Two health care workers retreat to a modern oasis overlooking the Chapel Hill countryside
By Marie Muir | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Dori Baboolal and Dr. Hemanth Baboolal met and fell in love in an operating room at UNC Medical Center in 2013. Dori, a pediatric certified registered nurse anesthetist, and Hermanth, a pediatric anesthesiologist, bonded over their shared passions for art, nature and helping children. In 2014, they tied the knot twice, with a Western wedding ceremony in Durham and an Indian wedding ceremony in South Africa, Hemanth’s home country.
The newlyweds soon moved into a cookie-cutter, suburban house in Carrboro. “[Our first house] had no openness, and the utilization of space wasn’t great,” Dori says. They literally and figuratively “hit a wall” during extensive renovations, one of which resulted in a burst pipe, and were eventually ready for something new. So they sold their first house, moved into their rental property in Carrboro and started to search for a new home.
With infant daughter, Hana, and another child on the way, Dori and Hemanth sped up their hunt. When they found a peaceful plot of land just a 10-minute drive away from UNC, the reality of their dream house began to take shape.
Dori and Hemanth worked with award-winning architect Arielle Condoret Schechter to design a modern house that complements the countryside landscape. Arielle, daughter of modernist architect Jon Condoret, believes that every project should begin with consideration of the site and how to build with the landscape instead of against it.
By applying the Japanese architectural principle of “shakkei,” meaning “borrowed landscape or scenery,” Arielle and Kevin Murphy, president and founder of Newphire Building, built a house with a breathtaking view of a beautiful meadow and farmland fading into the distance.
“[The meadow] didn’t belong to them,” Arielle says. “It belonged to the next-door neighbor, but it was never going to be developed. So from the start, we focused on the house having this amazing view of ‘borrowed landscape.’”
Construction began in November 2019. Despite the stress of pandemic-related building delays and Dori’s pregnancy, the couple says Kevin and the Newphire Building team made every step of the building experience efficient and manageable. After the birth of their second daughter, Kira, Dori and Hemanth were ecstatic to move into the one-story, 2,400-square-foot home in July 2020.
The finished result shows that both architect and builder listened carefully to their clients’ wants and needs, which included windows (and lots of them) and an open floor plan for a combined kitchen/dining/living area. Other must-haves were a tranquil master bedroom and bathroom to help both health care workers recharge, a bedroom for each daughter that are connected by a Jack-and-Jill-style playroom and a private study/vinyl-listening room.
At the entrance of the house, a warm red door opens into the main living space. Floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors on the entire north wall of the living/dining/kitchen area create a seamless connection between the indoors and outdoors.
“One of my favorite things about the house in general is the view of trees throughout almost every room,” Dori says.
The house includes two outdoor living areas. The first is a screened porch on the east side that faces a forest of pine trees that gently slope down to meet a creek. And the second is a stunning single-level deck on the north, meadow-facing side of the house. This deck is nestled beneath an enormous cantilevered roof that appears to be floating.
The residence was designed as a “net-zero house” – a house built so airtight and energy-efficient that it produces as much renewable energy as it consumes. To earn this status, the Baboolal residence has 30 rooftop-mounted solar panels. The house is also “grid-tied,” which means the homeowners will buy some energy from the power company during winter, when there’s less sunlight. In turn, the power company will buy the excess power created from the solar power system during the summer, when energy generation is at its highest.
The goal is that over a yearlong period, the owners’ energy bills will average to $0. Arielle and Kevin expect the Baboolal residence to be net zero and will analyze production at that time, adding a solar panel or two to the roof if needed. Arielle says net-zero houses are a huge step forward in helping to slow climate change by reducing our carbon footprints.
“We’d like to be off the grid one day,” Hemanth says. “But we would need batteries for our solar panels, and that battery technology is kind of expensive right now.” Nonetheless, the days of “through-the-roof electricity bills” are behind them.
Now that they’ve been in their home nearly a year, the Baboolals say they look forward to making memories together. Since the majority of their relatives are deceased or live overseas, Dori and Hemanth have focused on growing local family roots. They welcomed Katia Bomze, a retired physicist from Ukraine, as a nanny weeks before Hana was born. The couple was impressed by Katia’s kindness from the start, and Katia, who lives in Durham with her husband, also a physicist, has become a vital part of the family. “That’s why we made her the girls’ godmother,” Hemanth says.
Even Katia’s mother, Babula, has become an honorary grandmother for 3-year-old Hana and 22-month-old Kira. Between building fairy houses in the woods or playing dress-up with Lola, their 4-year-old labradoodle, the girls love and adore their new family members.
As for Dori and Hemanth, after-work activities often include dinner from their favorite restaurant in Carrboro, Pizzeria Mercato, and watching the sun set over glasses of wine from Chapel Hill Wine Company. Piedmont paradise indeed.