These homeowners turned to a familiar design team to complete their dream house in the woods
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson
“This is actually our second major renovation, but it was definitely an experience all its own,” Christina Del Gaizo says. She and husband Andrew Del Gaizo’s previous home in Garrett Farms was featured on HGTV’s “Love It or List It” in 2018, and the show’s crew handled the entire process from start to finish. Spoiler alert: They decided to “love it,” but realized a year later that their true dream home might still be out there.
“We spent years looking and always felt like we would have to compromise on something,” Christina says. The couple originally considered building their own dream home, but “even if we were going to build from scratch, nothing quite worked for us,” she says. “While we were house hunting, we met with some builders about custom or semi-custom homes, and it was just a balance of finding the perfect property.”
Their search was rewarded in 2020 when they came across their current house off of Friends School Road. “When we found this house, it checked our major boxes and had a spiral staircase that we really loved and other features like that that we might not have thought of,” Christina says. “We had gotten to the point where we did not think that what we wanted existed in this area, but we feel so lucky to have found it.”
Built in 2002, the 6,500-square-foot home had everything they were looking for: 17 acres of woods, a beautiful hillside view and plenty of room for their family, which includes son Jackson, 12, daughter Olivia, 10, dog Luna and cats Earl and Pepper. “We wanted more land and space but to keep the kids at Durham Academy, so this was perfect,” Andrew says.
The only challenge? The home felt too dated and dark for their lifestyle. So, the Del Gaizos brought in their dream team – Behind the Scenes Design, helmed by designer Jenny Mahorney and contractor Jason Byrd, who worked on their last home, too. “We were lucky to renovate in phases and start before we even moved in,” Christina says. “We bought the house, and demolition began literally the day after our closing.” First, the floors were refinished, and the owner’s bathroom fully renovated. “We lived in the house for the rest of the renovations, so the whole thing from start to finish took about 16 months.”
The Del Gaizos were involved in every step of the process. “For us, it made all the difference to work with a builder with a designer on their team,” Christina says. “There are so many decisions to make where the aesthetics and functionality need to mesh, from lighting placement to the size of drawer handles, so I’d advise anyone working on a renovation to also work with a good designer.” She says it also helps to really get to know your project manager and general contractor. “It’s crucial to have a good relationship and ensure they understand your expectations,” Christina says.
MAKE A SPLASH
They then turned their attention to the outdoors, where they enlisted landscape designer Samantha Dawn to help them plan for a pool, basketball court and fire pit. “The backyard is on a slope, so to build the pool into the terrain, we had to consider the physical and aesthetic components carefully to ensure it came out just right,” Andrew says. “Samantha did a 3D rendering so we could see what everything would look like before the first tree was cut.” Youngsville-based Aquatic Artists Inc. then installed the pool.
BY THE NUMBERS
6,500 square feet
2002 year built
2020 year bought
2020 renovations began
2021 renovations completed
16 total months renovating
The home didn’t require any major structural changes, but the Del Gaizos did decide to add more windows and a unique fireplace to maximize the views of their property near the western edge of Duke Forest. “We wanted to make sure we could see the pool from inside, so we opened up the family room and cut a masonry hole, so you can actually see from the family room right through the glass fireplace to the pool,” Andrew explains. The fireplace was installed by HomeFlame (formerly The Grilling Store).
“We can’t think of anything else we would do differently,” Andrew says. “Everyone we worked with felt like part of a big team, and we couldn’t be happier with the result.”
The entire family adjusted quickly to life in the forest. “We never lived in an area where the kids could just go outside and explore, so when we moved in, they were hesitant to even go into the woods,” Christina says. “Now they run out there and build forts and play in the stream like they’ve been doing it their whole lives.”
Jackson and Olivia also spend a lot of time in the pool and making s’mores by the fire pit in the summer, and the family walks to Frog Pond Farm and Duke Campus Farm for fresh produce. “We never saw stars at night anywhere else we lived, but here, you feel like you’re in a planetarium,” Andrew says.
IT’S ALL FUN AND GAMES
During the school year, Olivia plays field hockey with the TarDevils, and Jackson practices fencing at Forge Fencing. “Every Thursday when we drop the kids off for diving at Duke Diving Club, we have a date night,” Christina says. “We like happy hour at Washington Duke Inn & Golf Club’s Bull Durham Bar, Guglhupf and Cucciolo Osteria. We also love the empanadas from Kokí (formerly Spanglish) and Boricua Soul, and arepas from Guasaca.
“The kids love [Guasaca], too, but their current favorite place is Rockin’ Rolls Sushi,” Andrew adds. Jackson and Olivia also often invite friends over to hang out in the spacious movie room above the garage, or to play Ping-Pong and arcade games. “This has been incredible for us, to be able to host big groups of friends and family,” Andrew says. “We had 40 or 50 people here for the Super Bowl, and it didn’t feel tight at all. We love how open it is and how much space we have.”
WILD AND WONDERFUL
The family has also gotten to know their new neighbors – among them, coyotes, bats and even a wild turkey. “We really never have issues with mosquitoes, which I think is a sign that nature is working the way it should,” Christina says. “We have a very mature ecosystem here.” And, even though they no longer live in a traditional neighborhood, the Del Gaizos have maintained strong friendships and feel just as connected as they did at their last home. “We’ve met some great people here, and with the friendships we’ve built, even living a little further out, we still have a close community within Durham.”