by Liza Roberts
photographs by Nick Pironio
Donna and Jim Belt believe in wabi-sabi, a Japanese concept of beauty that celebrates imperfection. When the former Tokyo residents moved into a downtown Raleigh condo, they combined earthiness with refinement, symmetry with imbalance, and Japanese treasures with American practicality.
With the help of Raleigh interior designer Lee Tripi, the couple installed bamboo floors, a streamlined fireplace, a minimalist bathroom, and space for art they’ve collected over decades living abroad.
“I like that really clean look with a central focal point,” says Donna Belt, 60, who owns Raleigh’s Spiritworks, an art and writing studio. “But I also want some nature.” In a 2,000-square-foot apartment on the fourth floor overlooking Glenwood South, nature comes in the form of an irregular barn beam for a mantle. It comes in potted plants on a spacious corner balcony, and in the raw silk of Japanese textiles Belt uses to dress tables and herself.
“I like that flash of history, of imperfection,” she says. The shogun standing just off-center on the mantle is one example. The mantle itslef also adds sabi, or timeworn authenticity, to the streamlined, wabi-like simplicity of the fireplace. Other pieces from the Belts’ travels – they also lived in London and the Netherlands for Jim Belt’s career as a business executive – create interest in an otherwise pared-down space.
The busy empty-nesters say getting out of a house and into a condo is liberating. “I love it that it forces you to use all of your space, and use it wisely,” Donna Belt says. She credits interior designer Tripi with helping the couple to do that.
Tripi “is able to take space and think about it differently,” Belt says. “I have my own taste, and I used to think: Why would I need someone to tell me what I like?” But Tripi’s unique design for the couple’s bathroom – an entirely open room, incorporating a shower – made her a believer. “I never would have conceived of this completely different use of space,” she says. Not that living creatively is a new concept for the Belts. Jim Belt is the co-founder and president of the Raleigh citizen group Downtown Living Advocates, and the couple is involved in community projects including Artsplosure and BEST Raleigh, which puts art up in public spaces.
They believe Raleigh is a hotbed of opportunity. “You can create anything you want in Raleigh,” Donna Belt says. “We found that here, we can make a difference. It’s what we never had in London or Tokyo.”