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Living: Larry and Samantha Thomas create an outdoor oasis

By Courtney Phillips

Larry and Samantha Thomas know their move to McLauchlin Farms was “meant to be.”

Five years ago, Samantha was casually browsing an issue of Homes & Land with no intent to leave their comfortable home in Westgate, but her interest was piqued by the home featured on the cover. “I didn’t even know this place existed,” said Samantha of the secluded and picturesque lake community.

That very weekend, she and Larry went to investigate. To their delight, a contractor inadvertently left the home unlocked and they browsed the interior in unbiased solitude. They knew they were home.

A whirlwind of activity followed as they listed and sold their current home and closed on their new home in just a month.


 The two-story home, built by Lumbee Builders, is full of modern amenities one would expect of new construction – granite countertops, 21 ft. vaulted ceilings, and in some rooms, floor to ceiling windows that frame a view of the sparkling lake in their back yard. Exposed beams on the living room ceiling add rustic charm to the open floor plan. Family pictures cover the walls, most of which feature their daughter Lexi, a freshman at Carolina.

While Larry and Samantha are quick to say that they prefer to spend their free time outdoors, one of their favorite rooms in the home is the master suite. The luxurious neutral cream palette serves as a backdrop for the breathtaking, nearly panoramic lake view.

Upstairs, the home features a movie room, stocked with hundreds of DVDs and plush black leather seating. Guests can help themselves to a wide variety of novelties: fresh popcorn from a freestanding machine, boxed theatre candy or a treat from the fully-stocked bar.

Guest rooms are thematically decorated. Among them is, as Larry jokingly refers to it, the “Man Room.” Aptly named, the space is outfitted in camouflage fabric and features a vast array of taxidermy, including a stuffed white rabbit at the door.  The “Lilly Room” offers juxtaposition. Inspired by the characteristic brightly-colored botanical fabrics made famous by designer Lilly Pulitzer, the room is sunny and colorful.

A collection of model helicopters dangle from the ceiling in an upstairs nook near the butler’s pantry. Special memorabilia from Larry’s 23 years in the Army piloting Chinooks adorn the walls.

Now retired from the Army, Larry pilots the UNC Air Care helicopter that connects Cape Fear Valley Medical Center to UNC-Chapel Hill. The nature of Larry’s “seven on, seven off” schedule allows for predictable blocks of free time – which Larry uses to hand craft their outdoor oasis.


The showplace of the lawn is a stone-encircled in-ground swimming pool, complete with a fully-appointed kitchen cabana. Retaining walls and vegetation tier the gentle slope toward the lake, nestling the pool unobtrusively into its natural surroundings.


 Affordable Pools installed the pool, but Larry did everything else. In choosing the stone, materials, lighting scheme and accompanying features, the Thomases sought no input from outside sources. Samantha enjoys the process of seeking inspiration for their home improvements, and when she finds it, she simply hands a picture to Larry, who makes it a reality.

As a testament to their methodology, sturdy but whimsical red oak swings provide seating at the cabana – an idea Samantha found on Pinterest. 

 “If there’s a stone out here, I laid it,” said Larry as he walked across the pool deck highlighting areas that still need work and projects that were more challenging than anticipated.

The pool features fountains, an adjoining spillover spa and a swim-up tiki-straw umbrella table. 

Adjacent to the pool is a custom-built gas fire pit alight with smoldering auburn fire beads and encircled by a deep stone seating area to maximize warmth. “This was a challenge,” laughed Larry. “I had to learn to make a round wall out of rectangular bricks.”

At night, the pool and hot tub are illuminated by colored pool lights...and the stars. “This is why we moved here,” said Samantha, motioning around. “We wanted to be in the country, but not isolated.”

Animal Farm

Their quiet oasis is a perfect fit for the Thomases—and their menagerie of rescued animal family. Fittingly, Samantha is on the Fayetteville Animal Protection Society (FAPS) board of directors.

Overlooking the lake is a multi-level spacious deck, the most common promenade for friendly English bulldogs Maddie and Matrix. Maddie is a rescue from FAPS. Gizmo, a fluffy and affable Pomeranian, and Arthur (an orange rescue cat), peer out the window.

Six baby chicks peep in chorus from the porch and one call to the rescue Peking duck, “Sally!” reveals a figure gliding gracefully across the lake for a greeting. She is joined by Daisy, their pet Muscovy duck, and occasionally a mallard or two. Larry fashioned a feeder so that the ducks may come and go at will.

Their pier and covered dock is a great place to talk with the ducks, watch beavers and

otters, or catch bass. The relatively shallow 6-to-8-feet-deep water is best enjoyed by paddling out in their jon boat or a kayak from their slip.

No Vacancy

The Thomases work hard in their careers—Samantha is an attorney in Fayetteville—and in their spare time, in an attempt to combat the first year as “empty nesters,” they’ve added a new kind of nest. For the past two years, the side yard has been home to a cozy coop of hens and one terribly ornery rooster named Bobby. “I’m not going to let Bobby out. He will chase you,” laughed Larry.

Samantha nor Larry had chicken-raising know-how, but after reading a couple of magazines at Tractor Supply, they decided to give it a try. While it does require daily work, the principle is simple: keep the chickens happy and they will produce eggs. “A happy chicken is like a happy wife. A happy wife is a happy life,” laughed Larry.

Accordingly, each day, the pampered hens lay multicolored eggs.

“Here comes a fun part of the day,” said Larry, lifting the hatch of the nest boxes to reveal eggs in almost magical pastel hues of blue, pink and beige.

Winter Warm-up

A Bunyanesque wood pile looms near the coop – the silver lining of last year’s devastating Hurricane Matthew. They lost seven trees and were without electricity for five days.

The wood stokes a large heater nearby, which to the novice, looks like a novelty meant to keep Larry warm during outdoor winter projects.

In reality, it is a solution to one of the only unpleasant features of the home – its high cost of heating. After paying several exorbitant bills, Larry, a native of Minnesota, sought a Midwestern solution—the Woodmaster, an outdoor furnace powerful enough to warm their home to a balmy 78 degrees and water supply to 160 degrees.

While it heats for less than half the price they were paying, elbow grease is required. Each winter morning and evening, Larry fills the furnace. He pointed to a significant stack of wood, most of which was collected post-Hurricane Matthew, some pieces, cross-sections of trees three feet wide. “That’s about 4,000 pieces of wood,” he said, noting it would last them for quite some time.

                Whether it’s swimming in their one-of-a-kind pool, looking out over the lake or keeping company with their friendly trove of animals, Samantha and Larry love their outdoor living. The oasis they’ve created is one to enjoy year-round, as it should be. What better value is there than the luxury of finding a life well-lived?