Chapel Hill and Hillsborough Condo Owners Share What They Love About Downtown Living

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Convenience is key as is proximity to great restaurants and retail

By Marie Muir  |  Photography by Cornell Watson

Don and Kim enjoy a cup of coffee together at the illuminated glass bar top, handmade by Tampa-based Jeff Downing, that sits on the kitchen island.
Don and Kim enjoy a cup of coffee together at the illuminated glass bar top, handmade by Tampa-based Jeff Downing, that sits on the kitchen island.

Step into the elevator of Greenbridge Condominiums with Don Toothman and Kim Toothman, and you might step out with an invitation to their Thanksgiving dinner. Don and Kim’s ninth-floor condo overlooks downtown Carrboro and Chapel Hill from its location on the corner of West Rosemary and North Graham streets. The nearly retired couple splits their time between the Greenbridge condo and their more suburban home in Cornelius, North Carolina, on Lake Norman. 

“Chapel Hill is our urban retreat,” Don explains. “Most people escape the city to go to the mountains or beach; we escape to Chapel Hill!” 

Don and Kim are high school sweethearts from a small town in northern West Virginia. In 1976, Don went to UNC for undergrad while Kim stayed in West Virginia to obtain a nursing degree. The couple married after Don’s first year at UNC School of Medicine in 1980, and Kim moved to Chapel Hill to work in the neonatal intensive care unit at UNC Hospitals, where she also did neonatal transport. At the time, the hospital used Black Hawk helicopters to transport premature babies from North Carolina, South Carolina and southern Virginia to hospitals with more advanced care. 

“As it turns out, our first child, a daughter [named Taylor], was born prematurely – age 27 weeks, 2 pounds, ½ an ounce – during my medicine internship year at UNC, and [she] was a patient in Kim’s unit for the first month of her life,” Don says. 

Kim flew commercial and transported baby Taylor in a wicker basket alongside the chief resident of pediatrics at UNC when the young family moved to California for Don’s radiology residency and fellowship at University of California, San Francisco, where Taylor was also hospitalized for another month at UCSF Medical Center at Mount Zion.  

Shortly after Taylor’s birth, Don and Kim adopted their son, Spencer. Spencer’s adoption led to Kim accepting a job opportunity with his adoption agency. They adopted two more children, Sarah and Gabriella, born 11 months apart. 

Taylor went on to attend the UNC Adams School of Dentistry and married her study abroad sweetheart, Szymon, who is from Poland. In 2017, during her third year of dentistry school, Taylor gave birth to a son, Oskar. Their grandson’s arrival prompted Don and Kim to purchase the Greenbridge condo to spend more time with him. When Taylor joined a dental practice in Winston-Salem, she asked her parents if they would be selling the condo.

“No way!” Don says. “We have always loved Chapel Hill, and now that we have an excuse to plant more roots in Chapel Hill, there’s no way we’re giving that up. So we undertook an extensive renovation of [our condo] and plan to spend more time there, particularly after retirement.” 

It helps that their family is only a short drive in any direction. Sarah also lives in Winston-Salem, Spencer is in Cornelius and Gabriella, who goes by “Bella,” lives in Raleigh.  

“It’s the family we were always meant to have, that’s how I look at it,” Kim says. “They were placed in this world to be with us.” 

In addition to their children, Don and Kim have a 13-year-old Yorkie named Louise and a 3-year-old Maltese-Yorkie named Boomer. The couple has had as many as five or six Yorkies at any given time at their home in Cornelius, where Don currently works as an interventional radiologist in nearby Charlotte with Mecklenburg Radiology Associates. 

Don and Kim originally also purchased an adjacent Greenbridge condo with the intention of combining the two to make more space for family. “But we got to thinking, and we realized, we didn’t want to do that at all!” Don laughs. “We wanted the place just for us.” They plan to rent their second condo to UNC students.

Don and Kim hired local contractor Jay Taylor of Taylor Design and Carefor their renovations. “We took it down to the metal studs,” Don says. “There wasn’t a single light that wasn’t switched out, there wasn’t a single electrical outlet that wasn’t changed.” 

The couple also hired Katie Corley from Kitchen & Bath Galleries and Allan Beck from Advanced Tech Systems to help with design, cabinet installations, lighting and automated blinds. Altogether, the 1,448-square-foot condo consists of one bedroom, two bathrooms and an office. Kim describes its style as modern and clean, with white and dark color blockage for contrast. 

Some of their favorite pieces include a coffee table by local artist Mike Dulude; an illuminated glass bar top, handmade by Tampa-based Jeff Downing and set up on the Toothmans’ kitchen island; and a picture of the Hill of Crosses from their travels in Lithuania. Don and Kim have visited 70 countries, 60 of which they toured by motorcycle. And yet, the friendly familiarity and walkability of Chapel Hill keeps them coming back.  

“What we really love is that we park our car and don’t use it again for the whole week,” Don says. “We can walk to Weaver Street Market or Harris Teeter, and if we don’t feel like cooking, which is frequent, there are only about 35 restaurants on Franklin Street – yes, I counted them – between our condo and Top of the Hill.”

A few of Don and Kim’s favorite local joints include 401 Main in Carrboro and Sutton’s Drug Store on East Franklin Street. “Sutton’s is like family,” Don says. “I know all the people by name, I know the waitresses, and I know their kids. Now I go in there, and they show me their grandkids and baby pictures.” 

Floor-to-ceiling glass windows in the living room provide Don and Kim with a bird’s-eye view over Tar Heel nation. Don often steps out onto their bedroom’s balcony around 7 a.m. to take it all in … and to eye the length of the line for Brandwein’s Bagels

Bridget Haddican, her daughter Laura, a senior at N.C. State, and their dog, Ruby, in the living room of Bridget’s downtown Hillsborough condo.
Bridget Haddican, her daughter Laura, a senior at N.C. State, and their dog, Ruby, in the living room of Bridget’s downtown Hillsborough condo. 

At Home in Hillsborough

Across the street from the Burwell School Historic Site, on the corner of North Churton and West Union streets, sit three modern, single-level condos. One belongs to Bridget Haddican, who moved in on July 2. Like most of the buildings in Hillsborough’s downtown historic district, Bridget’s condo was not originally intended for residential use. Built sometime in the 1950s, the building was once a doctor’s office and senior living facility. 

Bridget, originally from a town southeast of London, lived in New Jersey and England before settling in Chapel Hill in 2013. Bridget has two daughters, Laura, a senior at N.C. State who’s studying chemical engineering, and Isabel, who goes by “Issy,” a freshman at King’s College London who’s studying international relations. As her youngest daughter prepared to leave the nest this year, Bridget realized it was time to downsize from her house in Chandler’s Green. That’s when Issy found an online listing for the newly renovated condos on West Union Street. 

“The design of the condo is perfect – white walls, high ceilings –  it’s a great canvas,” Bridget says. “I love the light and the huge windows … it’s kind of got a European feel, which was nice for me.”

Bridget gestures toward her condo’s white oak floors and says that most American homes have darker wood floors compared to the lighter shades of Scandinavian- or European-style residences. The 1,177-square-foot space contains two bedrooms, two bathrooms, and an open floor plan with a living room, dining area, kitchen and office and a fenced-in backyard. 

Colorful artwork from England and Chapel Hill artist Robin Greenberg adorn the home’s white walls. A bright geometric painting hangs above the dining room table – a canvas painted by Bridget and daughter Issy.   

 Parents push strollers and people take their dogs on walks past Bridget’s condo on their way to downtown. Bridget’s stoop provides her with a front-row seat of the daily action. 

“Everybody around here is so friendly,” Bridget says. “I mean, Chapel Hill is friendly, but [Hillsborough] has a real small-town feel.” A history buff, Bridget is eager to share Hillsborough’s historic treasures with friends and family, including the gravesite of Declaration of Independence signer William Hooper.

Bridget can easily travel by foot from her home to the Riverwalk, the Occoneechee Speedway Trail, and downtown restaurants and retail. She recently walked to Carlisle & Linny Vintage Jewelry on Churton Street and found the perfect presents to send as a pick-me-up gift to her daughters at school. And, when it comes to dining out, “I eat at The Wooden Nickel probably three times a week,” Bridget confesses. “I like the fish tacos, or they have these pickle spears that are fried [and] are very good.” 

Despite its rave reviews, Bridget has not yet acquired a taste for the pub’s popular tater tots that her American friends love. She also frequents Matthew’s Chocolates, Whit’s Frozen Custard and The House at Gatewood

“The House at Gatewood is a great place [to eat during the pandemic] because they have the nicest patio,” Bridget says.“[It’s] set in a big garden area, all green, a huge patio and pretty lights.” 

When she’s not out and about, Bridget spends time with her 11-year-old cat, Lily, and 11-year-old rescue dog, Ruby, underneath the market lights in her backyard. Lily is a striking Burmese cat, who came across the pond with Bridget. Bridget and daughter Laura installed a tiny footbridge and cat door for Lily to freely enter and exit the master bedroom into the backyard.      

Staples of British culture, such as souvenirs featuring Prince William and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge, and PG Tips tea line, the shelves of Bridget’s condo. A plush toy replica of Pride the lion, the 2012 London Olympics mascot for team Great Britain, has a prominent spot on a bookshelf organized by color. 

At the end of our interview, Bridget ponders over weekend plans. Maybe she’ll split a bottle from her stocked wine fridge with a friend or schedule a tennis match at The Farm in Chapel Hill or the Orange Tennis Club, which is less than a milefrom her home. In the end, Bridget comes to a conclusion: “Lazy weekend afternoons are best spent at Botanist and Barrel [in Cedar Grove], tasting cider and watching the
grass grow!”

Vivian Olkin likes to read and work in the living room while her husband, Sim Sitkin, prefers to work in one of the two offices in their 140 West Franklin condo.
Vivian Olkin likes to read and work in the living room while her husband, Sim Sitkin, prefers to work in one of the two offices in their 140 West Franklin condo.

Sweet Spot

Vivian Olkin and Sim Sitkin have lived in Chapel Hill for 26 of their 40 years of marriage. Their first home here was in a classic suburban area – perfect for raising daughter Leah Sitkin and son Jared Olkin. The kids spent many hours at The Inside Scoop, their mother’s ice-cream shop, which had locations on MLK Jr. Boulevard and Franklin Street. After Leah and Jared moved to Atlanta to pursue their own business endeavor, a dairy-free gelato manufacturer called Revolution Gelato(you can find it locally at Weaver Street Market and Whole Foods), and Vivian closed The Inside Scoop in 2004, Vivian came to a sudden realization. 

“We had renovated the house so that we could stay there forever,” Vivian says. “And then I woke up one day and said to Sim, ‘I do not want to live here for the rest of my life.’” The couple realized they used only one floor of their two-story house and yearned to live closer to the action. 

They moved downtown to 140 West Franklin in 2013. Original homeowners within the building, Vivian and Sim were able to purchase and make major renovations by combining two adjacent condos on the sixth floor to make a 2,139-square-foot space. Sim, a professor at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, says they turned to the professionals to keep costs reasonable on home projects.  

“Hiring a designer can end up helping you save money,” Sim says. “A lot of designers pride themselves in being able to give their clients better bargains.”

The couple hired California-based designer Carol Lippert and Frank Cole Building Company in Carrboro. Vivian and Sim had worked with both before and trusted them to understand their style and vision. They also hired Piedmont Craftsmen artist O’Neal Jones from nearby Graham, North Carolina, for a majority of their carpentry needs. Today, it’s easy to see that Vivian and Sim’s home was custom made just for them, from its built-in cabinetry to the industrial kitchen. 

“We love living here and absolutely love our condo,” Vivian says, noting the open space and plentiful natural light.

Rather than purchase new furniture, the couple updated some of their old pieces and splurged on modern light fixtures. Vivian points out the matching set of living room couches, which were recovered in a contemporary cobalt blue fabric. Bright pops of color bounce around the interior of the home, which centers on an open floor plan complete with a kitchen, living room and dining area. Sim’s office, and a lounge area that doubles as a guest bedroom and bathroom, branch off from one side of the common area while Vivian’s office and the master bedroom and bath are on the opposite side. 

Sim says friends and family were surprised to find out that their new condo would retain its white floors and walls because their former home featured intensely bright paint colors. Instead, artwork stands out against the white canvas with only two accent walls covered in a felt fabric, one blue and one red, which also helps with soundproofing and functions as an office bulletin board. 

Vivian dips her spoon into a creamy cup of Revolution Gelato’s chocolate mint while Sim shares the story of how they were first introduced in Boston. Sim’s roommate, who was dating Vivian’s best friend at the time, returned from her house with a slice of cheesecake that Vivian had made. 

“He walked into our place [with] the piece of cheesecake, and he said, ‘I’d like you to meet this person,’” Sim says. “I took one bite of the cheesecake and said, ‘I’m in love. I’d love to meet her.’” 

More than four decades later, Vivian’s love language remains the same. Every Wednesday, she pulls a commercial panini grill out of the pantry and prepares lunch for the staff at 140 West Franklin. Vivian, a member of one of the first graduating classes of women from The Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, shrugs. 

“[The 140 West Franklin staff] works hard for us,” Vivian says. “They weren’t able to go out in the beginning [of the pandemic], and then I thought, ‘You know what? This is an easy thing I can do [to help].’” 

When Vivian isn’t cooking and Sim’s not teaching a virtual class from his office, the couple enjoys going for walks and social distancing with friends. The top of their takeout list includes Pizzeria Mercato, Napoli Pizzeria & Gelateria and Brandwein’s Bagels– with gelato for dessert, of course.  CHM

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