A Young Family Finds Room to Grow

A Young Family Finds Room to Grow

Ignoring traditional conventions, the Strangs built their Duke Forest home to suit the particular needs of their young family.

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Nestled among the tree-lined streets of Duke Forest is a tall and narrow blue house with unmistakably modern architecture. It’s at once subtle and striking, a refreshing sight on a block otherwise marked by friendly mid-century facades.

Strangs
“We wanted a place where the kids can come with their friends when they get older,” says Charity Strang. Photo by Briana Brough

“The house is tall, but inside it feels good,” says Jeff Strang, who lives in the three-year-old home with his wife, Charity, their daughter Miriam, 6, and son Luke, 3. “Overall it was a more efficient use of the [lot] space to build up. It doesn’t have as big of a footprint on the land.”

Efficiency was the Strangs’ guiding principle when designing their home. They built a house for real life, not for show – that the two aren’t mutually exclusive is a happy outcome.

Change of Plans
Charity grew up in Durham and Jeff, who works as a sales manager at Intersil Corporation in RTP, has been here for 20 years, but for most of their lives the Strangs were unbiased in their design preferences. Then, they moved into a Deck House. “Do you know about Deck Houses?” Jeff asks, before saying excitedly, “Oh. Let me show you the brochure!” He pulls out a 1970s information booklet about the prefab model homes using natural materials. It turns out, the Triangle has one of the greatest concentrations of Deck Houses in the country. Having stumbled into living in one converted the Strangs to modernist architecture. They were – are – hooked.

Luke and Miriam smile in the kitchen during snack time. Photo by Briana Brough
Luke and Miriam smile in the kitchen during snack time. Photo by Briana Brough

When their family outgrew that house, Jeff and Charity decided to put the Deck House on the market in 2012. At the time, the real estate market was middling at best and the couple gured they had a while to get their ducks in a row before it sold. “It sold in three days,” Charity says ruefully. “There’s a big demand for modernist houses here. We were caught very much off guard.”

From a temporary rental home base, they embarked on a discouraging house search that ultimately led them to architecture firm BuildSense. “We didn’t plan to build, but we couldn’t find anything that we wanted,” Charity says. What they did find was a wooded plot of land in a neighborhood they liked, so they set out to employ the modernist principles they’d fallen in love with to make it work.

Photo by Briana Brough
Photo by Briana Brough

The plan was simple: Prioritize professional advice and efficient design to make building a new home on a budget completely feasible. “We went in and just talked to them about the kinds of space we wanted and didn’t want, and how we wanted those spaces to relate to each other. We were clear that we wanted every space in this house to be used on a daily basis.”

Sensible Design
The result: The Strang house is ingeniously practical. “We use every room in this house every day,” Charity says. And while many of their decisions were driven by budget, the couple have an inherent unfussy mindset. “It was budget, but it was also not wanting to build too big of a house,” Jeff says. “From a square foot perspective, take off 300 to 400 square feet for a dining room we don’t have, and probably a couple of other formal rooms. We have just over 3,000 square feet, but since we use all of it every day, I think it probably lives like a 4,000-square-foot house would. Plus we don’t have the guilt of walking past a dining room every day with stuff accumulating on the table.”

The light fixtures in the kitchen were salvaged from a renovation at the Strangs' church. Photo by Briana Brough
The light fixtures in the kitchen were salvaged from a renovation at the Strangs’ church. Photo by Briana Brough

The three-story floorplan is a classic open one, with clever design perks like a dumbwaiter between the ground-level garage and second-level kitchen (“If I’m not going to park on the same level as the kitchen, with two young kids and groceries, I need to have a dumbwaiter,” Charity says) and a laundry chute between the third-floor bedrooms and second-floor laundry room. Charity’s desk is tucked into a hallway off of the kitchen, with a solar tube piping in natural light. In the closet of Jeff’s home office is a Murphy bed so that the space becomes a guest room for visitors. A corner reading nook also serves as a daybed for extra guest sleeping, and linens are tucked into drawers beneath the niche.

Then there are the hidden features. “The ceiling is sound-dented,” Jeff says. “We can make actually a lot of noise downstairs and it doesn’t come up through the oor and the kids’ rooms. Same thing in the basement downstairs: Its walls and ceiling are all sound proofed. You can watch movies down there, turn up the volume, and not hear a thing up here.” They have geothermal heating and cooling, which is efficient as well as quiet.

Principles in Practice
Utility doesn’t come at the expense of home décor. Cut-outs in the stairwells quite literally create art out of empty space.Tons of windows make the surrounding landscapes feel like stunning paintings. “That’s the kind of stuff that architects come up with that you wouldn’t think about,” Jeff says.

The kitchen is in the middle of the house, so that Charity can always keep an eye on the kids. Photo by Briana Brough
The kitchen is in the middle of the house, so that Charity can always keep an eye on the kids. Photo by Briana Brough

Yet again, it suits the Strangs’ lifestyle, one that genuinely celebrates simplicity. “We ignored some of the popular ideas about how you should do things,” Charity says. When urged to include a tub in the master bath, for instance, they passed. “We’re not bath-takers,” she says. “We knew we wouldn’t use it and so we didn’t put it in. We really designed this house for ourselves to live in. That was our goal. We’re not trying to turn around and sell it and make a profit. We built it how we thought we would live – and so far, we have. We’re really happy with it.”

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Jessie Ammons
Jessie is a former Durham Mag editor-turned freelance culture writer based in Chapel Hill. She tends to structure her days around a morning cup of coffee and evening glass of wine.