This nearly 100-year-old Craftsman beckoned John Burns and Rodney Carvalho from the West Coast
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson
It was love at first sight,” John Burns says, describing when he met Rodney Carvalho in San Francisco in 2001. But he could just as easily be talking about the couple’s first impressions of their home in Cleveland-Holloway.
“This house is what brought us to Durham in 2018,” Rodney says. “I loved [it] so much and said, ‘If I could live in this house, I’d move there tomorrow.’”
The pair had lived in big cities like Boston and San Francisco for about 18 years, but had lifelong friends in the Triangle – many of whom John met while attending UNC for his graduate degree in anthropology.
“I had made a lot of good friends here and through the years since, and people either stayed here after school or had moved back to the area to raise their families,” John says. “It’s always been a really desirable place to live, and I’ve held it in the back of my head.”
Rodney is connected to North Carolina as well; raised in a military family, his dad was based in Fayetteville for a number of years when Rodney was a child. “I never thought I’d be back here, but actually have a number of relatives and cousins in North Carolina,” Rodney says. “[It’s] been cool to reconnect with them.
“We visited Durham regularly for holidays over the years and were really impressed by the changes that were happening between each visit,” he adds.
After years as renters, the couple was ready to invest in a home they could call their own. “We were being outbid left and right in California,” John says. “We weren’t sure what to do, and after a certain point, we weren’t even excited about living there anymore.”
Ready for a new chapter, the husbands sent Terra Nova Global Properties Realtor Ed Billings to scope out this house and street for them. “Ed told us it was super cute and that we would love it, and he was absolutely right,” Rodney says. “He said it had been taken off the market, but a few hours later, we learned the former owners were open to an offer.” The next day, Rodney and John learned their offer was accepted – they would be moving to Durham. “It was a little crazy, but we are so happy here,” Rodney says.
“It has been everything we hoped for and then some,” John says. He and Rodney barely had to undertake any projects in the 1924 Craftsman, thanks to the care of previous owners. The pair added a few cosmetic and functional touches, like a mudroom bench at the back entrance, as well as a kitchen backsplash, lighting and fresh paint throughout, but otherwise found it move-in ready. “It’s a beautiful home,” John says, “we knew that coming in, but after living in big cities like we have, we’ve never had this much space before.”
The couple, for instance, shared their first 10 years together in a 550-square-foot home in San Francisco. “We’ve always either had neighbors on all sides of us, or little quirks to get used to,” Rodney says. “Having a single-family home is a new experience for us, but it’s one we’ve grown into.”
They’ve carved out room in the house for their work and hobbies, too, like a fabric divider in their bedroom to provide a quiet meditation area for Rodney. They even have space for a baby grand piano in the living area. “I’ve always wanted one, but we never had room,” Rodney says. “This space almost called out for it, to be honest,” John adds. “When we put the rooms together, we said, ‘What’s going to go there?’ And now we can’t imagine not having it.”
John and Rodney especially enjoy entertaining, cooking meals in the home’s large kitchen, where the upcycled wood island anchors the space and provides a natural gathering spot; or watching movies in the sizable entertainment room. They’ve also befriended neighbors, another new experience. “We’re friends with people nearby, and we have one another over for dinners or drinks,” Rodney says. “We knew our neighbors in Boston, but it wasn’t the same,” John adds.
“The location is great and so is the neighborhood,” Rodney says. “I like the feel of it, the energy. A lot of people are moving here, so it feels really vibrant.” In the nearly five years they’ve been here, the pair has already observed a shift. “We used to recognize everyone, and now all of a sudden it’s growing so fast,” Rodney says. “It feels like we’re living through a reboot of the city,” John adds.
The home’s proximity to downtown’s ever-expanding food and culture scene was a large part of its appeal. “We can walk to shows at DPAC and games at the Durham Bulls Athletic Park,” Rodney says. “We like to see classical music performances, and Duke University has a lot of great opportunities for that.”
Rodney, an engineering manager for food delivery company Goldbelly, travels to New York City regularly for work. While he enjoys the hustle and bustle, he says one of his favorite parts of those trips is coming home. “You can relax here,” he says. “It’s literally a breath of fresh air.”
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