WILMINGTON—Hundreds of people pass the property each day, directly across from the Murchison building the 18th century Italian Revival boasts three floors. It blends in the with diversified architecture found on each block of downtown Wilmington.
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While most are home to restaurants, bars, offices and a few places of residence–many have walked by never knowing that for 25 years the corner of Front and Chestnut streets served as residence to artist and architect Robert DeYoung and his wife.
DeYoung first came to Wilmington from Chapel Hill to see blues singer Melva Houston. A month later, he and his wife traveled back here and that time, she wanted to stay. The couple sought a property that would give them New York City vibes and serendipitously found the Front and Chestnut property. The 8,000 square feet of space was barely, if hardly, livable.
“When we got that building the place was an unbelievable mess; more than half the windows were out, there were no front doors, it was ply wooded up,” DeYoung said. “My wife and I, one carpenter, one plumber, one electrician and one helper renovated that building in six months.”
Once a ‘mess,’ now a home
DeYoung has built houses for Hollywood stars like Danny DeVito and Christopher Lloyd, but still approaches his own property with a similar mentality–design as you go. It’s more than a feeling of intuition and guided emotion that permeates the build and process, DeYoung wished that feeling to last throughout his stay.
Each room echoes its own personality with a continuity found throughout the three floors. The base floor contains a bright yellow artist studio with large windows allowing light, while a bright red bathroom sits mirrorless but decorated in artwork.
Mixed use spaces highlight the first floor with a stairwell that leads to the main living area. For DeYoung, he wanted the colors and personality to continuously flow, taking the visitor on a journey throughout the house,
“Interior is not immobile, everything is in the state of movement, that movement needs to be incorporated into the flow and the way of a house. I always think of it as a dance,” DeYoung said. “You have the bright red bathroom on the second floor. Then as you come up the stairs you have the deep blue that relates to the red, but then you have the salmon color on the wall as you come up the stairs. It’s sandwiched between the bright red and blue then you move down the hallway into the room of the lighter green that has all the texture to it which is softer and quieter.”
The narrow kitchen is painted in a royal blue and while many of the rooms are almost overwhelming in the amount of openness and 16-foot ceiling height, the kitchen boasts a precise amount of space with building elements like open cabinets and an old wooden row bin that serves as the sink.
DeYoung says while the space seems tight, his wife has cooked for a dinner party of 60 and a traditional kitchen design simply wouldn’t work in the space. For him, kitchen design is about creating a triangle between the stove, refrigerator and sink.
Right off the kitchen is a door to what could possibly be the most dramatic and breathtaking room in the house–the 2,000-square foot living room.
Painted in a crisp, clean white, the rectangular space seems daunting at first but small details like built-in bookshelves painted in forest green, carefully placed artwork, a dining table, furniture, and large windows giving way to a full view of Front Street help condense and flow the visitor through the area.
The main focal point of the room is Primovera, a custom painting by artist Todd Murphy. While the living room can simply appear as a large rectangular room, Primovera adds lines and shapes interweaving all architecture and design elements.
“Architecture is space, it’s not just decoration, decoration can be used to enhance that space or kill that space. I try very hard to kill space but in the good sense and make it alive in such a way that you don’t remember how it was when you were there,” DeYoung said. “People decorate everything perpendicular or parallel to every wall and make it unexciting and unfeeling in terms of the space. I took all the spaces of that building and made it wide open to where they were.”
On the opposite end of the kitchen is a green screening room with a projector placed atop an upside-down shoulder mount of a deer. Sixteen foot ceilings, iron trim, and original fixtures and doors contrast between old and new. An element that can be found throughout the house, but specifically in the screening room, is the relationship between preserving the integrity of the building while allowing design and personal style to be present without overpowering the architecture.
An Egyptian-influenced bathroom opens to the garden terrace with green LED lights placed above the tub. The small but functional garden feels private amongst the city streets and adds urban influence to the whimsical interior. While many of the spaces in the home are open and airy, both the kitchen and attic-style main bedroom reel in the coziness of intimate living.
A custom-built stairwell leads to the small main bedroom that features whitewashed brick and a floor window that when open, gives way to aerial views of the garden.
For the bedroom, DeYoung said: “We purposely made it small like we were living in an attic space. I love the idea of old attic spaces, there’s nothing up there because it’s very quiet. We don’t put our clothes, TV, radio, there’s nothing there except yourself, a bed and bathroom.”
On the market
The property is currently on the market for $2.4-million and features a garage and two separate, fully-furnished apartments. While the DeYoungs now reside in Miami full-time, he says of the space and potential buyers,
“I want to allow for people to be able to come in and do something. Whoever buys, it I don’t think they should live like I lived at all. I’m a completely different individual. I’m thinking that the buyer should be someone who comes in and falls in love with the possibilities of what they can do and how they can live in that space,” DeYoung said. “I try to design and do interiors as everything that’s not fixed cause that’s what we spend most of our time in – houses. If they don’t keep giving to you over and over, you’re never going to realize your own potential of being able to think and move forward.”
Where We Live is a weekly feature looking at the homes and unique places to stay in the Cape Fear Region. Do you have a home, on or off the market, that our readers may be interested in seeing? Let us know at PCD@localvoicemedia.com.