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Thoroughly Modern | By Allison Williams


Woe to the poor souls who call it the Beirut bunker. It’s difficult to be a house misunderstood. But for every person who scoffs, someone else appreciates its adobe style as one of Fayetteville’s finest (and few) examples of contemporary architecture. Spare lines give the house an austere beauty, from the deceptively simple fountain out front to the bamboo garden in the back. Inside, no detail has been overlooked. The Forest Lake home began life as a traditional Colonial on a street of other traditional Colonials. That is, until Ron Gibson met Boo Devane. Like many stories about a special house, it’s really a story about two people who saw something that everyone else missed. Other folks saw a dime-a-dozen ranch. The two of them saw a showpiece. They recruited craftsmen and flew in just the right hardware. Much of the work they did themselves – through two different Carolina hurricanes. And then one day, they sold it on the spot to two complete strangers. Gibson and Devane aren’t the types to believe in chance, just moments meant to be. He was once a confirmed bachelor, living in Fayetteville for just a short stint. She was divorced with small children and a family business to help run. And then, Trish Clayton called and said, “I know your soul mate.” Gibson shrugged it off, but one day she called, needing a casual date for an upcoming event. “I swear we fell in love that night,” Gibson says. He loved theater and so did she. He plays the grand piano; she loves music, too. And most important to this story, they both adored modern architecture. It wasn’t long before the two of them planned to join a church mission trip to Bolivia. But when they arrived at the Charlotte airport rather than flying to Bolivia, they took a plane to Cancun instead. There on the cliffs of a rainforest, they got married. Every year since, for more than a decade now, they have sent Clayton a Christmas gift. Then came the hard part. For most newlyweds, a major house renovation might strain the best of marriages. And had they known that the project would take them through two major storms, you’d have to wonder if they would have reconsidered. But they had a vision. Devane’s parents, Jim and Betty Devane, lived in one of Fayetteville’s most recognizable contemporary homes. She and Gibson both were ardent fans of such designers as Tadao Ando, Ricardo Legorreta, Luis Barragan and Frank Gehry. The house is the result of their combined influence. Zoning rules kept the renovation within the confines of the existing footprint, but that is the only thing its former owner, Fayetteville veterinarian Dr. Jack Hill, might recognize. No contractor would touch it so Gibson and Devane did the job themselves. It started with tearing down walls and ripping out floors. Then, they searched for people who knew how to pour solid concrete floors and install cement counters. Today, it would be difficult to point out even the smallest detail that was not painstakingly planned. From the moment you walk in the front door, it might be the absence of architecture that is most noticeable. There is open space and clean lines. There are no lamps, no clutter. The design is so spare, Gibson and Devane installed a high-velocity compressed heating and cooling system that does not rely on a single vent but small round holes. A gorgeous three-sided fireplace is the centerpiece of the front living room; a sister fireplace can be found in the kitchen. The room offers a view of the nearby lake and the fountain in the front yard. It’s a simple path to the kitchen and dining room with a corrugated metal wall inspired by the works of Gehry, most famous for his titanium-covered Guggenheim Museum in Spain and Disney Hall in Los Angeles, with its exuberant, swooping façade. A continuous acid-etched concrete floor is part of the room’s beauty, not to mention solid cherry cabinets and concrete counters. Again, the couple planned for the tiniest of details – a hollowed space on the kitchen counter was shaped exactly to fit a favorite bowl. The kitchen opens onto an attached deck surrounded by a dense and lush wall of bamboo. In the heat of summer, the heavy stalks bend to provide privacy and a peaceful canopy. It’s the sheer simplicity and restraint that make the house beautiful. There is a lack of excess and a deceptive frugality. Take this example: a three-way mirror in the master bedroom is a clever disguise for a door leading to a large walk-in closet. Simple does not mean deprived. Just take a look in the master bathroom. A large tub imported from Germany dominates the room. Thecurrent owners admit that it takes some getting used to – bathers sit up, like a hot tub rather than recline – but it trulyis another piece of art. Perhaps it’s the fireplaces, vibrant artwork or suede walls, but the house has a feeling of warmth. Rich wood is everywhere, from the Arkansas pine on the ceilings to simple wooden shelving. The peaceful sound of the fountain can be heard inside the master bedroom. A wall once protected the fountain from public view, but a few neighborhood teenagers and a fender bender put an end to that several years ago. The current owners plan to bring it back. It was one of Gibson’s plans, too. He had just begun to tackle the landscaping in earnest – another important component to contemporary design – when a stranger drove up. Gibson was working in the front yard when Brad Setser pulled up in the drive and inquired about the architect. This was a story too long to tell at the curb, so Gibson invited Setser inside for an impromptu tour. “You know,” Gibson said, eventually, “if you have the money, you can have this house.” A few hours later Gibson called his wife at work and told her, “I just sold the house.” To tell the truth, the couple had actually tried to sell the house before to no avail. They were spending more time at their beach home and retirement didn’t seem too far away. In fact, they were headed to the beach the very day Setser stopped by. Gibson and Devane handed over the keys with these instructions: “There’s a bottle of wine on the bar. Y’all spend the weekend. We’ll be back on Sunday.” But Setser didn’t even need the weekend to think about it. “We want this house,” he said. And that’s how, earlier this year, the house found new owners: Brad Setser and Tal McCord. They, too, are students of modern architecture. They also love music and the theater. They often do not love the notoriety of the “Beirut bunker.” “They slow down, cruise by,” McCord said, “it’s like a tourist attraction.” But like Gibson and Devane, the house was love at first sight. Gibson says everything happens for a reason, even giving up the house that he loves. CV