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Renovating a Byrd house


By Catherine Pritchard

Amy and Dave Smith were having a beer at a Haymount bar one Sunday afternoon when they started talking about how nice it would be to live in the area.

The couple picked up their phones and scrolled through property listings. They saw a house they liked and began calling real estate agents. One, Jennifer Lockart, said she’d meet them at the house in 10 minutes.

A few weeks later, in the early spring of 2016, the Smiths left their 9-year-old home in Hope Mills for the 76-year-old home they’d found in Haymount.

Their 2300-square-foot Hope Mills home had been open, airy and modern but both it and the neighborhood felt a little cookie-cutter to the Smiths, who are Air Force service members stationed at Fort Bragg.

“We wanted something with a little more character,” Dave said.

The couple loved historic Haymount, with its bohemian jumble of styles, its neighborhood feel, its cozy business district and its proximity to downtown, where they already spent a lot of their free time.

And they loved their new house, especially its possibilities.

The 2000-square-foot wood-frame home had plenty to recommend it, including three bedrooms, all upstairs, a large family room that had been added to the rear of the house, two fireplaces, a basement, a carport, a raised brick terrace, a detached garage and workshop and a big yard, as well as its Haymount location.

It also had an interesting tie to local history having been the longtime home of the late F.D. Byrd Jr., who headed the Cumberland County schools for 27 years. Douglas Byrd Middle School and Douglas Byrd High School are named for him.

But the house also came with some of the less desirable traits of older Haymount homes, including small closed-off spaces on the first floor and outdated fixtures and décor, including brown carpeting on most of the floors, brick-patterned linoleum in the kitchen and pink textured wallpaper.

“We could just kind of see there was something here for us,” Dave said.

He and Amy envisioned a very different living space – with fewer walls, a bright new kitchen, gleaming wood floors and other updates. They figured they could do much of the work themselves.

“We watch HGTV,” Amy said, then laughed.

They rolled up their sleeves.

First, they pulled up the carpet – all of it. There was a mountain. Fortunately, hardwood oak flooring lay beneath and was in good condition, needing refinishing only.

Then Dave tackled the upstairs bathroom.

“I left for a weekend Adele concert and he was, like, ‘I’ll have it all done by the time you get back,’” Amy recalled. “A month and a half later…” She laughed again.

He gutted that bathroom – flooring, wall tiles, tub, toilet, sink, everything. Inconveniently, it was the only full bathroom in the house. Mercifully, a dear friend lives nearby and the Smiths showered there while Dave installed hexagon tiling on the floor, beveled white subway tile on the walls, a large glassed-in shower and a concrete slanted sink on a wooden stand.

Much had been done but much more remained. Dave figured he could probably do most of it on his own – over several years. He and Amy decided they didn’t want to wait that long.

“Sometimes it’s just worth it to have someone do it quick,” he said. “We just wanted to be done with it.”

The Smiths hired Ben Stout Construction and the overhaul of the first floor began. The living room and dining room were gutted and the wall between them removed, as was much of the wall that had separated those rooms from the front hallway. Wiring was updated and rerouted, and the hookups for the stackable washer and dryer were moved from a narrow area between the kitchen and the family room to a nook off the rear of the main hallway where their noise would be muffled.

Workers then began remaking the space.

Dave and Amy kept living in the house through it all, along with their dog Cocoa and cats Cowboy and Chap. Mostly, they kept to the upstairs area.

“Looking back on it, we probably should have done a lot more before we moved in,” he said.

Instead, they lived with some part of the house or another under construction by either themselves or professionals for about a year.

Finally, it was done. And the Smiths? “We love it,” Amy said.

The house looks the same as ever on the outside. But on the inside, it has been transformed into a bright, airy, modern space, with oak flooring, cheerful painted walls and plenty of lighting and artful touches.

The front hallway, dining room and kitchen, once partitioned from each other, are now a single open and inviting space, with oak flooring, sky blue walls with white trim and lots of light from the windows, recessed ceiling lights and pendant lights with vintage Edison bulbs in both the dining area and the kitchen.

Light also pours onto the speckled gray granite countertops from beneath sleek white cabinets and from the glass-fronted upper sections of those cabinets, where sparkling glassware and china are on display. A white subway tile backsplash and stainless steel appliances complement the look. Amy said the blue paint color helped govern the other color choices for this part of the house.

“We had this blue in a room in our last house,” she said. “It’s a good-looking color.”

She used Google to look for other shades that would go well with it.

Some of the kitchen’s other particular features include its farmhouse sink and its gas stove.

Then there’s the former washer-dryer space. Stout converted it into a wet bar area housing a wine rack and a kegerator – a below-counter refrigerator that can house two kegs of beer. Two taps are installed above.

“We don’t get something like that on all of our projects,” Stout said in a short video he did about the house during its renovation.

“We do like beer,” Amy said.

The house has acquired plenty of the couple’s personal touches, including pieces of art they’ve collected from various places around the world and pieces painted or otherwise created by Dave. Among the latter are large, vivid flower paintings in their dining area. Hanging in the family room is a framed blueprint they found after they bought the house. Drawn for the addition of the family room, it shows the whole house and is entitled “A residence addition for Mr. & Mrs. F.D. Byrd Jr.”

The latest renovation work was the small opening Dave cut out of the bottom of the door to the basement for the ease of the cats – and himself and Amy. They keep the cat food and litter box down there.

Other projects beckon. Eventually, Dave said, he hopes to create a brick walkway between the house and the street. There’s only lawn there now.

And they’ll soon turn the large first-floor room - once a formal living room – into a game room. A pool table has been ordered and Dave has built an arcade to go in there as well.

One day – if they win the lottery, Amy joked – they may try to figure out a way to put in another full bathroom.

But they’re delighted with their newly remodeled home. “I just like the openness of it,” Amy said. “That’s probably my favorite thing.”

They were already fans of Fayetteville. “Love it,” Amy said when asked how she and Dave like the city.

“We wouldn’t have stayed here 10 years if we didn’t,” Dave said. The couple, each in about their 15th year of service, have had opportunities to move elsewhere since they were first stationed at Fort Bragg in 2007.

With their move to Haymount, they said they can see themselves staying in their newly remodeled home for the long haul.

“Living down here has kind of re-ignited my enjoyment of the area,” Amy said. “We really like it.”