By DeBorah Salomon • Photograhs By John Gessner
I want this to be about the house, not me.”
Maureen Clark, wearing a owing brown tunic with crocheted trim over pants nipped at the ankle, sits at her butcher-block kitchen counter surrounded by tiles and pottery in country-French blue. Art is everywhere — some so costly she had to skim a little off every paycheck, some framed pictures drawn by her children which, at first glance, pass for professional abstracts. Their portraits, painted while engaged in everyday activities (shing, swinging in Mommy’s high heels), enliven the formal living room.
Is that a TV in the corner?
Maureen’s bedroom is girlishly (but not cloyingly) — ruffles, checks, soft green and rose, primitive pine armoire — yet throughout the house carpet and fabric patterns, as well as her outfit, suggest the Middle East — Iran perhaps, where the military family was posted for four years.It makes the movie Argo look familiar.
Maureen is petite. The rooms, although many, have modest proportions in keeping with cottages built circa 1920s. Their delight is in the details — hundreds, intensely personal.
Her house, herself.“There is no place I’d rather live than Southern Pines,” writer-businesswoman-equestrian Maureen Clark begins.Fittingly, then, her home borders downtown, built on land purchased from the Boyds — a field passage for horses and hounds between Weymouth and Highland Pines Inn. Every day Maureen walks her dogs down Weymouth Road, remembering happy years spent playing with her four siblings in their home on Ridge Street, later the house with wraparound porch, on the corner of Indiana Avenue. Since then, life has taken Maureen to several continents and six houses — all of them restorations. In 1998 she was living in Fayetteville, in a house designed by Aymar Embrey II of Weymouth, Loblolly and other historic Moore County estates when her father became ill. She visited him in Southern Pines several times a week. “I drove by (this house) and saw a for sale sign. I almost bought it sight unseen. This was the perfect spot — it felt like home.”
Her perfect spot, built in 1923, had been the residence/studio of an artist, then Pilot editor Cad Benedict, a great friend of artist Glen Rounds, who walked over often. During World War II the house became apartments for officers. Location, perfect. Condition, less than.
With her older children away at school, Maureen purchased the house and, with 5-year-old Stephen, moved into the tiny guest cottage during renovations. “I was the neighborhood eyesore for a year.”She began by building out in several directions while rearranging interior space shotgun-style – a clear line of sight from entranceway through the living room, dining room, kitchen to the new back foyer leading onto a porch. Because of this irregular configuration protected by fences, trees, vines and shrubs, the house, from the outside, appears smaller than 3,100 square feet. Main oor rooms including, the master suite, tiny sitting-room/den/boudoir with adorable white chaise. Guest and family bedrooms are clustered around the stairwell — close to yet private from public areas, offering a surprise behind each paneled door.
The trick to living with family heirlooms, eclectic art, designer furniture and road-side nds is making everything hang together without obstructing the comings and goings of ve children and ve grandchildren. Except for a matriarchal portrait and custom-made mahogany bar from Iran, the pine-paneled entranceway, with hunting motifs and peaked ceiling, borders on rustic. On Christmas morning children pile onto the white living room sofa fronted by a red lacquer and gilt Queen Anne table because there is no great room, “family” room or entertainment center, which explains the TV rarely found in living rooms of this caliber.
Here, in splendid surroundings, is where Maureen’s teenagers hung out.
Photos and small treasures cover every surface.
“I have lots of doodads,” Maureen admits.
Unmistakably, this is a woman’s domain.A dressy black and gilt round table with Charleston chairs fills the small dining room. Her children gather at this table for after-dinner political discussions, sometimes heated. Maureen chose to hang an antique French cut-glass chandelier over the table despite the low ceiling, enabling guests to touch and admire the baubles.
Photographs of Maureen’s great-great-grandparents stand guard over meals and discussions. The great-great-grandfather from Missippippi pic-tured lost a leg in the Civil War — but survived.
Just behind the galley kitchen with practical wood countertops protected by naturally occurring antimicrobial substances is son Stephen’s room, virtually as it was, reminiscent of English nursery with window seat, blue ticking wallpaper, a worn leather armchair — even the original window poufs. Maureen explains that wallpaper throughout duplicates what hung in Fayetteville — all absolutely stunning, including a bathroom with a large white block print on a paper-bag brown background. The guest room, with twin wrought iron high-post beds, deep sea blue fabrics and bowls filled with Iranian donkey beads duplicates a magazine photo she loves. Even wall décor is personal: framed Mother’s Day cards, snow geese painted by Maureen’s college roommate, photographs and prints from her grandmother’s house, a depiction of Moore County hounds by Southern Pines equine artist Claudia Coleman counteracted by a startling abstract from Chapel Hill artist Paul Hrusovsky. Persian carpets dominate except for a white woven rug in Maureen’s bedroom, with a few threads chewed loose by Gus, her black Lab puppy.
“That’s all right . . . I’d rather have a puppy than a rug.”
Upstairs is another world, formerly the “frat house,” during high school and college years. Now, the reimaged attic provides a richly contemporary ofce-sit-ting room with, as focal point, a Thomas Link abstract similar to ones hanging in the N.C. Museum of Art in Raleigh.
“I bought it out of the back of an art dealer’s car,” Maureen says. “It took a while to pay for it.” Additional guest quarters on this level resemble dormer-ed Cape Cod B&B attic rooms, sparsely furnished, in nautical blues.In all, ve bedrooms and four bathrooms (including the huge master-suite bath-dressing room Maureen added), each cleverly tucked away, each artistic, each illustrating a time or place in Maureen’s life.
The single nicest thing about this house is there’s a pretty view from each window…”
Art and memorabilia aside, “The single nicest thing about this house is there’s a pretty view from each window,” Maureen says. “I saw that the rst time I walked through it.”
Her acre of prime Weymouth real estate owns many parts: An interior designer rents the doll-house cottage. The stone patio along with three seating areas under the trees accommodates party over ow. A manicured grassy section was once used for basketball, baseball and soccer. Fencing makes the area dog heaven. Even here, as with her wallpaper, Maureen continued the past. She moved forty camellias from Fayetteville, then created informality by replanting forsythia and azaleas in clumps. She chose to soften the pine grove (“they looked like telephone poles”) with dogwoods and a yoshino cherry. The redbud tree sprung up on its own. Still standing: an ancient oak split by the ice storm of 2002. Herbs and geraniums ll stoneware planters.
Nowhere are the street or neighboring houses visible.
“I like the outside as much as the inside,” Maureen says. “I can see the sunset from the porch” which, although furnished in handsome brown wicker with dark blue upholstery, is not screened.
Because Maureen prefers open porches. And, after all, this house is very much Maureen Clark.