The renovation honors the midcentury home’s history while creating space for friends and family to gather
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Gabriella de Ocampo and Richie DiFranco have lived in their Ridgefield home since 2013. Built in 1965, the house had undergone some renovations by previous owners, but none that honored its midcentury modern architecture – or Gabriella and Richie’s tastes. “It had been on the market a while, and we knew we would need to make some changes, but we fell in love with the neighborhood, the large lots and big trees,” Gabriella says. “Richie grew up in a similar neighborhood [in Cleveland], with homes that had character, style and a big yard to play in, and we knew we wanted that for our kids, too.”
As the years went by, their ideas for the house grew – and so did their family. When they moved in, son Mateo DiFranco was a toddler; he is now 11, and siblings Liliana DiFranco, 9, and Marco DiFranco, 5, have joined the family. “Having our children has only reinforced our decision to make this move,” Gabriella says. She and Richie had been living in a duplex in Toronto, with only four feet between each building and no yard to speak of.
“Family is also what brought us to Chapel Hill from Toronto,” Richie explains. Two of his three sisters were already living in North Carolina at the time. His third sister, as well as Richie’s parents, have since followed.
“Having so much family nearby is great, and we love having everyone over for big dinners,” Gabriella says. “But between our siblings and all their children, we easily have 20 people or more in the house at a time, which just wasn’t feasible with our old layout.” Their closed-off kitchen was functional but far from spacious, and the home felt disjointed.
At the beginning of the pandemic, with their children attending school online and Richie working from home, he and Gabriella realized the time had come to finally make the changes they had been discussing for years.
The couple interviewed several interior design firms before meeting Liz Scisco at True Design in Durham. “We hired Liz to upfit the kitchen and 2½ baths, which led to some walls being opened, so the renovation ended up bleeding out into the living room as well,” Gabriella says.
“We threw every idea we’ve had over the years at Liz, and she helped us edit,” Richie adds. “We really lucked out. Her personality, work style and design sense were a great fit for us, and she really helped us understand the renovation process.”
“The midcentury modern aesthetic is something we are both drawn to generally, but me especially because it reminds me of the house I grew up in in Phoenix,” Gabriella says. Her grandparents’ dining set from the ’60s is a centerpiece of the remodel and brings both sentimental value and an authentic tone to the home. “Between our vision and Liz’s expertise, we were able to transform our space into our dream retro entertaining hub.”
“Liz was also on top of frontloading a lot of the work, building in time for things like supply chain delays, so we didn’t have to pivot very often,” Richie says. “Of course, these are challenging times, so her project management was a huge help.”
“Anyone going through this kind of process will tell you it’s stressful, but we feel really fortunate that our stress was minimized by our great team and the wonderful people around us,” Gabriella says. “We were able to stay with friends, family and at the beach during the renovation period, which made it fun for the kids.”
Liz also introduced Richie and Gabriella to Cam Hill, who served as builder and general contractor for their renovation. “Cam and his team were so knowledgeable, but also incredibly friendly. The kids still talk about them,” Richie says. “They were a delight to work with.”
“Now that we’ve done this, we really feel like this is our home, and we want to stay here,” Gabriella says. “We can walk to University Place and love visiting the Chapel Hill Farmers Market on Saturdays.” The family also enjoys spending time at the Chapel Hill Community Center, playing bocce, practicing archery and rock climbing, and Richie volunteers with the Special Olympics bocce league there, too.
When it comes to local eats, bakeries are at the top of the family’s list. “We like to bike or walk to Guglhupf’s Eastgate location for chocolate croissants and cinnamon schnecken, and we love Brandwein’s Bagels,” Gabriella says. “We used to live in New York City, and theirs is the only local bagel on par. We also love that [Brandwein’s] supports local organizations, such as our kids’ preschool and after school program, Learning Outside.”
“And, when we start to miss city life, Durham isn’t too far away,” Richie adds.