Past perfect: A new house for a modern family

by P. Gaye Tapp
photographs by Jerry Blow

Near the corner of Glenwood Avenue and Harvey Street, a stately Georgian-style house seems far removed from the traffic running along Raleigh’s busy main artery. Brian Wordsworth says he chose the house for its history and location: Private, yet close to Raleigh’s thriving city life and Five Points’ nostalgia. Enfolded by its landscape, the house stands much as it did when built, though outbuildings have been added over the years. Recently the interior has undergone a 21st century transformation, one that managed to preserve the house’s original character.

Built in 1931, the house was designed by prominent North Carolina architect William Henley Deitrick for Frank A. Daniels, the influential newspaper president, publisher, and later chairman of the board of  The News & Observer Publishing Company. This landmark gem of a house caught the imagination of Rocky Mount native and businessman Brian Wordsworth when it came on to the real estate market in 2010. He says he could see his family living there.

Memories past and present

Frank Daniels Jr., who grew up in the house and lived there as an adult, has many memories of the place. When he was a child, his grandfather, Josephus Daniels, lived in a stone mansion right up the hill, one that made for the best sledding in Raleigh, with a run right down to Glenwood Avenue.  During World War II, the Daniels family spent evenings in front of the coal-burning fireplace in the living room, the warmest room in the house. Daniels says his parents, his sister, and his grandmother all read there, while Frank Jr. read The News & Observer his father brought home each night from work. The radio was in the back of the house, leaving the living room for their reading ritual. In 1987, Daniels and his wife Julia moved back into his childhood home.

They added an outdoor pool house and exercise studio to the grounds, and celebrated their daughter’s marriage with an outdoor reception. The pool was covered with a floor, for tables, and there was dancing on the terrace. The Danielses hosted Christmas parties in celebration of the N.C. School of the Arts’ performance of the Nutcracker, and special holiday decorations – such as a leafless tree strung with thousands of white lights, one of the first in the city – filled the house and property.

Fast forward to the present: Wordsworth, his wife Kris, and their two children have nestled into the house after extensive renovations. Strains of Allison Krauss’ mellow vocals could be heard on the morning I visited the new Wordsworth family home, and the ambience was distinctly modern. Wordsworth says he wanted a house where his family and friends could kick back in every room, and though there are formal notes in the house, there is no off-putting formality. In his view, “making a house a home is providing all of the attributes for ease in entertaining young and old; a place guests feel comfortable and enjoy.”


Making it happen

To make it a reality, Brian called decorator Margaret Nowell, who had helped him with six previous design projects. She remembers Brian’s originally describing the house as “move-in ready.” Some 20 months of extensive renovations later, the house he envisioned is a reality.

Nowell has achieved a familiar hominess here, with comfortable chairs and ottomans covered with tactile fabrics in shades of blue, grey and beige throughout the house, and soft paint colors in the same colors. “Every house needs a great story,” she says, referring to the house’s original 1931 blueprints, which now hang in a central spot, a nod to the house’s history. Builder Dillon Rose, Jr. brought in more than 90 sub-contractors, vendors, and suppliers from California to Ireland to achieve a seamless transition between the new and old house. Rooms were refurbished, floors replaced, baths added and enlarged, spacious closets carved out in bedrooms, and a broad covered porch added off the back of the living room and dining room. Nowell, Rose and Brian Wordsworth were eager to give me a guided tour. As we walked through the house, it became clear they share the same passion for the project and get along famously.

 The new old house 

An energy – a rhythm – flows through the house. Henry Ward Beecher said “home should be an oratorio of memory,” an appropriate sentiment for a house in harmony with past, present and future.

A rustic table and chairs for outdoor dining sit just outside the dining room, and comfortable chairs for conversation are arranged strategically. A set of drums occupies the studio by the pool, and a big screen TV is ready for football-watching in the pool house, though I suspect on the weekends, most of the televisions in the house are tuned in to the family’s favorite team. It’s not unusual for friends and neighbors to drop in to catch the game and the at-ease hospitality. There is an outdoor kitchen that’s been the site of a school party; nearby is a new carriage house built and furnished for weekend guests. In the most formal room of the house, the living room, a television hangs where a picture might have been when Daniels was young, and it’s turned on and tuned in. That’s no accident. The house may have been built in the 1930s, but today it has state-of-the-art technology in every room, with lighting, security, television and sound all accessible on a touch screen. As Daniels points out, much about life today has changed – improved, even – while it fundamentally stays the same: Families gather and memories are made. It’s an essential part of making a house a home.   

A family photo from Frank Daniels Jr. captures the house in the 1950s on a snowy day.