Clever and Creative Spaces for the Littlest Family Members

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Parents share ways to design a special and unique spot for the kids

By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by Beth Mann

Greensboro native Anna Routh Barzin met husband Amir Barzin during their undergraduate years at UNC. They briefly relocated to Texas so that Amir could attend medical school, but moved back to Chapel Hill in 2012. “We couldn’t stay away too long,” Anna says.

Anna, a photographer, and Amir, director of the UNC Family Medicine Center and assistant professor at the UNC School of Medicine, settled into their 80-year-old home in the Franklin-Rosemary Historic District in 2017.

When daughter Ruth came along in February 2019, the nursery was their first big project to tackle. “Our house is sort of a mix of old and new, with a focus on the pieces that we fall in love with instead of specific themes or directions for each room,” says Anna, who enjoys searching at thrift and antique stores for perfect pieces that will bring a space together. “We have eclectic taste and like to combine fun patterns, mix vintage pieces with modern moments and love collecting original art to fill our walls.”

Ruth’s nursery was no different. “I knew I wanted a black crib, and early on I found a beautiful vintage Turkish suzani that I knew I’d incorporate somewhere in the room,” says Anna. She decided to hang the suzani as a curtain, and the ornate textile became the color palette for the whole space.

Anna designed Ruth's nursery around this black crib
Anna designed Ruth’s nursery around this black crib. Hanging bookshelves and Ruth’s accessories, including handmade baby sweaters made by Anna’s mother, Jenny Routh, who lives just down the street, provide pops of color.

It’s a good thing, too; Anna explains Ruth was entranced early on with the curtain. “She would stare at it intently – so much that I would put her in her crib facing away from it so that she wasn’t too stimulated while she was headed down for bed!”

Other quirky items include handmade papier-mache maracas, left over from a wedding Anna photographed several years ago. “She’s stared at them and given them a lot of attention since she was little, and now that she can reach them, they’re even more fun,” she says.

Anna Routh Barzin's kids roomTo balance these distinctive pieces, Anna and Amir added streamlined, trendy elements, including a contemporary upholstered rocker and lucite bookshelves that blend with vintage objects, like an elephant-shaped wicker table. “We really just want our home and our spaces to be unique and have character, and Ruth’s room is definitely a reflection of that.”

Bringing it all together wasn’t without its challenges though. Ruth’s room is very small, so Anna and Amir had to get creative with the layout. “Organization was key,” Anna says. “We used about every inch of the room and wall space to make it feel special and cozy.”

Down the road, Anna says, Ruth will move into a larger room. “We hope to expand her spaces into our finished basement, where she’ll hopefully have a wonderful workspace and playroom one day,” she says. By then, Ruth will be old enough to choose some of her own decor.

For now, the family of three enjoys long runs together – with Ruth in a jogging stroller – around Chapel Hill and travels as often as they are able.

Megan and Donald Lowe have been renovating their 1970s farmhouse since they moved in three years ago with son Jayden, 13, and daughters Kadence, 6, and Avery Jade, 4 (AJ for short). Falling in love with the unconventional Arbor Lea property was easy, but the couple knew it would need a lot of updating to make it suitable for their family of five.

Megan braids Kadence's hair on the daybed in AJ's room.
Megan braids Kadence’s hair on the daybed in AJ’s room.

Chapel Hill-based architect Knox Tate, now retired, designed the home in the 1970s as his personal residence and lived there for 10 years. Built in Knox’s modernist-meets-rustic aesthetic, the home features 30-foot ceilings, a converted grain silo and a lot of natural light.

Kadence and Avery Jade use the house-shaped bookshelf both for play and for storage.
Kadence and Avery Jade use the house-shaped bookshelf both for play and for storage.

The downside of this open, airy plan? “We have zero built-in storage and tiny closets in each bedroom,” Megan says. “I have had to get creative using furniture as closets and storage; baskets and some [other] decor [are used as] storage as well.”

Born and raised in Chapel Hill, Megan met lifelong friend Tabitha Thomas at North Chatham Elementary School. Tabitha’s father, Travis Thomas, is a general contractor with Custom Building by TNT and has helped Megan and Donald with several projects in their home.

One of the first projects they undertook was Jayden’s bedroom, which was technically the master closet when they started out. Converting it to a bedroom gave him access to a hidden belvedere on the third floor. “He has a desk up there and can get away from the noise [and enjoy] an amazing view,” Megan says. Jayden, who attends Durham Academy with his sisters, loves to travel, attend camps and play sports, so a room where there’s plenty to look out on is the ideal place for him to dream up his next adventure.

Kadence is also very interested in the outdoors, especially animals. “She spent her summer enjoying horseback riding and did a veterinary camp,” Megan says. “When she isn’t at school, she is usually found roaming our nearly six acres with our dogs by her side.” For Kadence’s room, Megan included bunk beds and has plans to add high shelves and a loft space to give her some space from her little sister.

AJ Lowe plays with one of her dollhouses.
AJ plays with one of her dollhouses.

“AJ is my wild child,” Megan says. A huge fan of dress-up and baby dolls, AJ’s room includes plenty of display space for her costumes and easy access to her toys. “She absolutely loves pretending she is the mom,” Megan says.

Hidden storage in the bunk room
There’s plenty of hidden storage in the bunk room thanks to drawers under the beds and in the stairs.

Megan has especially enjoyed the creative aspect of the renovations – including adapting to unexpected changes. “The process has been every emotion you can imagine,” she says. “The home is older, so we have had lots of unexpected repairs mixed in.” She notes that, in spite of these challenges, she ultimately sees it as a blessing. “I’m glad I had the extra time to change things creatively.”

Dr. Jeyhan Wood and Sean Wood have lived in Chapel Hill since 2013, and in their current Meadowmont home since 2017. Their daughters, Bailey, 7, and Harper, who’s nearly 4, are very active. “They love to dance, draw, do gymnastics, ride their bikes and scooters, and swim,” Jeyhan says. Bailey, a first grader at Rashkis Elementary School, also loves to play soccer and softball; Harper attends preschool at Orange United Methodist Church.

Though they don’t need a dedicated study space just yet, Jeyhan and Sean recently transformed an extra bedroom to create a bunk room for sleepovers. “It gives them extra room for friends to sleep comfortably, plus a fun space for them to watch movies or play games,” Jeyhan says. Creating spaces where the sisters and their friends feel at home is important to the family as the girls grow older.

Bailey and Harper Wood's extra bedroom is perfect for sleepovers.
An extra bedroom was transformed into a bunk room that’s perfect for the sisters’ sleepovers with friends.

The Woods worked with Will Johnson Building Company to construct the custom space. “We’ve worked with them before and have a great working relationship with Rebecca Johnson,” Jeyhan says.

Jeyhan, the director of craniofacial and pediatric plastic surgery at UNC, and Sean, a senior partner and vice chairman of a commercial real estate investment firm, both maintain busy schedules. “We place a lot of discretion on our builder,” Jeyhan says.

Although no construction project is without its challenges, she says it is critical to have a team you can rely on to bring your ideas to life. “It is important to make sure the key people you hire and trust are going to be focused on the project.” In this case, that proved true: “We are so happy with how things have gone,” Jeyhan says, and Bailey and Harper are more than ready for the many sleepovers to come.

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