Pride of Place: Dustin Smith and Burton Buffaloe’s Stylish Sanctuary

The content creators who celebrate being gay dads have created a family-friendly home in University Park.
by Ayn-Monique Klahre | photography by Catherine Nguyen

“We always come together — style-wise, business-wise, parenting-wise — I found my person,” says Dustin Smith of his husband, Burton Buffaloe. That’s lucky, because the two primarily work together as popular content creators through the brand Raising Buffaloes. “We never intended to have this following, there was no business plan, we were just sharing our lives in the excited way any new parent does,” says Buffaloe. “But we got this organic following, and we had to have a conversation about it. We decided we felt it was important to have representation of gay dads.”

Smith and Buffaloe are open books, outward-facing professionally — so fans might be surprised to learn that they’re both introverts. “The perception is that we’re extroverts, and we can play that role easily, but we don’t get energy off of it,” says Buffaloe. Here, in their stylish, deeply personal home, is where they recharge and reconnect as a family. “We need this space to hide and regroup,” says Smith. So the two designed their house from scratch, filling it with spaces to sit quietly with a cup of coffee, watch movies as a family or host friends for kid-friendly hangouts.

Buffaloe’s originally from Garner, and Smith grew up in Charlotte. The two met in Raleigh in the early 2000s, then each moved around a bit before they reconnected in Raleigh and started dating in 2012. “We both had these same life goals — to create a family, to have children — and knew we’d want to settle here,” says Smith.

They were married in 2015 and built their house with a family in mind, even though their twins, Holland and Stone, weren’t born until 2016. “We already knew how many bedrooms we’d need; we were looking at school districts and calculating the distance to the grocery store and the pediatrician,” laughs Smith. A narrow lot in University Park fit the bill. “It’s a place where we could still be part of the vibrance of the city, but in a quiet neighborhood,” says Smith. “It’s really diverse, a mix of retired people and college students and young families like ours,” says Buffaloe.

The architecture of the home has a contemporary bent, with traditional detailing — like wooden siding and a generous front porch outside and decorative molding and a formal dining room inside — to create a been-there-forever vibe. “We wanted to feel like this house was a renovation, not a new build,” says Smith. “We like a blend of styles, and I’ve always loved going into those older homes, like the ones in Historic Oakwood, where you can see those nods to the past.”

The outside of the two-story home is painted in dark grays, with wood accents. “It’s unique, but not crazy,” says Smith. “It has its own personality, but it’s not screaming at you.” The color scheme was inspired by the Pacific Northwest. “I love those kinds of plants and the sort of darker, moodier colors,” says Smith. Inside, lighter natural tones are the base. “We love playing with neutrals, but with these really hot pops of color — like a neon orange or a vibrant pink to shake it up,” Smith says. “That’s our idea of ‘neutral.’”

When it came to decorating, Smith took the lead, but both have similar taste. “I know what I like, but Dustin knows how to put it together,” says Buffaloe. “I can tell when something’s off, but I can’t tell you how to fix it.” Smith credits a good friend, interior designer Susan Tollefsen, with helping him shop and choose pieces. “I’ve always loved design, but Susan is my sounding board,” he says. “We go play at furniture stores or at the vintage market; she has a great eye for art and chairs. She’s a fun friend with fun design benefits!”

The overall style is playful, eclectic and collected. In the dining room, for example, they paired an elegant brass-footed dining table from Buffaloe’s childhood home with curvy chairs upholstered in a bright mustard-hued velvet.

A rustic antler chandelier hangs above the table from a ceiling that’s a minty green. In their bedroom, they paired a traditional wooden bed with a modern cowhide-covered bench and quirky geode lamps. There’s fun floral-print wallpaper in the bar area and patterned accent walls in each of the kids’ rooms. “Burton allows me to take risks. Like, I’ll tell him I’m putting crazy wallpaper in the closet, and he’s on board with it without seeing it — he just trusts me,” says Smith.

One big way they add personality to their home is through their art collection — their walls boast everything from North Carolina artists like Cher Shaffer and Clarence Heyward to internationally known makers like Andy Warhol, Eyvind Earle, E. Alex and Kenneth Noland. “We like fine art, contemporary art, things we find at vintage stores — I think art makes a home, it creates moods and conversation,” says Smith. “I’ve never bought art to match a room, I just find things I love and it just works. If you buy things that you truly love, that are just you, it always comes together harmoniously.” 

The two have a closet filled with art that they rotate onto their walls. “Just about everything in the house gets changed around; we’ll forget we have something, and the kids influence what we put up, too — they’ve had a few things they don’t like that we put away,” Buffaloe says, noting that their office has become a repository for some of the pieces the kids deem “creepy.”

One giant painting, Assimulate by Raleigh artist Shaun Richards, has particular meaning to the couple. It depicts two boys playing in the foreground, with the wreckage of an airplane in the background; the words “to be continued” appear in one corner and text from the United States Constitution peeks out from underneath the paint. “We see a lot of ourselves in that piece,” says Smith. “We each had rocky times before we met, and we’re blessed to have found each other.”

There’s a secondary layer, too: that “to be continued” text is written in a font that recalls the movie Back to the Future II, which was set in a fictitious 2015. In real life, 2015 is the year that the Marriage Equality Act passed, making their union legal across the United States — and they happened to have found the painting just after they were married. “We are extra proud to be where we are — in this day and age, in the South — because growing up I never thought I’d be able to be married with kids,” says Smith. “We’re making an impact by being visible.”  


Bright Ideas: “We basically live in this space,” says Smith of their open-plan kitchen, which connects to a breakfast nook and dining area. The copper pendant lamp in the breakfast area nods to the copper counter stools. A large piece by E. Alex is one of the bright pops of color in this mostly neutral space, along with the royal blue credenza and minty-green subway tiles in the kitchen backsplash. 

Playful Spaces: A painting by Shaun Richards is the focal point in the living room (before the couple fell in love with it, they’d planned to put a fireplace there). Behind the sofa, doors open completely onto a covered porch. “We love to have people inside and outside, by the fireplace and in the bar, it’s just so much fun,” says Smith. He used smaller doorways to connect the bar, opposite page, to the kitchen and dining area to mimic the look of a historic home. The floral print is meant to surprise and delight. “I’m always obsessed with fun wallpaper, and I loved having it in this pass-through space,” says Smith.

Smith used smaller doorways to connect the bar, to the kitchen and dining area to mimic the look of a historic home. The floral print is meant to surprise and delight. “I’m always obsessed with fun wallpaper, and I loved having it in this pass-through space,” says Smith.

Smith designed the office, which is at the front of the home, to look like a “modern library. I wanted it to feel super-cozy, but refined.” Grasscloth on the walls adds texture and depth. Since both work from home, they wanted a space that would also be a good location for video meetings.

The twins just recently moved into separate rooms — but “they never want to sleep alone!” says Smith. “They have that special twin connection, we think it’s really cute.” Each child was allowed to choose the general theme for their room. Stone wanted space and robots (below right); Holland asked for pinks and florals.

For the primary bath, they chose classic materials and installed a tub “big enough to fit Dustin,” laughs Buffaloe. “I love the crispness of subway tiles — we built this more than 10 years ago and it still suits us,” says Smith. 

Soft & Stately: The couple chose a warm gray color for the primary suite to make it feel more cozy. “It gets tons of light, so it’s just a beautiful space we love to spend time in,” says Buffaloe. A pair of amethyst geode lamps flanking the bed are favorites. “I’d wanted some forever, and then we stumbled upon them in a vintage market!” says Smith. 

Outdoor Living: “We loved the idea of creating a space that felt tucked-away, like one of those hidden courtyards in New Orleans or Charleston,” says Smith. The great room opens onto a covered patio, which leads toward a courtyard with a fireplace. “This is where we make s’mores with the kids, where we have conversations after they go to bed,” says Smith. His brother, Chad Smith, a landscape designer, did all the landscaping and hardscaping in the courtyard. Chad is now working full-time on their latest project, an 80-acre farm, garden and outdoor market outside of Raleigh called Holl & Stone that will open this month. 
Green scenes: Redwoods and blue spruces pop against the darker paint colors (below); Smith credits his brother for helping select unusal-for-Raleigh plants that work within their landscape. In addition to the seating area, the deep, narrow backyard includes a dining area, a garage with a guest suite on top and a grassy area with play equipment. “We have a lot of hardscape, but it’s softened by plants,” says Buffaloe. Smith particularly likes sitting in the dining area, which is defined by a clean-lined pergola. “That was my brother’s design, and now this incredible weeping bald cypress is taking over,” he says. “It feels so cozy, like you could be inside but you’re not.”
Smith’s mother found the antique gate to the street, which was originally made and installed in New Orleans for the author William Faulkner. Smith painted it his favorite shade of green, and learned afterwards that that was its original color.

This article originally appeared in the June 2024 issue of WALTER magazine.