Couple Feels at Home in Duke Forest After Several Restoration Projects

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Veteran renovators Keith Flynn and Adrian Brown tackle projects in their forever home

By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson

Serial renovators Adrian Brown and Keith Flynn are not afraid to tackle a big project. The couple have revived homes all around Durham over the past several years, including a 1910 Victorian in Cleveland-Holloway, a 1940s cottage in Morehead Hill and a 1950s ranch in Forest Hills, and fell in love with each community along the way. “We feel like we’ve lived in every neighborhood,” Keith says. “Some of them twice.”

duke forest dining room
The dining room’s abstract art collection includes a work by Edith London, who studied under Picasso. “She was born in Berlin, too, so it’s a cool connection,” says Adrian, who was also born in Berlin.

That’s how Adrian, co-owner of Inhabit Real Estate, and Keith, assistant principal at Burton Magnet Elementary, initially experienced Duke Forest. “We first moved here in 2012 and renovated a home that we almost passed on,” Adrian says. “We saw it at least seven times, and every time I was like, ‘No, we can’t.’ We finally bought it and commenced doing all kinds of work, and ended up staying there for five years.”

adrian duke forest
You’ll often find Adrian responding to his emails from this cozy nook in the kitchen. (The Bright Black candle adds to the ambiance!)

“That was a great house,” Keith adds. “We loved how established the neighborhood felt. The houses have been here for a while, and you can see how things have grown and evolved over time with all the different styles of homes, many of which were built by Duke University professors.” The spouses also enjoyed the neighborhood’s proximity to entertainment, restaurants and medical offices, as well as being a few blocks from the Duke Forest trails. “It’s a great walking neighborhood, and the trails are a wonderful feature,” Keith says.

Adrian’s dad was in the military, so he’s no stranger to constantly changing surroundings. “We moved a lot when I was growing up, which is probably part of why I’ve done it so much as an adult,” he says. “It’s in my blood not to stay in one place too long. I was born in Berlin, and we lived in New England, the South Pacific and Hawaii. I eventually ended up in Atlanta, then here.”

But the couple says their current home is their last. They purchased the 1969 Cape Cod in 2019, and have renovated it in phases ever since. “We feel like we finally found something that’s the perfect size, location and neighborhood for us,” Keith says.

duke forest friends
Friends Corey J. Savage and Erica Starke-Knight catch up with Keith in the dining room.

“We saw past the blue shag carpeting, dark wood paneling, all these traditional finishes, because the bones were amazing,” Adrian says. It had office space for both Keith and Adrian, a guest room and spacious entertaining areas – they just needed a little refining.

“Cape Cods are traditionally very closed off when it comes to floor plans,” Adrian explains. To help modernize the home, they first opened things up by removing the many doors separating the corridors, living and kitchen areas, and then widened doorways wherever possible to visually connect each space.

duke forest polaroids
Adrian takes Polaroid photos of Erica Starke-Knight and Shana Tucker. Keith and Adrian place the pictures on table settings for seating arrangements at parties.

The pair also added hardwood floors throughout the main level, replaced the staircase handrail and updated some doors and hardware to give a more consistent feel from room to room. Swapping out the traditional heavy draperies for softer blinds and removing a few trees outside brightened the home with more natural light, adding to the open feel.

duke forest Keith
Keith loves to cook and bake, and spends much of his time at this prep station, which was converted from the home’s original kitchen pantry.

Next, Adrian and Keith enlisted the help of interior designer Magan Toth of Finch & Form Interiors (formerly Nested Interiors) to establish the home’s aesthetic direction. “Magan intuitively knew what to select for us – we wanted a third eye on our choices and gave her a lot of freedom, and she just nailed it, like with the hand-painted accent wall in the powder room,” Keith says. “There were a couple of times we even let her surprise us, like with some shelves salvaged from an old courthouse in Yadkinville, [North Carolina]. She just got us.”

Keith, who loves to bake, was excited to convert the home’s tiny kitchen pantry into his prep station. It now houses his equipment, pans and cookbooks, as well as counter space with a fun accent: an exposed copper pipe running up to the second floor. “Most pipes are PVC today, so it feels like this luxe industrial touch and also such a nod to the time the house was built,” Keith says.

His favorite feature in the kitchen came recommended by a unique source. “We were building a house before this, and I wanted a nice, professional range but didn’t know who to contact,” Keith explains. “I thought, ‘Who out there might know whose opinion I can trust?’” Keith rolled the dice and messaged Martha Stewart Living’s food editor, Sarah Carey, on Instagram. “To my surprise, she replied with a rave review of the BlueStar range, and I was able to source one through Kitchen & Bath Galleries in Chapel Hill,” Keith says. “I loved it so much that I made sure we had one in this home, and I will never be without one.”

duke forest pizza dinner
Christel, Corey, Keith, Adrian, Erica and Shana enjoy an alfresco meal from Golden Pizza & Subs.

Their next big project? Converting the spacious backyard workshop into a studio apartment for Adrian’s mom, Christel Bowen. “The previous owner was a big tinkerer and had all kinds of tools, so thankfully electrical lines were already run to the building. It’s perfect for her, and it will be great to have her close by,” Adrian says.

When they’re not taking a walk with their pup, Pippa, the spouses enjoy hosting dinner parties. “I love making connections among our friends and neighbors,” Adrian says. “I call them blind friend dates.” The creative duo also loves exploring Durham together.

“I grew up in a smaller town in eastern North Carolina, so I like that Durham feels like a small town in a way, but it really is a good-sized city,” Keith says. “It’s a great balance of being able to know and build community with your neighbors, but also have so much to do nearby.”

duke forest desk space
The couple converted this closet in the guest room into a desk space.

Adrian and Keith often enjoy a meal at Bar Virgile or NanaSteak before attending a show at the Durham Performing Arts Center. They also refer friends and real estate clients alike to Corpse Reviver Bar & Lounge for drinks (“They have the best gin and tonic in the world,” Keith says), Taqueria La Vaquita and the Birrieria Toro Rojo food truck for tacos, and Picnic for classic Southern fare.

“Right now, we are really excited about how the Golden Belt district is coming along,” Adrian says. “We recently checked out [Neapolitan-style pizza restaurant] Cugino Forno and just had the best time sitting outside and looking out over the lawn. We couldn’t believe we were in downtown Durham. We feel so lucky we get to enjoy this city as it grows.”

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Morgan Weston

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