Sheila O’Rourke added some of her own global influences to this century-old Spanish Revival home in Duke Park and created a welcoming space for her family of four
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson
“I feel lucky to have spent my 20s in San Francisco, my 30s in New York City and my 40s in Durham,” says interior designer Sheila O’Rourke. She befriended a group of Duke University alumnae when she lived in California and was, by extension, introduced to the charm of Durham. “We started going on vacations together, and as we got to know one another, I was invited to baby showers and other life events here in North Carolina,” she says. “The first time I visited, I remember thinking that I could live here.”
A creative at heart with a background in software design management, Sheila fell in love with the historic architecture, friendly people and college town vibe that welcomed her during those visits; so much so that years later, when her young family was living in Montclair, New Jersey, and ready to make a change, Durham immediately came to mind. “I had friends here, and knew there would be good jobs and great schools,” she says. Daughter Josephine Lines, now 15, and twin sons Henry Lines and Oliver Lines, now 14, were just old enough for the family to begin looking at elementary schools at the time.
“Josephine got into Central Park School for Children, and I wanted to be within walking distance, so I began browsing Zillow,” Sheila explains. “At the time, they had a ‘Make Me Move’ feature, so I tried it out on this beautiful house on Mangum Street.” With the help of Courtney James at Urban Durham Realty, the family was able to negotiate with the previous owner without the home ever going on the market, and moved in in 2011.
The home was built in the 1920s and is one of only two Spanish Revival-style homes in Duke Park. “From the outside it looks like it belongs in Miami or San Diego, but on the inside it’s much more traditional,” Sheila says.
Her background in problem solving quickly came in handy. “The home had only two bedrooms when we bought it, so right away we split one of the rooms in half,” Sheila says. “Thankfully, they were huge.”
After that first project, Sheila focused on raising her young kids and made small updates to the house as she had time. But after a couple of years, once all of her children were in school, Sheila decided to embrace her creative side and go back to school, too. “I was excited to find out about UNC-Greensboro’s interior architecture [master’s] program,” she says. “It took me three-and-a-half years to get the degree, but two years in, I started working with HGTV’s ‘Love It or List It.’ After four seasons, last September, I decided to go out on my own and founded Little Mangum Studio.”
Unafraid to walk her own path, Sheila’s design philosophy combines her practical knowledge of math, architecture and engineering with her natural instincts. “When I’m talking to a client, I’m listening carefully for connections between their tone of voice and what is working or not working in their home,” she explains. “Whether a project is for an individual, couple or family, my goal is to find the best solution for all of them that makes them feel truly happy in their space.”
Equally comfortable reading a blueprint or firing up a sewing machine, Sheila’s own home is a love letter to her favorite people, places and things. “My home is personal and absolutely a canvas or lab for me,” she says. “I’m not the best editor; I have so many photos, fabrics, layers and textures.”
A chandelier from her parents’ home in New Jersey brings an understated glamour to the living room, while an antique French stove from Leland Little Auctions in Hillsborough creates a focal point in the fireplace, and Sheila’s grandfather’s fiddle rests beneath a painting of musicians she purchased in Vietnam.
In the dining room, paintings by her cousin Bridget O’Rourke hang in conversation with finds from The Scrap Exchange. “I’ve always had a love for original art, whether it’s a $2 find at a thrift store, $400 at an antique store or something I found on the side of the road for free. If you love something, it all fits together.”
The mix of family heirlooms and newer finds continues in the kitchen, where visitors are warmly greeted by vintage signs and a bright blue piece of Sheila’s grandmother’s china. The original cabinets are painted a soft French gray and topped with granite counters, but the centerpiece is a 9-foot soapstone island where friends and family love to gather. “I come from a very large Irish Catholic family where everyone always had people over,” Sheila says, “so I love to entertain, and I designed the house for people to enjoy.”
The single-story home underwent additions in the 1950s and 1970s, but Sheila saw even more potential in its layout. “It’s built on a hill, so it made sense to create a basement space,” she says. That project, which was completed about three years ago, now includes both of the boys’ bedrooms, an office, a rec room and a short-term rental space.
“The kids spend a lot of time in the kitchen and the rec room, and I always let them have their friends over,” Sheila says. “They’re teenagers, so of course they’re messy and loud, but being able to see them in their element as they come in to hang out or bake brownies, it’s lovely.”
The joyful kitchen extends into a sitting room, where a hutch Sheila salvaged in Brooklyn blends seamlessly with existing storage cabinets. A traditional Indian bed, bathed in sunlight and deeply layered with pillows, is Sheila’s favorite place to sit in the house.
When she isn’t hanging with her kids or dreaming up her next design project, Sheila enjoys getting together with friends to walk along the Eno River or on the Al Buehler Trail, or spending time with other families at YMCA swim meets. “My house is never perfect, and I always have some work in progress, but that’s part of the journey.”