A family crafted a comfortable and functional home from scratch in Lake Hogan Farms
By Anne Tate | Photography by Cornell Watson
Steven Barnes packed light when he moved to Chapel Hill in 2019 to begin his new job as associate vice president at Duke Health Development and Alumni Affairs. The only furniture he brought from Nashville, Tennessee, was a TV tray, pop-up chair and mattress. His wife, Keta Barnes, and their two kids, Amya, 15, and Kayla, 9, joined him two months later after finishing the school semester in Nashville, bringing boxes of personal items, but not much else.
“Coming here really was a fresh start in many ways,” Steven says. “We wanted a fresh start with our home.”
The family selected a house in Lake Hogan Farms with the help of Realtor Desiree Goldman. They were drawn to the new construction, with its master and guest bedrooms downstairs. The neighborhood stood out to them because of the mature trees and abundance of families. “People seem to genuinely care about one another,” Steven says. “That’s made living here wonderful.”
When it came time to fill the space, the Barneses chose Cat French of Catherine French Design for her easygoing personality and collaborative process. The first time Cat walked through the front door of the house, she faced a truly blank canvas and was tasked with designing most of the house’s first floor.
Cat says she works with clients to determine their “aesthetic happy place,” and that the Barneses prefer a neutral color palette and clean, straight lines. She says Keta, specifically, doesn’t like anything too curvy and hates velvet. Cat incorporated shades of ivory, cream and gold into her designs and then layered in rich tones like gray and bronze, using navy as an accent color, to add depth to the abundance of neutrals.
Another major design factor for Cat is identifying a client’s functional needs. She says it was important to the family to have no “off-limit” rooms, where they would be hesitant to use certain furniture. The Barneses were intent on creating livable, comfortable and functional spaces, so Cat aimed to select beautiful but durable furnishings and carpet.
Since the Barneses brought no furniture, Cat focused first on the basics like a sofa and kitchen table. She started with the kitchen, breakfast nook and living space and later worked on the master bedroom, parlor and office. After more than a year of work, many mood boards and intentional furniture selections, Cat transformed the once-empty house into a home designed around the family’s needs.
Wrapping up their huge home project during a pandemic meant that the Barneses had to stay flexible – some furniture arrivals were set back significantly, so the family opted to order items such as the bedroom suite from North Carolina manufacturers instead. “There was so much energy and excitement going into picking out all of this new stuff and then to have part of the process be delayed because of a global pandemic – you certainly couldn’t anticipate that,” Steven says.
The Barneses’ favorite room – and Cat’s favorite part of the design – is the parlor. Cat turned the formal dining room into a more inviting and dynamic space better suited for family game nights or as a casual workspace. “It allows an extension of our home,” Steven says.
Steven and Keta also love the sitting area in the master bedroom, where they can gaze out the window and relax. The house is only two turns from the main road, but a fence and trees hide the traffic, creating a serene and nature-filled view.
The Barneses enjoy cooking together, especially on taco night, and the large circular wooden table makes them feel more connected during meals. It also gives Kayla, who attends Seawell Elementary School, and Amya, who attends Chapel Hill High School, plenty of room to do homework.
The Barneses are still relatively new to Chapel Hill, but they’ve immersed themselves in the culture and community. They enjoy the murals around town and the access to performing arts events and festivals. Keta, an attorney for the Department of Veterans Affairs, recently joined The ArtsCenter board, and Steven appreciates the proximity of storied academic institutions.
“We were not prepared for the rivalry between Duke and UNC,” Steven says, laughing. “I cheer for who pays my bills.”
The Barneses enjoy walks to Hogan Lake, going to movies at Silverspot Cinema and dining out at restaurants like Armadillo Grill, Hawthorne & Wood and Oakleaf. On the weekends, they make early trips to Sunrise Biscuit Kitchen, or Keta picks up cream puffs from Guglhupf. And every Friday night, the family makes some popcorn, gets cozy and watches a movie, enjoying family time together in their peaceful new home.
“Cat’s made the house so comfortable,” Keta says. “And now there are spaces where we can all have our own little space during the day, and then we come together in the evenings.”
Steven echoes the sentiment: “In just about every room, we can work, we can relax, we can play, we can meditate,” he says. “That versatility has really been a positive for us, particularly in the current environment.” CHM