Water Street rehab earns Terrell Award in new downtown neighborhood

Published 11:14 am Sunday, May 31, 2020

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Three years ago, Bahnson Gray and Alex Anne (Nan) Matthews embarked on a home renovation that would strip a circa-1950s cottage down to its bare bones and transform it from worn-down house to a cozy home that seamlessly melds old and new.

For that, the couple has been singled out by the City of Washington as winner of the “Good Neighbor” Terrell Award. Named for one of Washington’s founding historic preservationists, the city, with the assistance of realtor and historic preservation supporter Scott Campbell, revived the annual awards for property owners who make the extra effort to preserve history, with awards in four categories: Best Residential Rehab, Best Commercial Rehab, the Good Neighbor Award and Stewardship Award.

OPENINGS: Living room merges with dining area, which rounds the corner into an open kitchen with a half-cathedral ceiling and Sapele wood countertops, handcrafted by owner Bahnson Gray.

“They were chosen as ‘Good Neighbors’ because of the location of the property — with all of the development that’s going on in the neighborhood, it was important that the character remain the same, and they’ve done that by remodeling and rehabbing a much older property for the neighborhood, that blends in with the neighborhood,” Campbell said.

AN ORIGINAL: Part of the original structure, the brick chimney now serves as an accent wall in the kitchen.

The house is perched on the eastern end of Water Street in downtown Washington, just across street from the Moss Landing development. Between Builders First Source at the corner of Water and McNair streets and new homes being constructed, the view from the front porch encompasses the boardwalk, the Pamlico River and the railroad trestle spanning it. The water was what drew Gray home to eastern North Carolina from Wyoming, where he worked in the tourism trade, guiding fly-fishing trips and working as a mechanic for a snowmobile company.

“It was kind of like being out of reality — after a while I felt like it was time to go home and anchor down somewhere,” Gray said. “The water is the main attraction for me.”

A friend paved the way for Gray and Matthews’ purchase.

NEIGHBORLY: Scott Campbell (left) and City of Washington’s historic preservation planner Domini Cunningham (right) present the Terrell Award for Good Neighbor to Bahnson Gray and Alex Anne (Nan) Matthews and their pup Wallace. Their Water Street home underwent a gut-renovation that turned a rundown cottage, into a comfortably modern home that blends perfectly with the neighborhood surrounding it. (Vail Stewart Rumley/Daily News)

“I got a phone call from Slayton (Hazard-Daniel), who lives next door, and he was looking at the house, and he saw Larry Boyd come out and stick a sign in the yard,” Gray said. “The timing was awesome.”

In less than two weeks, he closed on the deal and got to work. Gray, acting as his own general contractor, enlisted the help of local contractor David Evans.

“We did everything. We stripped it down to the studs and the chimney,” Gray said.

PASSION: Gray’s passion for the outdoors can be seen in his hallway arrangement, including the fly-fishing rod he restored.

The two-bedroom, two-bath cottage underwent a transformation that started with designs drawn up by his mom, who has an architecture and design background, and ended with new systems, a new, covered front porch, new windows,  an addition with master bedroom and an expanded back porch, subway tile in the bathrooms and an expansive kitchen with unique features such as a beamed, half-cathedral ceiling, accent wall of the exposed brick of the original chimney and Sapele wood countertops — an African mahogany crafted by Gray.

“Honestly, it was the bones and structure were so stout and rigid when they built it in the early ’50s. The bones and the structure itself literally didn’t really need any work,” Gray said. “I guess that the most difficult part was not being able to retain the original floors throughout the house. I really wanted to, but there were spots that had a lot of use and wear.”

The exterior blends with the homes, both new and old, on the north side of Water Street, as well as Moss Landing’s new construction, which was designed to fit in with the existing historic district surrounding it. The inside is also a perfect blend of old and new, traditional and modern touches.

“They did it right, and it looks right for the neighborhood, and that’s why they’re good neighbors,” Campbell said.

HANDCRAFTED: Bahnson Gray, owner of Pamlico Hardwoods, made the kitchen and bar countertops with Sapele, an African mahogany.