Perhaps best known as home to the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is a town that boasts everything from art galleries and museums to nature trails and picturesque gardens. It’s also the beautiful backdrop for a booming residential scene, where you can find a fusion of urban and suburban living, historic small-town charm, and modern metropolitan panache.
The areas surrounding the university campus include several urban developments, including a few that encompass a mixture of retail, offices, and residences supported by a vast network of schools, parks, and more. Once featured in Better Homes and Gardens, the area’s award-winning design attracts many homeowners looking for a custom home in an all-inclusive community.
One such residence, surrounded by magnolia trees and tucked back against a wooded stretch, is home to Kristie McGowan and her family. A self-proclaimed “interiors enthusiast” with a Ph.D. in textiles, Kristie has spent years designing her Chapel Hill residence to perfection — a cozy Southern home with quirky nuances that is, as she phrases it, “traditional with a twist.” Take a peek!
Nestled on just over a quarter of an acre, Kristie’s Chapel Hill home features classic architecture and a yard full of Southern landscaping must-haves — roses, jasmine, holly, hydrangea, and magnolia trees galore. And though the exterior may appear somewhat cottage-like, it belies the home’s actual size. The 5,000-square-foot, three-story beauty has five bedrooms and five and a half baths, as well as standard rooms such as the dining room, kitchen, family room, and even a scullery.
While the home’s slightly asymmetrical layout is unexpected and intriguing, it’s the interior style that truly wows — a tribute to Kristie’s creativity and love for design detail. One of the most impressive elements is the art sprinkled throughout each room, the majority of which was done by Kristie herself. Talk about hands-on design! Additionally, arched doorways and a combination of vintage and contemporary pieces make for a style that simultaneously showcases both European influence and local pride.
Purchasing the home in 2015, Kristie and her husband initially held off on any grand renovation plans. “I was actually in my final year of finishing my Ph.D. in textiles,” Kristie tells us. “We bought the house and knew we needed to update it, but my husband was like, ‘You aren’t allowed to do anything to the house until you finish your dissertation!'” Waiting paid off, offering the couple a perspective they hadn’t anticipated. “It’s the first house where we’ve moved in first and didn’t have a dumpster delivered on day one,” Kristie shares. “We’ve been trying to do things in manageable ways. It allowed us to figure out what we really need versus what we thought might work when we originally bought the house.” With her Ph.D. in hand, Kristie officially launched the renovations in 2016, beginning with the kitchen remodel, which essentially involved gutting it. They re-allocated square footage from several areas, taking space from a pantry and massive powder room to maximize the kitchen. They also refinished the floors, added wood flooring in the primary suite, and gave the layout a bit of an upgrade.
The entryway got a makeover, too, with a blush grasscloth ceiling from Cowtan & Tout and a gallery wall of collected mirrors that includes local consignment shop finds and family heirlooms. A Couristan antelope runner installed by Eatmans in Raleigh graces the steps, and it’s a sight to behold. “It’s a nylon rug, so it’s hard-wearing,” says Kristie, who felt that was particularly suitable for their household. “Eatmans was great because you have to think about where you want that spine to run (the dark part) when you install antelope. They let me customize what color binding I wanted because they cut and bind it on site.”
Thanks to Kristie, a multi-purpose space took on both style and function as she turned a laundry room into a combination mudroom/laundry room/scullery. The only catch was finding a way to maintain the home’s laundry chute, which was pre-existing. “When we were doing the addition, it was a non-negotiable for us to maintain the laundry chute,” Kristie says. “Though I wish my kids would use it without me telling them to!” She added built-in cubbies for her children’s backpacks and jackets and created a dedicated area for a built-in washer and dryer — behind a cabinet with retractable doors. “There’s also a ‘command central,’ where we have drawers for electronics and games,” she tells us, “and the ‘scullery’ is there, too. It has an ice maker, a beverage fridge, and a big sink. We also put in a serving window off of that space that goes to a counter on our back porch. It’s great for the flow of entertaining, or even if we have dinners with our family when the weather allows for it.”
A coffered ceiling draws the eye to the center of the dining room, where an “urchin” pendant casts light on the dining table. Perhaps the most impressive features of the room are art pieces that adorn nearly every wall, and the biggest surprise is their source — Kristie herself. “I did the art in this room myself,” she tells us. “Honestly, it was just to have something to fill the walls! The gallery wall is all paintings I did; there are 18 of them. One day, I put different colors together and had fun, and then we ended up framing them. I thought it would be a temporary installation until we decided what we really wanted, but we ended up loving them so much that we’ve just left them there.”
Another standout feature, the room also boasts a mirrored cabinet originally intended to house a TV. These days, it serves as an in-home bar, complete with a lacquered orange interior and stair-step shelving to display liquor offerings. “One of the things about living in North Carolina is that we have access to Furniture Market,” explains Kristie, “and with Furniture Market comes market samples. That piece was a market sample, and we bought it two houses ago. I loved it, but I didn’t measure it. We ended up having to widen the doorway of our first house to get it in because it wouldn’t fit in otherwise! I refuse to get rid of it because it’s so special.”
The primary suite, composed of a bedroom, master bathroom, and two large walk-in closets, is serene and striking. A far cry from the earthy neutral tones often employed in classic bedroom design, Kristie leans into the unexpected with Vervain fabric drapery that draws attention. Meanwhile, paneling detail on the walls (a feature Kristie’s husband added) balances modern elements with more traditional embellishments. A seating area across from the master bed offers comfort and a touch of whimsy, showcasing art from Elizabeth Foster in Nashville. “I tend to love whimsical or hyper-realistic art,” says Kristie. “My daughter loves elephants, so that was the first thing we were drawn to. The elephants flying almost felt like that’s what it took for me to finish my Ph.D. with two young kids! It was the perfect painting to commemorate that.” The seating area lighting also tells an interesting story. “The two sconces are Robert Abbey,” Kristie says. “I found them in somebody’s attic during an estate sale! I also found my front entry chandelier in that same attic.”
An eclectic arrangement of textiles and patterns makes for an attention-grabbing living room, which backs up to the master bedroom suite. Mirror-backed, gold-leafed bookshelves boast collectibles and various vignettes, while comfy chairs covered in Lee Jofa fabric (with dancing antelopes) add a playful, textured touch. The ornate rug was a find that Kristie couldn’t pass up. “My husband and I and our son drove up to D.C. one day in the middle of COVID to go pick up the rug,” she tells us. “I will go to all ends to get something if I think it’s unique and fun and a great fit for my house!” Additionally, two bright raspberry velvet chairs by Adrienne Davis bring a splash of bold color to the space.
With several bedrooms to furnish and design, Kristie let her imagination run wild. She also consulted her children! “With each of my kids’ bedrooms, I involved them in the process,” she says. “I gave them different options and ideas and allowed them to pick.” Her daughter chose a pretty metallic paper from Hygge & West, which graces the bedroom ceiling. A canopy bed offers a compelling focal point, with fabric Kristie had been saving for just the right project. “I bought about 30 yards of this Serena & Lily fabric on clearance because I thought it was fun,” she says. “I had no idea how I would use it, so I had it for a couple of years. I had a local company make the canopy and drapes, and then we added the trim.” Though her daughter initially requested turquoise walls, Kristie suggested that she incorporate elements of turquoise instead. They chose a soft blue from Farrow & Ball, then lined the canopy with blue linen of the same shade.
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