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The Culliton Casa


By Rachel Brune  |  Photography by Johanna Austin

When Dr. Daniel J. and Ashley Culliton first laid eyes on the property at 517 Oakridge Avenue, a Texas-based developer was considering it for demolition and potential division into five separate lots.

Two years later, the formerly dilapidated structure is now a two-story, earth-toned jewel, nestled on a large and impeccably landscaped property. The entire Culliton family has lovingly renovated it in every detail.

“We took it on as a labor of love,” said Daniel, a chiropractor with Valley Chiropractic in Fayetteville. A member of Fayetteville’s Planning Commission, Daniel also possesses a broad background in construction.

History of Home

According to Daniel’s research, the two-story house on Oakridge Avenue was originally the Jordan-Huske home, built in June 1910. Louise Huske married William Weldon Jordan, who was a medical doctor. He would spend his days treating the sick of Fayetteville and then return home to milk the cows.

After Dr. Jordan passed, his wife took in tenants during the Depression. Their daughter married a gentleman out of Newport News, Rhode Island and their two sons both followed their father’s footsteps into medically related fields. 

Most recently, the house served as a group home. The “seven bedrooms” listed in the online real estate advertisement were tiny and surrounded by non-functional space. “They were basically just big enough for a bed,” said Ashley.

Past renovations and updates had been made to the house without regard for functionality, or conforming to code. In one area, studs had been cut to make room for bathroom fixtures, without replacing the necessary support to the structural integrity of the house.

Renovation Decisions

Once they purchased the home, the Cullitons faced the decision of how much of the original structure could be restored, and what needed to be renovated to achieve a functional, modern living space. Not only would this affect the look of the house, but once the couple changed more than 25 percent of the original house, they consequently needed to bring the rest up to modern code.

The Cullitons eventually ended up building a new roof, adding in a new HVAC system, drastically upgrading the plumbing and putting in new windows. They discovered five separate hot water heaters in the cellar, which appeared to have been disconnected and discarded on the spot as each stopped functioning. Some of the windows had been replaced by plexiglass and some were boarded over.

“These old homes are built with hard pine and rough-cut lumber,” said Daniel, who explained that when planning the renovation, he and Ashley tried to keep as close to the original floor plan as possible and retain the historical charm.

If the renovation required the Cullitons to replace or re-design any part of the house, they tried to choose materials and a design that would fit with the spirit of the home. “We salvaged as much wood as we could,” said Ashley.

The wraparound front porch displayed the careful mix of restoration and renovation that the couple favored. When the Cullitons began their project, they found that the porch had pulled away from its foundation and the floor was rotting away. Daniel replaced the floor with a tongue and groove style that matched the original look, and made by hand the fence that lined the porch area. Sturdy brickwork put the finished touches on the stairs and entranceway.

Looking up, Daniel pointed out that the porch ceiling was the original wood, carefully restored and painted. Viewed as a whole, each of the restored and renovated areas mesh seamlessly to create a welcoming picture of Southern hospitality.

In the kitchen, a guest’s eye is immediately drawn to the handsome copper backsplash and wood hood topped by a copper chase above the stovetop range. This element is echoed in the hand-hammered copper sink in the open kitchen. With the pots and pans neatly hanging from the ceiling pot rack and the built-in glass cabinet, the space appears to be a large, welcoming turn-of-the-century kitchen.

“It looked like a 1970’s trailer,” confessed Ashley, describing the state of the room when they began their project. The kitchen was divided into two rooms, one of the major support beams had been removed without being replaced by a suitable substitute and the handsome cabinet was all but obscured by sets of institutional shelving.

Frank Carter of C&F Custom Cabinets in Hope Mills, designed the kitchen, including the cabinetry that flanks the cooking area. “They’re all custom cabinets and real quality work,” said Daniel.

A Family Affair

“My wife and I laid this every night after work,” said Daniel, gesturing at the hardwood floor, burnished to a gleaming, glossy sheen.

The floor work was particularly challenging, given that previous owners had installed carpet over the original hardwood floor by simply tarring the wood and stapling the carpet pieces. Ashley, who was pregnant with their daughter Margaret during the last half of the renovation, noted that they spent long hours removing the carpet and staples, and bits of tar, before restoring the wood, sometimes remaining at the house until midnight.

Upstairs, the rooms are large, with some unexpected turns, and in some cases, unexpected steps down into one of the bathrooms. Much of the flooring is the original wood, and the doors to the boys rooms display the original moulding and rosettes. Each of their rooms show evidence of their own handiwork in creating three bedrooms, each with its own fireplace and, even more importantly, bathroom.

“We didn’t want any arguments over who cleaned and who didn’t,” said Daniel, who pointed out where the family added a wall to close off a landing or opened a wall to expand a bathroom.

The couple’s three sons participated fully in the renovation process, helping pull up carpet and renovate the clapboard siding on the house.

In their oldest son’s room, Daniel and Ashley pointed out a desk that Ethan, now 17, fixed up by himself. A student at Terry Sanford, Ethan is active in wrestling and the Junior ROTC. In addition to the desk, he renovated his own closet and worked on his bathroom.

“Ethan re-did this with old headboard we found in the house,” said Daniel, gesturing along the closet walls and ceiling, and adding that Jake, now 16, also contributed to the renovation process. He added, “I’m a mentor type of dad.”

As we walked back downstairs, Daniel asked Colton, 7, which was his favorite part of renovation. Colton tilted his head to the side. “I don’t know—doing the wood!”

To complete the family atmosphere, Daniel and Ashley pointed out three charcoal portraits of the boys, drawn by Ashley’s mother, who is an artist. Two of her oil paintings, landscapes of the Irish countryside, provide just the right touch to the downstairs entrance and living room.

Found Objects

As Ashley and Daniel began renovating, they uncovered surprises both in the house, as well as pieces that presented themselves in their travels. For example, they uncovered the fireplace in Jake’s bedroom only when they began working on that room. Another fireplace, this one a first-floor companion to one in the living room, was uncovered when they removed a panel.

In the downstairs living room, one of the first pieces to catch a visitor’s eye is a large, wood buffet and mirror, sporting intricately carved panels, serving as a dry bar. The couple found this piece, dating from 1867, on the website of an antique store in Raleigh. Daniel pulled out a drawer to show the workmanship on the special dovetailed joint, which was only used during a certain period of time in this area. Like much of the house, this is just another small detail that might not be immediately obvious, but which makes up so much of the character of th e home.

In the downstairs half bath, Daniel pointed out a low dresser with a unique finish. A neighbor had put the piece out at the curb, and both he and Ashley had separately, and unknowingly, stopped to look at it. They ended up bringing it home, refinishing it, and placing it in the guest bathroom.

A Constant Project

In the medium-sized office just off the main living room and foyer, Ashley paged through picture after picture of the in-progress renovations. The pictures show just how much work went into the renovation process, with the walls demolished down to the 4”X4” studs and bare lathe, and floors, littered with construction debris, in various states of repair.

“The lathe was so old they used horsehair,” Ashley said, describing hours spent pulling staples and hair out of the walls and old carpeting.

The couple has put just as much work into the outside of the home. Ashley designed the raised, brick-bordered flowerbeds and lush landscaping that surrounds the new, in-ground pool. “Landscaping is an incessant job,” said Ashley. Her husband joked, “Incessant or obsessive?”

As the couple pointed out all of the work that had already been completed, their daughter, Margaret, now one-and-a-half years old, came in and, seemingly unimpressed, began watching a video on the computer. Ashley and Daniel pointed out some of the ongoing work, such as the transformation of the pool house, formerly the group home office, into a guest suite. They also touched on future projects they would like to tackle, such as re-finishing the front porch wood flooring to match the gloss of the inside hardwood floors for more of a Charleston look. “This is a forever project,” said Ashley.

Happenin’ In Haymount

This holiday season, the Cullitons’ home will be featured in the Woman’s Club of Fayetteville Christmas tour of homes December 7th. Residents of Fayetteville and the surrounding areas will be able to tour local homes, decorated for the Christmas season, and view first-hand all that the Cullitons have accomplished in their home renovation.

“We’re proud of what we’ve done,” said Ashley, who as executive director of the community group, Happenin’ in Haymount, will also be helping to organize the 2014 Haymount Lights event. The organization is currently seeking a chairperson to head up the committee, which last year saw more than 65 participants, including residences and local businesses. 

Happenin’ in Haymount, which can be found on Facebook, is a community page with more than 2,300 “likes,” co-founded by Daniel and Ashley to spur more participation in the community.