Timeless charm

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by Liza Roberts

photographs by Mark Petko

Like so many of life’s most important things, Lisa Sykes’ dream house came when she wasn’t looking for it.

What she wanted instead were rugs for the North Raleigh house she and her family of four had no plans to leave. A call to Raleigh decorator Ann Nicholson led from one thing to another. Nicholson mentioned she might be about to sell her own North Raleigh house, and next thing Sykes knew, she was on its front step.

“I put my hand on the doorknob, and I said, ‘This is it, Kassell. This is it.’” Kassell, her husband, went with it.

“It had the look of perfection…but not perfection,” Sykes says. “Then the kids fell in love with it.”

It’s not hard to see why.

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The French-inspired colonial, built in 1992, is traditionally beautiful, but has an unusual, fairy-tale charm. Perched high above a quiet, winding road. It has a balcony that overlooks gigantic front doors. Perfectly clipped boxwoods form a diamond-patterned parterre. Inside, the floor is stenciled, the halls are wide, and French doors bring the outside in to nearly every room.

Heating vents are oversized, scrolled, wrought-iron beauties; doorknobs are antique; ceilings are coffered. Nifty elements like pocket doors, a tucked-away wine cellar, a butler’s pantry, hidden back stairs, and other nooks give it an old soul. An expansive back yard has crannies of its own.

When the Sykeses first saw the house, its old-fashioned kitchen had a refectory table down the middle long enough to seat 20. Floor-to-ceiling tapestries hung in hallways on either side of an open, central living room. Fine French antiques and weathered farmhouse furniture both looked right at home.

Today, many of those furnishings, bought along with the house, remain, and it’s now home base for the Sykeses and their children, Lily, 13, and Nora, 9, plus Kiki the cat and Lucy the Australian shepherd.

Though the house is spacious, it doesn’t have many rooms. They all live in all of them. The central living room is lovely but practical, a good spot for movie-watching on the TV hiding in a built-in cabinet, or enjoying a fire.

The kitchen’s cozy sitting and dining area is everyone’s favorite place, and its extraordinarily long table, now covered by a slab of marble, is where they cook and do homework. It’s also where Lisa and Lily put together the idea to start a Raleigh chapter of Teens for the Cure, an offshoot of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure.

Lisa, whose own mother died from breast cancer when Lisa was 17, was inspired to start the group last spring, when her daughter reached the same age she was when her own mother became ill. “I wanted to create something bigger than us,” she says. Together the two helped raise $9,600, and have plans to stage a fund-raising fashion show in April.

Their efforts are not only an homage to Lisa’s mother and Lily’s grandmother, they’re also grounded in reality.  “I want Lily to know that she can make a difference,” Lisa says. “She can help to find the cure.”

In a house that celebrates the beauty of times past – but invites its owners to also live in the here-and-now – they’re in a good spot to take on a project like this one. Lisa, for one, says she never takes her health, her family, or her home for granted. “I love everything about it,” she says. “It’s timeless.”

 

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