Tour an Historically Renovated
Southern Farmhouse

By Kealia Reynolds

When homeowners Molly and Tommy relocated to North Carolina from New York in 2015, they wanted to put down roots and build a permanent foundation in the South. Molly, the lead of operations at a digital marketing company and board member of Preservation Durham, and Tommy, a healthcare executive, wanted a house with character and history but were unsure about buying a fixer upper and doing the renovations themselves. So when they found this recently restored 1913 farmhouse, they absolutely fell in love.

Complete with a gable-and-wing two-story form, a hipped roof, and a wraparound porch, this 2,100-square-foot house offers a welcoming and inviting environment and provides a private, quiet escape from nearby downtown Durham. Step inside their home and glimpse their favorite rooms and décor.

Rustic Farmhouse The outside of this home features a wraparound front porch and tin metal roofing

Porch Swing Painted bright Charleston pink, this porch swing provides a pop of color against the home's exterior

Stairs One of Molly's favorite features of the home is this beautiful L-shaped staircase

Living Room Because of the size of the sofa, Molly and Tommy opted for smaller tabletops to make the space more flexible

Thrift Store Treasures The photograph on the left is from an antique store in Winston Salem, NC; the aquatic harbor scene (top right) was found under a sheet of dust in a New Orleans consignment shop; and the lighthouse (bottom right) was purchased at a shop in St. Micheal's Bay, MD

Dining Room The centrally located dining area room creates a flow between living room and kitchen

Storage Cabinet This rustic cabinet is an example of both form and function, holding liquor, entertaining wares, and a carved whale the homeowners call Walter

Bar Cabinet Favorite whiskies line one of the shelves in this rustic, white cabinet

Dining Room Breezy window treatments keep the room bright by opening the space to plenty of natural light

Table Centerpiece Believers in the power of tea lights, the homeowners always keep handfuls of candles around to create ambience

Kitchen The view out of the kitchen window: an expansive, bamboo-flanked backyard

Kitchen Backsplash A white subway tile backsplash is just one of the noticeable features in the kitchen

Kitchen Talismans On this shelf are kitchen essentials—a teapot that was a party favor from a friend's wedding in Jaipur, India, a collection of family cookbooks, chicory coffee from Cafe Du Monde in NOLA, a teacup made by a friend who runs a pottery studio in Asheville, NC, a bouquet of red peppers from the farmer's market, and a framed poem written by a cousin for a wedding toast

Bathroom A clawfoot tub, rustic shelves, and cerused wood floors connect the renovated home to its past

Back Porch The back deck, which overlooks a bamboo grove, is the perfect spot to relax on a warm, summer day

A brief history of the home

As told by Molly

I love this home’s history. It was built in 1913 in the Lakewood neighborhood of Durham, just southwest of downtown. A.G. Wilson, a machine operator, was the occupant in 1925 and 1930. When the home was built, a streetcar used to run down our street, shuttling residents to an old amusement park about four blocks away.

Our neighborhood is full of historic properties, some which have been fully restored, and others that are wearing their years more visibly. Our home is an old farmhouse with a long front porch and tin roof, big windows and tall ceilings, and lovely, thick floor molding.

The home was in total disrepair and neglect for the past decade or so. A local renovation company that focuses on historic properties bought the home about three years ago and brought it back to life. They restored it top to bottom and made a few key upgrades. We have new systems, appliances, and finishes—but the bones, floor plan, and character of the home are original.

My husband and I were on the fence about whether we wanted to buy a fixer upper and do the renovation ourselves, but after seeing this home we agreed with and loved the renovator’s decisions. We toured the home on a Saturday morning and owned it by Sunday evening.

Before The home was in total disrepair before a local renovation company brought it back to life

After The restored home features a paint job, tin metal roofing, and a pink porch swing

What drew you to this particular property?

So many aspects of our home spoke to our style and sensibilities. My husband and I have realized that since starting college over a decade ago, we had moved at least every two years into a new property—always as renters. When we relocated to North Carolina from New York in 2015, we were looking to put down roots and build a permanent foundation in the South.

We were looking for a space that we could grow into, but nothing that was overwhelmingly big. We’re pretty open-minded about styles and architecture, but we tend to embrace the feeling of the city we’re in. As yankees, we both had dreams about some Southern experience when we relocated to Durham. We wanted character and history. We wanted something welcoming and inviting. We wanted to be close to amenities but still have a private, quiet escape from city living.

This home embraced and carried all of those wishes. It’s walkable to coffee shops and bars, a florist is up the street, and our neighbors are wonderful. Our backyard is this strange and unexpected bamboo jungle. When we saw the home for the first time, light bounced off the hardwoods and we could instantly picture our lives here. It has not disappointed.

Describe your architectural/decorating style.

We are eclectic and comfortable. We like to travel and we’re always picking up ideas and memories from our trips and the people we meet. It’s important to me that guests feel welcome and at ease in our space, and I want our rooms to reflect who we are as a couple and as individuals.

I like the idea that our friends and visitors get to know us through the talismans that speak to our style. Our record collection. Tommy’s whisky bottles. Our photos. My coffee table books. Our family hand-me-downs. We’re all about the details.

How do you think about furnishing your home?

In terms of decorating, my recommendation is to let the space dictate how you fill it—I don’t try to fight the natural flow or feeling of a room.

For décor, so many pieces of this home make me happy. My mom passed down a family wingback chair, which we reupholstered in a bright blue velvet. I love my small (but growing) collection of weird and regional cookbooks. My grandmother had the most beautiful and comprehensive cookbook collection, so I have real ambitions for my kitchen’s library.

I have a framed silhouette of my grandpa that my cousins and I found hidden in his work desk. There’s a painted teal cabinet door on one of our living room walls—a faded mural of boats in a shipyard. We found it covered under dust in a New Orleans thrift shop.

An Indian teapot sits in our kitchen as a memory of a friend’s wedding in Jaipur. One of my talented friends stitched an impressive musician’s portrait in beautiful blue fabrics. Another friend, a potter in Asheville, sent me a beautiful mug painted with the Blue Ridge mountains, and it now holds my garlic cloves.

I love how many memories begin to layer as you build your home. That’s the biggest difference as I grow older and furnish my space—it’s not just about buying a piece of furniture; it’s the stories and memories behind your finds that add depth and style.

Tell us about a favorite memory in this home.

We’ve started a Kentucky Derby tradition over the past few years, and each annual party is better than the last. Tommy and I love to host a big shindig and we roll up our sleeves to bring back the southern old-school classics: tomato sandwiches, pimento cheese and crab dips, bacon-wrapped club crackers, bourbon pecan pie. I’m loving our collection of mint julep cups that we’ve amassed to host the party.

But really, so many simple memories come to mind when thinking about how we’re growing into the home. Weeknight dinners at our island. Weekend coffee on the front porch. Those small, unambitious moments are usually the best.

Do you have a favorite feature in your home?

I love the light and the windows, the tall ceilings, and the staircase. The bones of the home are so dignified to me, even though the home itself is one of many like it in Durham.

Do you have a favorite piece of furniture?

Apart from our reupholstered chair, I love our bar and china storage cabinet. We found this simple, rustic white cabinet in one of our favorite local furniture stores. It’s amazingly functional; it does an efficient and stylish job in my eyes of showing off our entertaining ware. I also love the carved whale (named Walter) that lives on top.

Tell us about the decision to not include a coffee table in your living room.

One of our dear friends is a talented architect and interior designer. When we brought home our massive living room couch (twice the size of any couch we’d previously owned), I shot him a note asking for advice on how to layer in the right pieces. His advice: lose the coffee table. It inhibits people’s use of the space and makes the room feel blocky. Throw in random ottomans, benches, and side tables. Let it be flexible.

Once I started down that path, it was so clear how spot-on his vision was. I’m still on the hunt for more small pieces to add in, but I do see how restrictive and constrictive a big coffee table would be in the space.

Do you have a favorite room?

For me, it’s the kitchen. I love the open flow to the rest of the home standing in the back. I love the view out of the kitchen window straight through to our bamboo-flanked back lot. I love the cathedral ceiling and simple mason-jar lights. I love the open shelves that house our random culinary tools and cooking inspiration. I love having casual, last-minute dinners with my husband at the island. It’s such a tidy, warm, and easy space for me to be in.

For my husband, after years of living in small apartments in Brooklyn and New York, he’s finally able to have a dedicated drum room—and play as loud as he pleases. That was a huge win for us.

What has been your favorite DIY project?

I’ll be honest, I hated working on the backyard patio—which is a funny statement because I only managed to do about five percent of the work. My husband absolutely killed himself pulling it together, starting with staining our deck and filling in the under area, finding help to build a retaining wall, scouring a reused materials store for old brick from a Raleigh home—all of it. I pretty much sat on a lawn chair in between shuffling a few bricks between palettes while he did the hard work. I say all of that because, while I have dazzling DIY dreams, I’m not so handy in reality.

However, we painted our front porch swing a bright Charleston pink, and that project size and scope is right up my alley.

What’s one project you’ll always outsource?

Me? Most things.

My husband? He keeps us honest on what we outsource. Anything plumbing or electrical we’ll usually hand out, but he takes a first pass at most other elbow-grease type of projects. He’s hung all of our photos and fixtures. He puts together furniture. We’ll do painting touch-ups. He’s the Bob Vila of the family.

What’s one thing you wish you could change?

We don’t have great storage, which isn’t surprising for a 100-year-old home. I will say that we have a walk-in master closet that absolutely blew my mind, but we don’t really have a linen closet or communal storage on the first floor. There is only a crawl space below the home—no basement—and our attic isn’t a full walk-up. We also don’t have a garage or proper outdoor storage, but I suspect a shed is in our future.

What part of the home is your biggest indulgence?

The whole of the home is an indulgence, especially after a decade of city living for Tommy and me. It’s still wild to me to have multiple rooms and stories of space, along with our own outdoor area to design as we please. I honestly do feel lucky to call it home.

How did you get involved with historic preservation?

As an undergrad, I studied art history and absolutely loved the education that came with it. When I attended law school, I was drawn to a class on historic preservation as a way to marry my interest in art and architecture with my study of legal affairs. Historic preservation became the perfect intersections of my passions—how we experience, honor, and regulate space and the community that builds it, maintains it, and comes from it.

Housing, buildings, and city planning create a massive impact on how we connect to our space, ourselves, and our community. To me, cities that recognize the beauty and importance of their previous tenants provide a more livable experience. I’m passionate that we honor our roots through maintaining our spaces. I’ve found a connection with Durham in how it celebrates its past and seeks to build a constructive and thoughtful future.

The homeowners commissioned this watercolor of their home by artist Cecelia Claire

Any advice for homeowners looking to renovate a historic home?

Historic renovation can be tricky. In addition to navigating local regulations, you’ll also have competing concerns with salvaging your space—as it deserves—and balancing your budget. Be realistic, make conservative estimates, and do your homework.

However, the benefits to living a storied home pay dividends in my view. In addition to contributing to a sense of identity in my neighborhood, I’ve experienced a true sense of connection and inspiration by knowing the many chapters and phases of my home. I’m energized by it on a daily basis.

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