Paradise on Bay St.
A slice of heaven with endless water views
STORY & PHOTOS BY: AMI BROWN
Tommy and Julie Harrelson’s historic farmhouse-style home was built by local attorney Rob Davis back in 1915. Although a boat ended up in the front yard, the home survived hurricane Hazel, and stands proud flying the American and North Carolina Flags keeping watch over the Cape Fear River in the heart of the Southport waterfront.
The Harrelson’s bought this house in 2007, and it was in a bad state of disarray. Tommy grew up in southport just a few blocks from this house, and fell in love with the location. They knew they had to remodel it.
It was right when the recession hit, and most builders were out of work. This was their “forever” house, the one they would retire in. They knew they wanted to make it their own, and make everything perfect. Tommy was no stranger to remodels, he had done several before this one; but this was going to be special.
They took out a small staircase and put in an elevator. They were planning for the future when it might be harder for them to go up and down the stairs. It even comes in handy now, especially if they have anything heavy or large to carry upstairs.
They extended the back half of the house, which was an old screenedin porch, and made an open living room kitchen area. There is a custom cut through that goes clear from the back of the house, through to the front room window. This way if Julie is in the kitchen, she can see the boats passing in the river across the street. She says she can feel the vibrations of the large boats when they turn just in front of her house – she loves to take out her binoculars and have a look. She’s just like a kid with her enthusiasm of the river, the boats and the water front life. She even admits she’s burned many meals, distracted by water activities taking precedence over dinner time duties.
If you want to track those big ships too, www.marinetraffic.com has all the schedules and even the lengths of the containers that are making an appearance here in Southport.
The original upstairs had four bedrooms, no closets and one small bathroom. The Harrelsons knew this was not an ideal layout that would work for them. They decided to transform the second level into 2 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, a large walk-in closet and a small office space for Tommy.
“There is never a dull moment living here, I love to talk to the people passing by.” Julie told me. Being so close to the yacht basin, tourists and locals alike walk along the river front, with the harrelson house on the way, it’s easy to stop and say, “Hi neighbor!
”When you approach the front door, you are greeted with an oversized wrap around porch with an array of black rockers and chairs – enough for extended family and friends to enjoy. Facing the water, it’s the perfect place to hang out, watch the ships roll in and have a glass of wine.
As you enter into the wide foyer, a bright open stair case leads you to the second floor. Glimpses of beautiful antiques, dark woods, quirky art and eclectic décor catch your eye. You can’t help but notice the original hard wood floors, their golden color enhances the warm atmosphere. You feel welcomed beyond words here.
Patterned Egyptian rugs are strategically scattered throughout the home. They’re just enough to provide interest, color and more warmth. But don’t worry they don’t hide the floors, they enhance it.
A generous collection of Tommy’s favorite local artist – Art Newton original paintings adorn the walls of the front two rooms. Tommy even wrote a book about Art’s amazing life and his contribution and influence on the Southport art community.
True to Southport fashion, when word got out that the book was being written, people from all over the area brought in their paintings to be included in the book. Ricky Evans even volunteered to take apart the frames and to scan the art work for the book. Southport really is a community of kind and generous people – no wonder it won the friendliest sea side town!
This house is full of life and energy and is the perfect entertainer’s dream. Julie admits it was hard to keep quiet for that year and a half while Tommy penned his book. One of her favorite features is the ambient light from outside in the evening and the sunlight in the daytime.
Light floods in from every window, every custom plantation shutter and highlights the eclectic decor in each well thought out room. The formal front living room seems especially bright, maybe it’s the river view that acts as art in motion along the front wall.
The couch is centered between two interesting marble antique end tables. But the real story is the pair of matching bronze lady lamps atop them. Julie saw these lamps in the old curiosity shop on Howe Street. (Where Port City Java is now located) they sat there for more than 15 years – probably because one of the lady’s hands was broken. They finally ended up in the Harrelson home, 20 years ago. Tommy found someone that could make a mould and fix the hand. I looked and I couldn’t even tell it had been repaired. These two ladies remind me of Paris for some reason, elegant and statuesque. The black and white striped lamp shades add a bit of quirkiness and flare.
The short open hallway straight ahead takes you back into the addition, the open kitchen living area. You pass a couple of interesting furniture pieces and a bar area, along with a formal dining room.Tommy refinished an antique wardrobe that was found in the old quarantine station. It now acts as a hall closet, and looks amazing.
One of Julie’s favorite art pieces is a hand painted stain glass window she got from Mary Paulsen of Holden Beach. The glass fills in the top portion of one of the living room windows. It’s just enough color that it diffuses the sun so it doesn’t fall in Julie’s eyes when she’s in her favorite reading spot. If you want a real unique art experience, visit Mary’s studio and home. She paints on glass, wood, practically anything. If you are looking for a one-of-a-kind, she’s the artist that can deliver.
The kitchen is bright, open and full of top of the line finishes. It also includes Julie’s collection of quirky pottery with faces, cute kitchen gadgets and fun metal sculptures. The dual oven is a six burner gas top, but is compact and only takes up the room of a four burner. The perfect choice, understated but highly functional. The simplistic black and white theme carries nicely throughout the house, even in the kitchen, without being overdone.
Another quirky item is an old fashioned water heater that was found at a local antique shop. It finds the perfect place on top of the kitchen cabinets.
By simply removing some of the original french doors, it really opened up the house. They did not compromise the historic features or the appearance. The original fireplace was crumbling, it wasn’t safe, so that had to be removed.
The original door knobs were dark purple glass, and you still find them on the interior doors, functioning perfectly. The doors that were removed – and those antique knobs got a new home. They were attached to a wall tree, and now are the perfect answer to a stylish coat and hat rack.
Above almost every interior doorway sits a shelf, masked as substantial carpentry trim work. An impressive collection of elephants are displayed in almost every room above the doors. All different sizes, colors, wooden, brass, ceramic… you name it. They look as if they are from all over the globe as well.
Back in the late 80’s and early 90’s, Tommy was the North Carolina State Secretary of Transportation. His government position spawned the collection, and it keeps growing today. Tommy was also the Safety Secretary and had a large influence on the road safety in the area. A nice portion of highway 17 is named after him.
The large walk in closet was added upstairs and is actually shared by both, Julie and Tommy. Being minimalistic, whenever Tommy buys a new piece of clothing, he always gets rid of one. He admits he needs to get rid of a few more things, but it seems to be working out fine. Nothing seems crowded or cluttered. Everything has it’s own space.
The custom book shelf in the living room is a real standout. It homes books and art, custom built by wood craftsman, Dean Dosher, with quality and superb attention to detail throughout. Tim Farrell also worked on the remodel, making suggestions always keeping with the period, style and original design.
The antique coffee table is a little hidden gem. It’s actually Tommy’s father’s old cedar chest. It’s been lovingly restored and holds an array of Santas that come out every year to replace the elephants for about a month or so over the holidays.
Another one of Julie’s prized antiques is the guest bed. It’s an antique super sized single mattress. Sitting high on the frame with a white hand crocheted coverlet that makes the perfect period piece bed spread. It’s like stepping back in time.
Julie wanted to give Tommy something special; it comes in the form of a real treat. It’s a bathroom to die for. The masculine design, dark grey tile, glass block and enormous walk in shower is the icing on the cake.
Another adorable feature is the garden shed. Covered in ivy and situated out back, it’s keeping with the style of the house and offers ample storage for tools and gardening equipment.
The next time you walk down Bay Street and you see the lovely couple on the porch, make sure to wave, smile or say hi. You might just find yourself chatting with a couple of new friends. The Harrelsons are some of the nicest people in Southport – the definition of pure Southern hospitality and charm.