They call it both their house of hope and a labor of love. When the Lambs bought a ’40s-era Hope Valley home, they planned to restore it to its former glory. Instead, they live in a stunning new construction. “We wouldn’t change a thing,” Loren says. For her, husband Geoff, and their daughters, Alex, 17, and Sydney, 15, it was a journey home.
Loren is an interior designer with residential clients across the country, known for creating chic spaces with texture and character. “I love to restore and remodel old homes,” she explains. She knows how to add a bright white Mongolian sheepskin or modern Lucite table to a room built decades ago. For their part, the Lambs have typically lived in older homes, too. The couple met at UNC but had been living in Ohio in a home that was built in 1927 before moving to Hope Valley. “This [Durham] lot had a white lacquer board house that was built in the 1940s,” Loren says. “There aren’t many homes in this area from that time,” and they were excited to renovate and restore it.
And then came the hiccups. Their next-door neighbors were also renovating, and working with the existing house would mean uncomfortably close structures along the property line. It was one thing after another, and it became evident that building a new house would be the easier and more economical solution. Despite Loren’s extensive background, “I was a total newbie,” she says. “I’ve been in the business 20 years and had never built a home. We’d always remodeled.”
She and Geoff, a former attorney-turned-brewer who co-founded Big Boss Brewing Company, took the decision to build seriously. They traveled around, considering homes and gathering inspiration. While visiting friends in Atlanta, they drove past a home that left them both swooning – it turned out, their friends knew the homeowners. “It was meant to be,” Geoff says. Their friends called the homeowners for the inside scoop. “They were so lovely,” Loren says. “They told us what kind of stone they had on the house, the grout color, the exterior colors. They took all the guesswork out of building.” The Lambs even hired a Georgia architect who was familiar with the inspiration house to build their Durham rendition.
Two years later, the construction was complete. It was an admittedly extensive and arduous process, and not just because of permits and approvals. Twelve years ago, Loren was diagnosed with breast cancer. “It was obviously difficult,” Loren says. It’s why the family returned to Geoff’s home state, to be closer to family during treatment. “Since we bought this house, I’ve had recurrences two times,” Loren says. “I didn’t know if I would see it actually finished.”
Thankfully, she’s relishing in her dream home, complete with her favorite elements of older styles and the amenities allowed by custom building. Take, for instance, the antique brass door hardware. “The builder was like, ‘You’re putting brass in your house?’” Loren remembers. “‘Everyone takes that out.’ Well, back in the ’20s, they only had chrome and brass; that’s what you’d have in an old house. So that’s what I wanted.” The result is special and will continue to develop: “To me, the door hardware looks like jewelry. And because it has a live finish, it will change over time.”
The same goes for their character grade walnut floors, which have all the pits and imperfections of the original wood. But then there are upholstered chairs in light, simple and modern fabrics and decidedly trendy art and accents. “The house is a curated mix of old and new things, and natural elements,” Loren says. It’s how she approaches her clients’ spaces, too. “I try to create classic, timeless designs.”
It was important to the Lambs to be sustainable as they put the soul of an old house into a new build. It started with the teardown of the original 1940s-era structure: “We had The Reuse Warehouse take it down … everything that could be reused, was,” Loren says. Then, they set about using as many local materials as possible, including exterior stone sourced from the mountains. Even the art is local. It really wasn’t a difficult task, Loren says. “There are a lot of cerebral people in this area – smart people who bring different things in.”
Local, layered, modern-yet-charming: The house is expansive, cozy and effortless. And then there’s the downstairs basement. “Geoff did all of this himself,” Loren says, gesturing around at black polished concrete floors and a metal bar. Of course, a selection of Big Boss beers are on tap. “All of our beers are named after aircraft built during World War II,” explains Geoff of his “man cave” inspiration. “I was looking for strong and simple. The tap handles are machined aluminum. The bar is hollowed steel, the bar top is zinc, which is a little softer. The bar detail looks like aircraft ribbons.” He built it all himself, with assistance from the girls. “I helped with electronics,” Sydney adds enthusiastically. Together, they hooked up all of the televisions, speakers and other recreational wiring. “We had 1.8 miles of wire,” Geoff says. “It was a lot of wire. And that was just local tech stuff.” A lot of wire, a lot of time and a lot of influences. “Building our own house was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” Loren says. “I can do it for a client … narrow down the options. But we had two years, and I was waffling until the day we moved in on what paint color I wanted.” And now she has her house of a lifetime.
Like a Pro
One of her most practical and applicable tips is to combine – textures, patterns, materials, anything you can think of. “I think mixing different things is fun,” Loren says. Blending metals can be especially dramatic. “Try stainless and brass. I love brass.” The effect is a balance between old and new, which is how to build the layered but eternal aesthetics Loren is known for. “Mix up [modern] furniture with antiques,” she says.
And be sure not to make your decorating too precious. Daughters Sydney and Alex laugh as they remember the days of having furniture as accessory only. “There were pieces to look at but not touch,” Sydney says. “There might be four or five chairs in the room, but you couldn’t sit on some of them.” Loren says she learned quickly that such an approach is impractical. “The older you get, the more you realize you have to be able to live in the house. I can’t say I’ve always had that mentality.” The good news is, when you’re decorating with antiques, you can trust the furniture is built to last.
Sum of Its Parts
The Lambs’ stunning home was a team effort. Here are their major vendors – most are nearby.
• Antique brass door hardware by “a little foundry,” Longleaf Collection, in Aberdeen
• Tile and hardwood installed by Damon Frazee in Durham
• Landscape architect Barbara Karski of Garden Environments in Durham
• Countertops by Stone & Tile Creations in Raleigh
• Fitch Lumber & Hardware in Carrboro helped source and supply:
• Character grade walnut floors from Bill Campbell in Tennessee
• The porch columns, which are pressure-treated Cox southern yellow pine from Orangeburg, S.C.
• The southern yellow pine porch ceiling paneling from Ashton Lewis Lumber Co. in Gatesville
• Exterior mahogany doors from Dallas Millwork in Hiram, Ga.