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Townhouse Reflects Owner’s Love of Art

Dell Hollstein said goodbye to a house many considered a work of art.

But her new home is the next best thing, artistic from the inside out. From the whimsical bench picked up at a yard sale to the authentic Renoir on her dining room wall, stepping into Hollstein’s townhouse is like stepping into a personal art gallery.

She only has to glance around to recall a lifetime of traveling and collecting. Art covers almost every available inch of wall space, and Hollstein has plenty of that. The walls of the living room are two stories high. Windows fill one side and offer a dramatic view of the golf course at Highland Country Club. The space is filled with light and, of course, art.

Did we mention that already?

Seagulls shaped out of metal fly through the open space. Pottery lines the mantel. Even the throw pillows and dining room table runner have an artistic flair. Hollstein is hard pressed to name her favorite painting or sculpture, and perhaps that is because the pieces are so different from one another. They represent artists from far-flung countries and those in our own back yard. Some of them were quite famous – Hollstein has a sketch by Salvador Dali – others more obscure. But all of them, from Francis Speight’s tobacco barns to pieces of brightly colored candies painted by her teacher, Petra Gerber, earn a second glance.

Hollstein pulls off a look that is both contemporary and traditional. She combines antique furniture with modern, but somehow a red fridge and sleek couches look right at home with a beautiful wooden sideboard. The result is elegant and fun, serious and sometimes downright playful. Take the gigantic metal spider, for example, which looks as if it crawled from the outdoor patio and scaled the wall in Hollstein’s small back yard. No doubt it has startled a golfer or two.

Hollstein just smiles at her red-bellied daddy-longlegs. She’s a redhead in her early 80s who takes dance lessons, travels and actually reads the heavy art tomes that most people use as coffee table decorations. One of the founders of the Fayetteville Museum of Art, she grew up with an appreciation for art. She left home for Mary Baldwin College but finished her education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. That’s where she met Charles Kistler. The couple settled in Fayetteville and built a house on what had been the Rose Hill farm. They tried to save the old Rose house, Hollstein said, but it wasn’t possible. The house was moved and in its place, the Kistlers built a large contemporary house on Birnam Drive. It was designed by architect Dan MacMillan. Many people would come to regard it as one of the best examples of modern architecture in Fayetteville.

Charles Kistler died in his mid-30s, and left Hollstein a widow with four children. Then she met a widower and Army colonel, Jean Hollstein. He was serving in Vietnam but invited her to meet him in Hawaii during his R&R. She asked her first mother-in-law to come along. When she told her mother-in-law that Hollstein wanted to marry her, the older woman said, “Honey, if I was 20 years younger, I’d give you a run for your money.”

Throughout the next decades, the Hollsteins continued to travel and collect art. There were many adventures along the way. Actress Goldie Hawn once asked Dell Hollstein for advice about a piece of art. “She took a liking to me,” Hollstein says with a laugh. Hawn bought the painting for $20,000. Hollstein purchased something more modest from the same auction. “She got the painting,” Hollstein said. “I got a ring.”

And over the years, Hollstein painted her own works of art, beautiful watercolors of fruit and flowers. Others are more personal. If she likes a certain photograph, she just might paint it. Hollstein recently completed a painting based on a photograph taken of her arm-in-arm with one of her daughters at Fallingwater, one of architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s most acclaimed works.

Hollstein has so many paintings that it’s difficult to imagine that they represent a fraction of what she once displayed at her home on Birnam Drive. The move to the townhouse forced her to pick favorites. But Hollstein wanted a smaller house. The townhouse still has three bedrooms, plenty of space for her grandchildren when they come to stay. She has room for her piano, which sits on the balcony overlooking the downstairs living room and has a view of the golf course. A small study is packed with books about art.

But it’s not Burnam Drive. After she agreed to sell the house, she discovered that preservation workers may have been able to help her save it. But she didn’t know that projects from the 1960s would even qualify, and she thought that the next owner would live in the house. But that isn’t what happened. A developer bought the house, razed it and subdivided the land to make room for five new houses.

Hollstein’s home became a rallying cry for people upset by what is called “infill.” They urged the Fayetteville City Council to pass an ordinance restricting the way people build new houses in existing neighborhoods.

Hollstein prefers to look forward. “I lost my house, but that’s life,” she said. “A good sense of humor and a short memory gets you a long way.”

And it’s difficult to get upset in such a soothing place where you can watch the birds, admire a golfer’s spectacular shot and soak in the art.

Did we mention that already?