WATCH: This Historic Colonial Home Gets a Modern Makeover
Wilmington, North Carolina, couple Lindsey and Grayson Cheek had plans to give this home a new life. Their old home had other ideas.
This Historic Colonial Home Gets a Modern Makeover
Ready for Adventure
It’s hard to think of two people more suited for a challenging renovation than Lindsey and Grayson Cheek. Lindsey, an interior designer and owner of Gathered—a lifestyle boutique in Wilmington—has moved 31 times in 35 years (her father was a minister; they relocated a lot) and is undaunted by a blank space. Her husband, Grayson, a lawyer who grew up in Wilmington, has been known to change out of his suit when court adjourns and swing a sledgehammer alongside a construction crew. Together, the Cheeks have moved 8 times in 10 years—from rentals to flips to houses they just outgrew as their family expanded to include daughter Tilley-Gray and son Maines. On their first date (at age 19!), the couple killed time before dinner by browsing appliances at Lowe’s.
Still, they didn’t rush into buying this neglected 1928 home, located near downtown Wilmington. Grayson passed when he first looked at the house, knowing it was priced too high for all the work that would need to be done. But after developers made offers to buy and tear it down, the owner’s grown children asked the Cheeks to take another look. “They wanted to keep the integrity of their childhood home. We knew what our budget was and what improvements the house needed, so we gave them our best offer and closed in a week,” says Lindsey. The couple’s original vision: Keep the bones, but make it more their own style by adding a front porch, black casement windows, a metal roof, and exterior board-and-batten.
Listen To Your House
The Cheeks started work in June 2016 with the help of builders Adam and Stephannie Covington, the husband-wife owners of The Pioneer Group in Wilmington. But the demolition soon revealed compromised footings and problems with the siding and insulation. “On the first day of construction, our contractor treated us to lunch and beers and told us our budget would be maxed out even without adding a single one of those modern elements we wanted. That’s when we realized that the house was rearing her head,” says Lindsey. “Maybe she just wanted to be a good dame. Maybe we just needed to bring her back to life, not do plastic surgery. Once we decided to keep the same aesthetic, she didn’t give us any more problems.”
And so, with all parties—owners, builders, stubborn house—back on the same page, the Cheeks moved forward, guided by a desire to honor the home’s history while still making it work for their young family. To that end, they transformed what was a formal living room into a first-floor master suite and created an all-purpose kitchen and living room on the other side. “We lost some living area, and we don’t have a dining room. But dining rooms are so expensive—especially for a space we would hardly ever use! I wanted to design our house for how the family lives 360 days of the year,” says Lindsey. That meant rebuilding the back porch to get more square footage; there’s a television, an outdoor shower, and a large dining table for family meals.
A few months before the Cheeks moved in, the siblings who had grown up in the house came to see it. “It was the sweetest experience to watch them walk through and recognize their old rooms upstairs. One of the daughters said it made her excited to know that there’s another little girl growing up here,” Lindsey says. Grayson even transferred his children’s heights, which they had been marking on a measuring stick, to the doorjamb of the new laundry room. And the Cheek family is just about to break the record for the longest amount of time they’ve lived in one place—only 18 months, but it’s a start.
Invest in What You Love
Light fixtures—especially big, funky styles—are one of Lindsey’s top ways to add character, and she didn’t hold back in the entry with this Tommy Mitchell showstopper. The console table is from Restoration Hardware, and the artwork (Feathers by Paule Marrot) is from Natural Curiosities.
Choose What Works for You
Lindsey chopped off the overhang of the island a year after moving in, replacing barstools with a banquette covered in Sunbrella fabric. “We were always standing up at the island to eat dinner,” she says. Now, they have the best of both worlds: a cozy dining area and a perch for the kids when necessary. The Cheeks originally envisioned concrete countertops and walnut cabinetry, but those “aren’t in the same conversation as a white Colonial house,” says Lindsey.
Don't Rush the Big Stuff
Lindsey took her time filling this room, which works hard as the only living and entertaining space. “There was a bounce house in here for four months,” she says. A custom-size rug and a smart curtain trick—placing trim horizontally in the middle of each panel—helps define the space. “It gives the room a waist and makes the 9-foot ceiling feel taller,” she adds. Plus, creating this look required less trim (the priciest part) than placing it vertically down the panels. The Rebecca Atwood fabric on the back of the blue sofa was the first thing Lindsey pulled for the house, providing the inspiration for the color palette. The colorful armchairs (Charles Skirted Swivel Chair; highlandhousefurniture.com) rotate so guests can turn and face the kitchen.
Use Every Inch
The side entrance functions as a mudroom, home office, and…ahem…surfboard storage area. Using a multipurpose coatrack, rather than built-in cubbies, allows the wallpaper to shine through and keeps the small space more open.
Mix Sweet and Salty
The rustic vanity, made from a floor joist that Grayson salvaged during the demolition, fits in the narrow space perfectly and also “toughens up the printed wallpaper,” says Lindsey.
Take Liberties with the Layout
The Cheeks eliminated a living area to create a large master suite, which Lindsey says felt selfish but smart. “It came to us organically as we walked through the house. And there’s no other house on the street with a downstairs master,” says Grayson. This makes it a unique resale feature. The painted four-poster bed (from Redford House) and saturated Persian-style rug are fresh takes on traditional pieces.
Go Bold with Pattern
All of the baths are decorated with whimsical wallpapers, but Schumacher’s Pyne Hollyhock print in the master is the most traditional. “I knew I wanted something blue and white with a vine in its design, and it also needed to have a large scale,” says Lindsey. “This bath has a lot of glass and eight windows that face the backyard. Luckily, we got away with installing roller shades that are hidden. The colorful wallpaper keeps the room from feeling sterile.”
Make Pretty Practical
Tilley-Gray loves art, and she needed as much floorspace as possible to play. “She paints in her room, but she’s very, very neat!” notes Lindsey. So they nixed standard curtains, which would have taken up visual and physical space, in favor of pelmets with hidden roller shades. The indoor/outdoor rug can be cleaned with disinfecting wipes, and the floral chandelier by Stray Dog Designs got a thumbs-up from Tilley-Gray.
Carve Out a Cozy Spot
Every house has at least one snug space, says Lindsey, and this is theirs, thanks to a warm color palette and vintage rug. “Maines is a kid who needs a comforting room,” she says. The hand-me-down Eames chair is pretty grown-up, but Lindsey made several smart decisions to accommodate a 4-year-old. The headboard is covered in an indoor/outdoor fabric, and the light fixture is hung on a swag to spotlight his play area.
Extend Your Living Space
Landscaping the wild backyard, which has an ancient oak tree (a selling point for the couple) and a dated pool, is still on the Cheeks’ to-do list. But rebuilding the back porch—which originally had a 7-foot ceiling and claustrophobic vinyl shades that “looked like they came off a sailboat,” says Lindsey—was a top priority. “I wanted a traditional blue porch ceiling, but Grayson wanted to stain it, which turned out even better. It feels more like a room,” says Lindsey. The family now eats alfresco about two-thirds of the year, and the kids take naps on the daybed.
Build In Surprises
Grayson is a surfer, and an outdoor shower was on his wish list. But a pink one? That was an unexpected gift to Lindsey. “I think Tilley-Gray may have asked him for it, to be honest, but he painted it without my knowing. It matches the front door,” she says. The color is Benjamin Moore’s Sugarcane (1185).