The Evolution of Style

With the help of designer Michelle Murphy, one Cary family finally discovers where their design heart truly lies.

CARRIE AND EUGENE LEE NEVER FANCIED THEMSELVES as lovers of modern design. But as they neared the end of a third renovation on their traditional home in northwest Cary, the couple realized that no amount of renovation could ever create the kind of home they really wanted. “We bought the home in 2007 and, at that time, we really didn’t know what our style was or what we were drawn to,” Carrie says. “All we knew was that we wanted a kid-friendly neighborhood, good schools, and a tree-lined street. The architectural design was more of an afterthought.”

The third renovation would be the final renovation, however, as the couple purchased a lot just ten minutes away and began the process of building their dream home from the ground up. Having worked with designer Michelle Murphy of Demi Ryan on all of the renovations and interiors of their previous home, the Lees implicitly trusted Murphy with heading up the design for their new house. “That deep relationship we formed with Michelle during the renovation process made her a natural choice,” Carrie says. “Michelle knew us and what we were trying to achieve; she knew we wanted to explore a more modern style.”

While their former house featured traditional architectural details like arched walkways and ornate crown molding and trim, this home would skew more modern with clean, simple architecture and interiors. To create a home with a seamless, open floor plan, modern architecture and details, and above all—a retreat feel— the couple enlisted Murphy Garnow Design Group and Poythress Construction Company. “Our life feels chaotic with two kids, two dogs, two jobs as physicians; and we just wanted our home to be simple but interesting,” Carrie explains. “Michelle made the interiors interesting and elegant within the palette of black, white, and gold, while staying away from other bold colors and patterns that might contribute to the noise and chaos we were trying to avoid.” “It was soft modern–transitional for them,” says Murphy of the home’s design scheme. “The color palette gave them the modern look they really wanted, but we realized early on that Carrie actually wanted transitional when it came to the furnishings.” To appease her, Murphy incorporated the reclaimed wood beams in the living room, which provided a more rustic feel. “I think
in Carrie’s mind her ‘soft modern’ was actually more modern farmhouse.”

Murphy began her design for the home with simple but elegant white oak, which she used for the flooring, custom cabinetry, and accents throughout. “The white oak floating shelves, for example, were added to help brighten the kitchen,” the designer says. While her clients were on board with a more modern aesthetic, some cajoling was needed along the way to push them outside of their pre-dated traditional comfort zones. Such was the case in the adjacent living room, where Murphy suggested bold graphic wallpaper in black-and-white inkblot by Porter Teleo on either side of the hearth. “When I pulled out the wallpaper and showed them where I wanted to put it, they were a teeny bit hesitant, but then understood that that design element is what really makes that room come alive.”

The Lees also understood that Murphy knew them well enough to know exactly what they wanted and how to apply that aesthetic in a way that brought them joy. “Our first project for their previous home was all about getting to know one another, learning their idiosyncrasies,” Murphy says. “I like to find layers behind my clients and really tease out what they’re drawn to and love. I like to incorporate little homages to my clients in their homes.” In the small home office in the kitchen, Murphy added whimsical wallpaper by Beware the Moon featuring black-and-white sketches of an ostrich with its head in the ground. “Carrie and Eugene are just so fun, so something playful like this wallpaper was such a great fit for them.”

Although at the outset the Lees weren’t exactly sure how to achieve a more modern aesthetic in their new home, they trusted Murphy to do the job. “Michelle really took my need for function and just made it more beautiful,” Carrie says. “There’s not a thing we would change about the design of the home. Even over a year later, there’s nothing we would change. Michelle completely understood what we wanted and brought it to life for us.”