The Combs family continuously adds on, both to their home and to their menagerie of pets
By Hannah Lee | Photography by John Michael Simpson
A brick home down Umstead Road, where the Eno River worms its way among hidden streets, camouflages itself behind monstrous oaks. A mailbox dangling under a galvanized metal rooster is the first indicator of life ahead. The long, U-shaped driveway leads to a bustling homestead complete with barking dogs, braying donkeys and crowing hens, blending together in a barnyard symphony. The animals nudge and dance around approaching guests, reminding them that, not even 15 minutes from downtown, a more rural life continues to ebb and flow.
Ericka Combs opens the house’s side door, letting the sounds of laughter and giggly screams escape. It fills the quiet air of an unusually sunny day in February. Her children – Kayla, 14, Hunter, 11, and Liam, 9 – just wrapped up the virtual school day with their Voyager Academy teachers, and are ready to finally take advantage of a warm, dry day. The 3,500-square-foot home is big enough for the kids to escape one another, if they choose, in its separate nooks, like the makeshift play area at the front of the house or the massive living room with floor-to-ceiling windows. But on this day, the view of the family’s backyard farm is more alluring. The 4-acre property set on rolling hills offered a special appeal that Ericka and her husband, Ken Combs, couldn’t resist. They bought the modern farmhouse in 2016 and have since added to their brood – think dogs, goats, pigs, ducks, chickens, donkeys, a rabbit and a turtle.
“With 50 animals, 25 employees, three kids, we stay busy,” says Ken, who co-owns and runs remodeling company CQC Home with Ericka. And on top of all that, there’s been a steady stream of home improvement projects that require the couple’s attention. They first asked their friends at Zarazua Painting to coat the home’s red brick exterior with an updated white-washed color. Then their pals at Triangle Landscape Supplies installed French drains, ripped out overgrown azalea bushes and brought in 15 yards worth of topsoil and new grass seed – all for the front yard. But Ericka and Ken complete their own home improvements, for the most part. “There’s always something we’re working on,” Ken says. “Right now we’re in the process of redoing our septic system, putting in a pool for the kids, finishing the attic. The second bathroom is currently being remodeled. We already remodeled the master bathroom last year. We did the kitchen two years ago. We love projects.”
Their penchant for fixing things goes beyond home renovations. They rescued most of their animals. Ken found their first chickens abandoned at a supply store; their dog, Zoe, was taken from a breeder’s home, infested with fleas. “I grew up in an orphanage,” Ken says, “and we didn’t have any pets. Ericka grew up in foster care. She has always liked animals, and the kids have always liked them, too.” It’s no surprise their family keeps on growing. Their home, and their hearts, were built for this.