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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!

Entryway with circular glass table and design vignette.

The home’s front entryway table boasts a vignette that includes design books, a marble planter, and even a mirror ball. “I love how the mirrored ball reflects light through our front door in the morning,” homeowner Kristie McGowan tells us. “I change [it] frequently, so it’s ever-evolving. I want it to be welcoming and have some greenery in it — a way to tell guests, ‘Welcome to our home.'”

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.”

Staircase lined with eye-catching antelope runner.

The stairwell is the start of an eye-catching antelope runner that extends the length of Kristie’s front entryway steps. “What you can’t see is that our carpenter built us a custom dog gate made with plexiglass so we can see through it,” says Kristie. “We installed that antelope runner and then got a puppy two weeks later! I didn’t want to risk anything happening to the runner.”

A full kitchen view with ornate chandeliers

Nuvolette wallpaper from Cole & Son offers a patterned backdrop for whimsical art from Canadian artist Kari Serrao. “The paintings are some of my favorite things that we own,” says Kristie. “Those were pet portraits that we had made of our dogs. The older one has since passed. You can’t tell from this photo, but they’re encaustic, which means they’re made of melted wax.” Horchow capiz shell and brass chandeliers add a fun element above the Carrara marble waterfall island.

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.”

Scullery and laundry room designed by Kristie McGowan

Encompassing a laundry room, puppy zone, and a scullery of sorts, this home area is both beautiful and highly functional. “I added the Schumacher fabric wallpaper on the ceiling to make it a little bit more unexpected,” Kristie shares. “The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s color is Carolina blue, and I love exhibiting some of that hometown pride for our local school.”

Dining room with pink rug and fuzzy white chairs

A coffered ceiling painted in high-gloss white offsets a bright pink rug and walls filled with Kristie’s vibrant handmade art.

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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.”

Bedroom designed by Kristie McGowan

The primary bedroom merges classic style and modern touches, with paneling detail on the walls (added by Kristie’s husband, who possesses a fine arts degree), colorful drapery, and monogrammed bedding. “The side consoles are from Society Social,” explains Kristie. “It’s a brand that’s local to North Carolina. And the bedding is all from Biscuit Home, which is in Houston, Texas.”

Floral curtains in a Chapel Hill, NC home

Vervain fabric drapery in “Secret Garden” brings bold, romantic flair to the master bedroom suite. “The drapery incorporates pretty much every color used in my house into one pattern,” laughs Kristie. “With bedrooms, people often go for soothing colors, but I love this.”

Elephant art behind the primary bedroom seating area

“I found the pillow at a local secondhand shop,” Kristie says of the rich pop of fuchsia in her bedroom sitting area. “It’s on an Emerson Bentley couch with crackled lucite legs, which was another furniture sample that I found at Market. The painting was a gift from my husband when I completed my Ph.D. It’s by an artist named Elizabeth Foster, from Nashville.”

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.

Living room with turquoise cabinets, a fireplace, and red velvet chairs

Vivid blue built-ins, raspberry velvet chairs, and art by Nashvillian Gina Julian bring a sense of playfulness to this first-floor living room.

A green fringed couch close-up with wall art behind it and a tortoise table

A CR Laine sofa with green leather binding and ombré trim adds rich jewel tones to the living room. The dynamic art piece on the wall behind it is another one of Kristie’s creations. “I thought it would be a fun mother-daughter project,” says Kristie, “but my daughter tapped out pretty quickly. It took a little bit longer than I thought, but it’s all paper flowers that I glued onto a large canvas.”

dark floral wallpaper in a first-floor powder room.

This moody first-floor powder room showcases Ellie Cashman wallpaper, a vanity from Restoration Hardware, and a Venetian mirror that Kristie unearthed at a local consignment shop.

Family room in Chapel Hill, NC

Formerly a pull-down attic space, this second-floor family room addition is made for wear and tear and lots of fun family memories.

Bathroom with floral wall covering and coral accents.

A full bathroom on the second floor is a vibrant display of pattern and color, with a vinyl mural from Anthropologie and cabinets painted in Farrow & Ball’s Blazer.

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.

Girl's bedroom with canopy bed and pale pink furniture

Metallic gold wallpaper from Hygge & West adds an elegant touch to the ceiling in Kristie’s daughter’s bedroom. “It’s called Daydream, which is perfect for her,” says Kristie.

A close-up of the artwork in a girl's bedroom in Chapel Hill, NC.

“The art above the nightstand is a Maren Devine piece,” Kristie shares. “It’s a painting from her Warrior Girls series. I loved the colors and everything that it represented — strong and beautiful at the same time. The artwork below it is by Kayce Hughes, who’s in Nashville.”

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Guest bedroom in Chapel Hill home with butterfly paper on the walls and ceiling.

Schumacher’s Birds and Butterflies wallpaper adorns this second-floor guest room, which also possesses an embossed metallic desk and two twin beds.

Blue and white wallpapered guest bedroom with red stool

A Les Touches fabric headboard from Society Social brings out the Ikat pattern in this guest room wallpaper from Thibaut.

Thank you for sharing your home with us, Kristie! And special thanks to Cat Wilborne Photography for the beautiful photos.

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