A gift of time and space comes with Van Norden Street home

Published 8:10 pm Thursday, December 6, 2018

Those on last weekend’s Holiday Tour of Homes will remember it: a water view right in the heart of Washington; a historic home, where one charming room leads to another, all of them facing that view of the Pamlico; Christmas décor augmenting each room’s style — traditional here, modern there.

This is the home of Jason Wright and Desmond Wilson, two Raleigh natives who have traded in traffic and space constraints for a life with a more leisurely pace. That they ended up finding it in Washington was a bit of happenstance, combined with a heap of destiny.

They knew they wanted to find a new place, and a better way of life, but were having trouble figuring out where, exactly, to go.

“I kept saying, ‘We need to check out Little Washington,’” Wilson said.

CHRISTMAS CHEER: Every room is decked with the holiday spirit at this historic Van Norden Street home. (Vail Stewart Rumley/Daily News)

The idea was persistent, though Wilson thought he already had his heart set on moving west, to the mountains. He’d spent plenty of time on the coastal plain and wanted both a change of pace and a change in scenery. But Washington kept coming up.

They visited Elizabeth City. It wasn’t for them. They found a beautiful house in Hertford, but the town was a little too small. Edenton was a little too posh. Finally, friends were on the way to Washington for a weekend at Elmwood 1820 and asked Wilson and Wright to join them.

“I got here, and it was the first time in I don’t know how many years, that I completely unplugged,” Wilson said.

WINTER WONDERLAND: A hearth is decorated in the less traditional colors of Christmas, lending the already large den and more casual Christmas flair.

Like nearly all Washington visitors, they took a stroll downtown. Theirs, however, was a fateful one.

There, on the porch of a house along their way, was Coldwell Banker Coastal Rivers Realty owner/broker Gerri McKinley, who happened to be staging 115 Van Norden St. to show for sale. She invited Wright and Wilson inside. They declined. She insisted.

A few months later, Wilson and Wright were the new owners of the house that fits their bill of traditional, but not too much so; that satisfies their appreciation of the outdoors with every room oriented around a large river-side porch — and every room has a view.

“For me, it was a feeling when I walked through the door. The moment I walked in the door, I was just consumed by love and emotion and warmth,” Wilson said.

“One of the biggest selling features was the porch, for sure, and the fact that we are close enough to the water that we can enjoy the view without having the negative aspects — we were fine during Hurricane Florence,” Wright said.

INSPIRATION: Though he had some help with following through, this wreath-like chandelier was Desmond Wilson’s idea—a background in design informs his holiday décor.

Between the walk on which they met their new home and the day they made an offer, Wilson put quite a few miles on his car.

“I drove to Washington every weekend I wasn’t working from August until we made the offer in October. I’d get a biscuit from Mom’s Grill and go sit on the waterfront and meet people,” he said.

Not only have the two embraced life in Washington, they’ve embraced the history of their new home.

“I’ve done a lot of digging. It’s sent me on lots of wild goosechases, and it’s been fun,” Wilson said.

What he found was that the 3,100-square-foot, three bedroom home was built by newlyweds Rob and Katherine Fowle in 1920, just behind Fowle House on the corner of West Main and Van Norden streets. Many years later, after Katherine died in a car accident, Rob Fowle became reclusive and the house was eventually shuttered, according to Wilson.

“It just seemed very sweet to me,” Wilson said.

Wilson is bringing pieces of the couple’s life back: he tracked down a Fowle cousin in Spain who sent him pictures of them. He found Katherine’s hand-written will mentioning an inlaid Pembroke table, so he found one and moved it in. In the write-up about Katherine and Rob’s wedding, it mentioned her sterling flatware pattern: Mary Chilton. That pattern now decorates the dining room table.

“I feel a sense — they never had children … I’m here, I’m just inhabiting their house. I want their life to live on here,” Wilson said. “I have a sense of responsibility. Not that everybody is going to delve into the history of the house they live in, but I think when you buy a historic home, you have a responsibility to its past owners.”

TRADITION: An entry vestibule is host to the first of several Christmas trees showcased throughout the Van Norden Street home. This one, in keeping with the style of the room, has a more traditional Christmas feel.

Past owners have taken good care of the property, so there was very little repair needed when Wright and Wilson moved in.

“Thankfully, knock on wood, we have had no major projects,” Wright said. “We’ve made it very livable for us with rather minor cosmetic projects.”

Painting walls, replacing lighting and carpet opened up the kitchen and large den. An expansive dining table is the centerpiece of the river-side porch. It beckons not only Wilson and Wright, but their many friends and family. Since they moved in, they’ve had houseguests all but 10 weekends in the past year.

“My mother lived 15 minutes away from me in Raleigh. … I have seen her more here than when she lived 15 minutes from me,” Wilson laughed.

Just like Wright and Wilson, their houseguests are attracted to Washington’s charm and accessibility; its slower, walkable way of life.

“After a certain time in the evening, we can walk downtown, have dinner and socialize. It’s certainly different from the life we had in Raleigh,” Wright said.

“I feel like I’ll live a lot longer,” Wilson laughed. “I still pinch myself and can’t believe that I live here. I’m waiting to be evicted.”