Laura and Chad Quinn had all but given up on buying a home. A yearlong search for the right fit led the couple to an eight-month-long journey of trying to build instead, but that wasn’t in the cards, either. “[Building] was over our budget,” says Chad, the director of planning and design at In2it Studio, a landscape architecture firm. “I was disappointed because it’d always been my dream to build.” So, the couple renewed the lease on their apartment in Chapel Hill, where Laura had recently graduated from business school at UNC.
Not a week later, that all changed.
“I had been tracking everything that was coming on the market in these neighborhoods, and then this came on the market,” Laura, who grew up down the street in Forest Hills, says of the Rockwood home. “So I reached out to the broker [and] we had just agreed we were going to wait, but I came and saw the house and loved it.
“What drew me were the open spaces,” she says. “You had big rooms, big closets, big enough bathrooms, and I thought that this could be a space that Chad could do something incredible with.”
Laura’s enthusiasm for the house, combined with the fact that there were another six offers the day it went on the market, meant the Quinns needed to act fast. But Chad was playing in a golf tournament that day, and Laura’s multitude of calls went to voicemail.
“It ends up he was golfing with the boss of the broker I’d reached out to,” Laura says. “So the boss said to Chad, ‘I think your wife is buying a house today; you might want to answer your phone.’”
The four all met at the house that same evening, “and the next day we had it under contract [for $317,000],” Chad says.
“Literally the day we moved in, we put a hole in that wall,” Chad says, pointing towards the kitchen. Originally, there was a dividing wall between the kitchen and a sitting room. But the sizes were awkward – the sitting room felt oddly large, and the kitchen, though a good size, still seemed to lack the space a proper chef ’s kitchen needs. “The first day I walked in,” Chad explains, “I remember it like it was yesterday: turning that corner, seeing that wall, seeing this dimension and then seeing that dimension, and knowing that they just had to flip.”
So Chad went to work. He began by putting the room into AutoCAD, a program he uses every day as a landscape architect, and laid out a more intimate sitting room and a new open concept kitchen with not one, but two islands – one dedicated to cooking and one purely for social interactions. Chad was meticulous – measuring distances between imaginary countertops, figuring out where the new cabinets (all the old ones were donated to TROSA and Habitat for Humanity) and appliances would go, and planning for how the space would function.
“I created a little vision board,” Chad says. “I knew all the colors, I knew all the textures, I knew everything that was going to go into it, I had done all the space planning, but then you’re sitting in here and it’s blank, and you still go, ‘I know it all fits, I know it’s all going to look good, but how is it going to feel at the end of the day?’”
The sitting room kept its original hardwood floors, but the walls and built- in shelving got a fresh coat of paint, and some new furniture was added. But the kitchen is the star of this redesign. “The materials are all super simple, but very functional,” Chad says, “and at the end of the day, were all cost driven. I tried to do a high-end visual look, but if you knew what I paid for some of those materials, you’d be quite surprised.”
Stainless steel open shelving is set against white subway tile, which is wrapped around the rest of the kitchen. “It’s a timeless, classic design that will never go out of style,” Chad says. “It just made sense to wrap it – it was an organic idea, but it turned out perfect.”
“And it’s so easy to clean,” Laura adds.
For the floors, Chad chose a tile that looks like barn-grade wood in gray tones that paired well with the rest of the color scheme. He cut the 48-inch plank in half and laid it out in a herringbone pattern. The granite slabs from Raleigh’s Atlantic Countertops have a leathered finish that is both attractive and practical. “I wanted to do the texture because it looked cool,” Chad says. “Functionally, it’s amazing – no dust, no fingerprints, not like any other typical granite. I’d recommend that finish all day long.”
Then there were the cabinets – all 43 of them, which arrived disassembled from Ikea in more than 400 separate boxes.
“When they were unloading, I think that was the one time [Chad] said, ‘I think we made a mistake,’” Laura says.
“The cabinets were daunting to say the least,” says Chad, who had to carry all those parts up from the garage, match each of the 8 to 15 boxes with which cabinet they belonged to, and then build each one. “But from a cost and quality perspective, worth every penny.”
Another plus: Since the Quinns went straight into renovations after moving in, they didn’t have to unpack a single kitchen box. “I don’t even know if we got two plates out – we just used plastic,” Laura says. “Of course, we have Nanataco and Thai Café down the street. We couldn’t have been in a better area to be getting takeout for an extended amount of time.”
The rest of the 2,400-square-foot house, which was built in 1980, also received a makeover – each room received a fresh coat of paint apart from the living room, the lighting was changed out (as were the window fixtures) and new furniture went in here and there. The bathrooms were renovated as well: Granite leftover from the former kitchen went to the master bath, and a spare slab of marble found a home in the guest bath. “After the kitchen, the bathrooms were a breeze,” Laura says.
Another important space for the Quinns was the home office – both work from home, and so the layout needed to be well thought out in terms of each of their needs – Chad needed a light table for drawing as well as a desk for his computers, and Laura required a space to store important documents for her real estate investment firm, Quinn Partners. “When we moved in,” Laura explains, “we’d been married for a year. How do you create a space – where you both can be most of the day – in a room that’s not gigantic?”
Ultimately, the goal was to create spaces that were truly comfortable.
Chad spent a good amount of time configuring the furniture, and they utilized the double closets in the space for storage. “I feel really comfortable in there to the point where I don’t mind spending eight hours in that room and never come out,” Chad says.
Laura, meanwhile, tends to float around the house. “I think it’s because of the way [Chad] set it up, I always feel like there’s a different room to go in,” Laura says. “I can work in the sitting room, I can work in the office, I can work at the table, I can work in the bedroom.”
If there are groceries in the fridge, sometimes multiple days will go by that neither leaves the house except to walk their golden doodle, Athens. “How lucky to be in a space where we literally can be here for three days straight and never feel like, ‘Oh God, I need to get out,’” Laura says.
‘Where the Heart Is’
“The biggest win of this whole project is how these spaces feel when people sit in them,” Chad says. “Ultimately, the goal was to create spaces that were truly comfortable.”
Understandably, he is most proud of the new layout in the kitchen and sitting room, which saw the biggest changes and the most planning. “People say the kitchen is where the heart is in the house, it’s the most important room,” Chad says. “And it’s turned out like that. That second island is where everyone congregates – typically because there’s lots of food and wine sitting there for them to enjoy.”
And at the end of the day, Chad says there is nothing that they would have done differently.
“It worked out,” Chad says. “It’s odd how it worked out, but it worked out quite well.”
“We just love our house,” Laura adds. “It’s perfect for us.”
Photography by Briana Brough