By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by Cornell Watson
Lisa de Saxe Zerden and Matthew Zerden met as teenagers on a trip to Israel in 1996 and quickly bonded over their shared dreams of making a difference for others. Natives of California and Georgia, respectively, Lisa and Matthew were married in Laguna Beach, California, in 2004, and next lived in Boston while building their educational foundation. She earned a Ph.D. in sociology and social work from Boston University, while he completed both his medical degree and a master’s in public health at Harvard University.
In 2009, Matthew’s acceptance into a residency program at the UNC School of Medicine brought the couple to North Carolina. “At the time, we only planned to stay long enough for me to complete my residency,” Matthew says. But each found a calling – and a home – here instead.
“We lived in Durham for a while but wanted to be closer to Chapel Hill, both for the commute and for the schools,” Lisa explains. She is an associate professor and senior associate dean at the UNC School of Social Work, and Matthew is a practicing OB-GYN and public health provider in the area, so a location convenient to I-40 was important.
They moved into their house off Weaver Dairy Road in 2015 and have enjoyed making it their own with children Ellie, 14, Noah, 12, Zoey, 8, and family dog Charlie. Built in 1998 on a cozy cul-de-sac, the home was part of an established neighborhood with towering trees. The beautiful backyard for the kids sealed the deal.
The home features three connected living areas on the main level – a unique design challenge that Lisa was excited to take on. “The house felt a bit dark, so first, we painted the whole downstairs a lighter color,” she says. Next, a bespoke bar unit was added to the back living room.
During the early stages of the pandemic, the couple enjoyed one of their more practical projects: built-in desks in the front living area. “To be honest, when we moved in, we first thought of connecting rooms or even knocking out a wall, but it was much more of a project than we wanted to take on,” Lisa says.
“But then we realized we work a lot in the evenings, so by using the front room as a study, it works great,” Matthew adds. “We have a dedicated space but can still hear the kids if they need us.”
The kitchen is at the center of the home, which was an important factor for the Zerdens. “We spend a lot of time there, so it’s perfect,” Lisa says. “Whether the kids are reading or doing a puzzle or watching TV, they’re never far away.”
Vibrant touches of color are injected throughout each room by way of eye-catching artwork, patterned pillows and fresh flowers. The home also boasts art pieces that can’t be found anywhere else: handmade pottery created by Noah under the tutelage of former production potter Cely Chicurel. “I have been taking classes at Cely’s House for a while now and really enjoy it,” Noah says. Ranging from simple, functional vases to detailed, decorative sea creatures, his work brings personality and charm to almost every room in the house.
“I love living here because there are lots of kids to play with and trees to climb, but inside, my favorite thing is how colorful our house is and all the pink in my room,” Zoey says. She and her older sister, Ellie, love jumping rope at Bouncing Bulldogs. When they’re not enjoying their hobbies, the kids love spending time in their backyard play structure, which features a slide, rock climbing wall and even a rope and pulley system with a bucket for hauling snacks to the top level. All three children attend Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools.
“This neighborhood has been so great,” Lisa adds. “During COVID-19, we explored every nook and cranny and got to know our neighbors really well. There are so many wonderful people and kids of all ages.” Their cul-de-sac is often host to food trucks and ice-cream trucks in the summer, which proved to be a lifesaver after lockdown.
The family also enjoys biking together and getting takeout from local restaurants like Kipos Greek Taverna, Luna Rotisserie and Tesoro. “Acai bowls from The Purple Bowl are a staple in our house,” Matthew says. “And we love that we are just a few minutes from trails that feel totally disconnected from the real world, but also bring us closer to town.”
On nice days at home, the Zerdens enjoy having meals on their screened-in deck, playing pickleball in their yard and caring for their many plants. “We already felt super fortunate to live here, but during the pandemic, having both indoor and outdoor spaces to enjoy has made us appreciate it even more,” Lisa adds.