple religious and mythological references to transformation and rebirth. “Everyone who comes in the house notices it; it’s somewhat jarring,” laughs Fulkerson.

Another piece in the living room, a clothespin assemblage by Raleigh artist Davis Choun, was a somewhat accidental purchase during a visit to The Mahler Fine Art gallery. “We’d promised each other that we would not buy any more art pieces — we were in the thick of paying for all the renovations — but we each saw the clothespins, separately, and were transfixed,” says Garcia.

A year after Fulkerson and Garcia moved into the house, it became pivotal to cementing another spiritual connection: They were married on those same slate tiles that first drew them in. “When same-sex marriage was approved at the federal level, we were going to get married downtown, but it felt so impersonal, so instead we got married in the foyer,” says Garcia. “It was very sweet and intimate.”  

Fulkerson and Garcia love to connect with artists and find art together. In the living area, they show off work by Raleigh makers, including a painting by Tisha Edwards-Weddington, a clothespin assembling by Davis Choun a mask sculpture by Bill Hickman and a large rabbit-human by Mickey Gault (Fulkerson has had this for ages: “Anytime I move, she rides in the front seat with me.”) The painting above the dining area is by Illinois artist Michael Dubina. They partially block the steps down from the foyer with planters. “No one has fallen down yet!” says Garcia.

The biggest cosmetic change in the kitchen was enlarging the window over the sink. “We doubled the size of it, and since it looks out into the woods, now it acts like an ever-changing piece of art,” says Fulkerson. “It’s super impactful in the room.” The art over the kitchen window is by Keith Norval, who they discovered at CAM. “We got the chicken with eggs and the cow, then I approached him and said, now I need a fish, pig and rabbit — for all our protein sources!” laughs Garcia. In the breakfast area, a vintage wardrobe serves as an auxiliary bar.
In the primary bedroom, a large piece by Illinois artist Ken Holder captures a vista from Fulkerson’s hometown. “It’s like waking up every morning and seeing a beautiful blue sky from bed,” he says. On the vintage dresser, they display a sculpture by Raleigh artist Mickey Gault that portrays souls in the forms of birds traveling by boat to their next life. They gutted and rearranged the bathroom when they renovated, but kept it the same size.

The big diptych in the office is by Illinois artist Ken Holder. It portrays a view along the Lewis and Clark Trail. Fulkerson and Garcia share the office and also use it as a den for watching television. Most of the furniture in the guest room came from Fulkerson’s family. “I remember my aunt and uncle having this in their farmhouse, and loving this furniture as far back as I remember, so I snagged it when I had the opportunity,” he says.

Dan Fulkerson and Rey Garcia created multiple living spaces within their open-plan living room. It’s anchored by a large painting by the late North Carolina artist Wayne Trapp, a sculpture by Florida artist Trent Manning and a collection of vintage furniture. The living area opens to a deck through two sets for sliding glass doors.“The house interacts so nicely with guests, it feels equally good with four people or 75 people,” says Fulkerson. “It has a great spirit.”

“From the outside the house is unassuming, but it opens up and lives large,” says Gar- cia. The sculpture out front is their newest piece, by artist Matt McConnell. “We’ve always admired his work — and have even become friends — but for a long time we agreed that we couldn’t afford it,” says Garcia. Still, when the couple updated the home, they left a little pedestal out front, just in case. McConnell let them borrow a piece for a fundraiser they hosted a few months ago, “and once we saw it in front of the house, it was like, that’s it, it’s not leaving. It was perfect!” says Fulkerson. In the back, they incorporated a seating area on the deck that work nicely with the living room inside, and displays a Daniel Johnston pot there.

The back of the house slopes down toward a wooded area around a branch off Crabtree Creek. “We have so much wildlife here, even though we live right in town, it feels like you’re in the mountains,” says Fulkerson. But, says Garcia, “the disadvantage is the deer eat everything!” They regraded the yard to create the fire pit area and Fulkerson rebuilt the deck during the pandemic: “There was nothing else to do!”

This article originally appeared in the July 2023 issue of WALTER magazine.