They paced plywood subfloors and peered between wooden frames that would soon become rooms. They were each about to embark on a second marriage, and the Bills had decided to bring not one single furnishing from their previous lives, not even a toothbrush holder. Everything would be new – new house, new furniture, new start.
“You can start over and be happy,” Kim said, standing in her kitchen, coffee mug in hand. “You can actually start over, and it’s 100 times better.”
So when it came time to exchange vows, it only seemed right to say them in their own living room, in front of the fireplace they had picked out together. That was a year ago. The Bills will celebrate their first wedding anniversary on Jan. 27. Last January, the Bills moved in, got married, honeymooned, celebrated her daughter’s 16th birthday and even threw a small Super Bowl party.
“That was one crazy month,” Ray said.
But it had been more than a year in the making. The Bills broke ground in November 2006. Ray cleared the land himself, land that had been in his family for generations, tucked behind the Country Club North neighborhood. A sign at the entrance says McKinley Preserve, named in memory of Ray’s father, William McKinley Bill, though most folks knew him as Billy Bill. The family business in North Fayetteville still carries his name, Billy Bill Grading, and his four children continue to run the company. Ray is the youngest of three brothers and a sister. He comes from a close-knit family with deep roots in North Fayetteville. She’s a Fayetteville transplant with two teenage children. When they married, the Bills had an instant and extended family.
They needed a house to suit.
Right away, the tweaking began. The Bills had the basics: a two-story home with an open floor plan. They added a deck, a pool and a splurge: a home theater with stadium-style seats. They brought in designer Faye Riddle and gave her free rein with animal prints and rich, warm colors toned down with browns and blacks.
The effect is both comfortable and sometimes dramatic but never overdone. A leopard-print powder room cannot be taken too seriously, and the huge corduroy “pods” upstairs beg to be lounged upon. Ray picked out the peacock mosaic for the master bathroom with a mermaid to match on the bottom of the heated backyard pool. An outdoor kitchen makes entertaining easy.
It all looks effortless now, but the Bills were involved in every step, from the foundation to the finishing touches. Ray practically worked as his own contractor though he’s quick to credit Jeff Shaw of Ashbrook Building Group for his work as a building consultant.
You could even say that Ray knows this house inside out – a hazard of making your living installing utility pipes and preparing construction sites. Ray’s father opened Billy Bill Grading in 1953 with one bulldozer. Now, the company has dozens of employees and a whole fleet of heavy machinery with headquarters on McArthur Road. The Bill siblings work together and even live near each other. They have shared the joys of expanding the business their parents began and the sorrows. Ray’s nephew, Tyler, was killed in a car accident in 2007, just months after he finished high school and started work at the family business. His portrait hangs in Ray and Kim’s new home.
Kim likes to tease Ray that it’s been 50-plus years of Billy Bill Grading and still no sign out front. But the Bills don’t need one – everyone in North Fayetteville knows them. Both of Ray’s parents, Jewell and Billy McKinley Bill, are gone. But now there is a neighborhood that bears the family name.
It seems appropriate to put down roots in a place like that – a place for a fresh start.
A year ago, Ray and Kim Bill filled their living room with folding chairs and flowers. They were surrounded by close family and friends.
In some ways, this was a union between two opposites. He’s quiet and low-key; she’s a talkative and tanned blonde.
But by their wedding day, the newlyweds had already built a house together, combined two households and planned a wedding, enough to test the longest of marriages.
Now, Kim’s bridal portrait hangs in the foyer, across from the spiral staircase she used for her wedding procession. It’s a daily reminder of vows promised and a hope for happy endings.