At the end of a gravel road, past a vegetable garden and surrounded by trees where honeybees, a pair of dogs and almost 20 egg-laying chickens make their home, it’s easy to forget how close one is to downtown Chapel Hill. In fact, an old farmhouse would fit right in here – but Kris Dunn and Kevin Murphy’s home couldn’t be more modern.
The four-bedroom, 2,950-square-foot custom house sits on 4.3 acres west of Carrboro right off Highway 54 and backs up to land owned and protected by the Triangle Land Conservancy. “No one will ever develop behind us, and the land itself is unbelievable,” says Kevin. “We got really lucky.”
That luck has been with them throughout the building process. The dream of designing their own sustainable, energy-efficient home began during the couple’s nine years in the Peace Corps, which they spent teaching in Guatemala, Venezuela and Bahrain. “But about 14 years ago, we decided we were ready to settle down, and Chapel Hill was the perfect place,” says Kris.
Kevin, president and founder of Newphire Building, and Kris, a teacher at McDougle Elementary, originally owned a larger parcel of land, living in and renovating a home not far from this one. But in order to make their dream a reality, a lot of moving pieces had to fall into place.
After Kevin obtained his general contractors license, the couple was able to parcel out their land, sell their previous home and obtain the required permits in rapid succession, enabling them to maximize their time and budget to create a perfect home for their family.
ROOMS WITH A VIEW
Layers of light welcome visitors in the entryway, thanks to large windows, a suspended staircase and the landscaped courtyard beyond. To the right, the home opens to the living, dining and kitchen areas, a cozy yet expansive space that encourages both large gatherings and intimate dinners.
A wall of triple-paned, south-facing windows connects the rooms, providing the perfect backdrop for an eclectic collection of art, furnishings and musical instruments. Combined with the concrete flooring, the incoming sunlight supplies natural heating in winter and cooling in summer. A powder room and access to both the mudroom and a large outdoor patio complete the wing.
Opposite the foyer, the first-floor master feels like an oasis within the home and includes a walk-in closet, large bathroom and access to the home’s mechanical systems. The bedroom provides views of the courtyard, chicken coop and tree line, and the decor, as in the living areas, evokes the couple’s time abroad.
Upstairs, there are rooms for children Quinnlyn, 16, a student at Chapel Hill High School, and Coletrane, 14, who will join his sister there this fall, as well as office space for Kris, another full bath and a guest bedroom. “We had to have a guest room,” says Kris, noting Chapel Hill’s central location in relation to her and Kevin’s families as a major part of its appeal.
The kids have their own favorite features. “I love the roof for reading, tanning or just hanging out,” says Quinnlyn, whose room has access to the roof via a corner window. As for Coletrane, the guest room often serves as his video game room. “Sometimes he offers his room to our guests, just so he can have more time in there,” Kris laughs.
EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE
Without an attic, garage or basement, building adequate storage into the design was imperative. The large bedroom closets were a start, but didn’t quite account for the lack of conventional storage options. An added challenge was how best to temper the inevitable messiness of life on a small farm without disrupting the home’s clean, modern aesthetic.
The solution? A combination laundry and mudroom, complete with floor-to-ceiling shelving, a deep farm sink for washing hands (and eggs) and a small coop for the baby chicks. A pocket door serves a dual purpose: “We can cover up the clutter when we have company,” says Kris, “and it keeps the cats from getting too curious with the chicks.”
A NOD TO THE PAST
Another home, built in 1947, originally occupied the site. After it was torn down, Kevin hoped to salvage a lot of materials. Given the age, not much was usable, but in the process, he began finding lots of trash near the tree line, including colorful glass bottles.
“Before waste services were available in Chapel Hill, many homeowners subscribed to the ‘out of sight, out of mind’ mentality,” says Kevin. “So, we picked it up and made it something beautiful,” Kris says, pointing to the inviting path that leads to the front door. The found glass was crushed and mixed with concrete, giving a mosaic effect in the sunlight.
BEHIND THE SCENES
The home was designed by Chapel Hill-based architect Arielle Condoret Schechter, who specializes in modern, net-zero energy homes like this one. “We must have met with Arielle 10 times,” Kris says, “but the outcome was so worth it. She listened to every detail, and even provided 3D models so we could tour the home before we broke ground.”
The home has a -3 Home Energy Rating System (HERS) score. The standard new home has a score of 100, with every number closer to zero being that much more energy efficient (for example, a home with a score of 60 is 40% more energy efficient than the average new home). Having a negative score means the home actually generates more energy than it uses.
“We truly appreciate being in a community that is interested in, and can appreciate the value of, a high-quality, energy-efficient lifestyle,” says Kevin, who hopes his home can serve as a model for his future clients. For now, he’s working on an outbuilding that will do triple-duty: “I need office space and a place for my band to practice,” he says. “And we’ll put a futon out there for guests who would like some privacy.”
Photography by Briana Brough