Moment of Zen: East Meets West in a Mid-century Retreat

Tula Summerford designed this Clinton, N.C. home renovation with bold, modern touches.
By Andrea Rice | Photography by Catherine Nguyen

A Mid-century modern beauty is tucked away in an otherwise unassuming Clinton neighborhood. It’s nestled atop a ridge and overlooks a tranquil pond, and it’s here that Robbie and Todd Williams have created a sanctuary that bridges the past and the future.

The Williamses purchased the 1962 home from its original owners two years ago. They’d been living in more traditional homes in Wake Forest as they raised their family, but once their children, Mabry and Ford, had grown and moved out, the couple wanted to return to their hometown to reconnect with their roots and be closer to their parents as well as to the beach.

After looking at a few listings in the area, a home adjacent to Coharie Country Club caught their attention. “Even though we grew up here, we had never been inside this house,” Robbie Williams says. “From the outside it looked like a traditional ranch home, but as soon as we walked in the front door and saw the wall of windows and the fireplace, we knew this was the one.”

It had always been on Robbie Williams’ wish list to redesign a Mid-century home, to usher it into the present while respecting its character and integrity. “Mid-century homes can have a lot of hard edges, and I wanted it to be comfortable and soft,” she says.

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That said, “Deciding what to keep and what to change was just outside of my comfort zone,” she says, so she looked for an interior designer to weigh in. A former fashion apparel importer, Williams fell in love with the vibrant work of Raleigh-based Tula Summerford of Designs by Tula. The New York City transplant and Fashion Institute of Technology alum has a background in textiles, and to Williams, her aesthetic offered the perfect blend of classical meets modern; elegant, edgy and eccentric. “Tula can walk into a room and tell you immediately what to keep and what to replace,” says Robbie Williams.

Williams notes that the previous owners had been well ahead of their time in terms of design and aesthetic, so most of the home remains intact, including the original dual-sided fireplace with a unique copper hood. But the bathrooms needed reconfiguring and upgrading, and the kitchen, a time capsule, needed a complete overhaul. Clinton-based William Pope led the renovations, and Summerford made recommendations to bring the home up-to-date: replacing the carpeted floors in the living room with black slate, for example, and painting wood-paneled walls white to brighten the space.

Throughout, Summerford adorned the home with fresh fabrics and wallpaper. Pops of jewel tones like fuchsia, turquoise and gold make subtle yet impactful appearances throughout, while flecks of gold and bronze complement ornate figurines Robbie Williams collected during her travels to the Far East. “I always like a little drama,” Williams says. “I tend to go a little traditional or transitional in style, but I also like Asian influences.”

Though Todd Williams was mostly hands-off through the process, which took around seven months to complete, he did voice his opinion near the end as his wife was questioning some of the final touches. “He said, ask Tula, she’s always right!” laughs Robbie Williams.

She says the home has been a blessing especially this year, a place of refuge in recent months during lockdown restrictions. “Every morning when I walk through the hallway and watch the light come in through the windows, I feel like I’m on vacation,” says Williams.  

A few highlights…

Inside this Clinton living room are striking wood-paneled ceilings and a wall of windows. The Williams family built in an entertainment center with gold knobs from Addison Weeks to create a focal point.

The two-sided, copper-topped fireplace in the living room is original to the home—it was in mint condition, and only needed to be dusted off. “I loved incorporating the unique fireplace into the plan. It set the vibe for the entire design,” says Summerford.

The coffee table was a lucky Craigslist find, and the couch and chairs are from Homebridge Design in Raleigh.

The small bar was found at George R. McNeill Fine Antiques in Raleigh. Art pieces from travels to Paris, London, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta and Ocho Rios adorn the space. 

Summerford had been saving a set of Italian leather chairs from the 1950s for the “perfect client.” The dining room table had always been in the family. For additional seating, a set of chairs were lacquered at Steins Furniture and Lacquer Studio and reupholstered by Designers Guild.

Except for a dishwasher, the kitchen was original to the home—which, Williams says, was ideal, since it meant “no one had done a bad ‘80s remodel.” They gutted and reconfigured the space to connect it to the living area. The black cabinets and stained island complement the original wood.

One guest room is furnished with the bed and dresser from their daughter’s childhood bedroom; Summerford made the room pop with a fuchsia rug, yellow curtains and brass rods. The vintage lamp is from Hunt & Gather in Raleigh.

The wooden staircase leading to the “rec room” was simply refinished. There, the original teal wet bar and kitchenette (opposite) remain intact (the cabinets in the upstairs kitchen were formerly this same color) as do the classic linoleum floors. “We didn’t touch anything in this room,” Williams says, “We just cleaned it up and moved in.”

The front of the home is unassuming at first glance, but a deeper look offers a hint at the design-forward elements inside. The Williams family has spent much of their time in the back patio during coronavirus restrictions. The terraced back patio looks out to the pond  and fire pit, and offers sweeping views of the property’s green spaces, like a private park where there is always something blooming. The couple built the fire pit near the pond to offer more dimension to the landscaping—and another private place to retreat and get away from it all.