This couple combined households and compromised on decorating to live in just 1,100 square feet in Chapel Hill
By Morgan Cartier Weston | Photography by John Michael Simpson
A trio of contemporary buildings rise over the northern edge of UNC Finley Golf Course, connected by smooth brick and gleaming skywalks. Within their walls, the condos at East 54 offer a resortlike lifestyle. In addition to a beautiful and convenient locale, residents enjoy amenities galore, including community events, a fitness center and saltwater rooftop pool. On the first floor of the buildings, restaurants like elements, Hawthorne & Wood and Old East Tavern provide places to gather. But for Viki Pace-Morris and Johnny Morris, the neighbors are what makes the community so exceptional.
A residential Realtor with Fonville Morisey, Viki enjoys showing people around. “This is a great place to make friends. If you want to, there are plenty of events and ways to meet,” Viki says. “Some people are more private, and that’s OK, too. But even on the elevator you might meet someone new, and I always try to say hello. And I’m actually the shy one – Johnny is the unofficial mayor of East 54!”
Johnny, a UNC graduate and president of Morris Commercial real estate brokerage, purchased his unit in 2010. Viki, who also attended UNC, and her then-husband, Roland Smith, moved in in 2011. “I think a part of me always knew I wanted to end up back in Chapel Hill,” Viki says.
“Viki and Roland really brought me under their wing with the neighbors and got me involved in things,” Johnny says. And when Roland developed a terminal illness, the neighbors – including Johnny – rallied around him and Viki. “So many people were willing to come by and sit with Roland while I ran an errand, or just checked in on us,” Viki says. “There was even one young man, a grad student at UNC, who promised to carry Roland out of the building if there was a fire. This is just an incredibly kind community.”
Roland died in 2017, but the neighbors’ support continued. “[Roland and I] were married for 36 years,” Viki says. “[After his passing,] folks reached out and invited me over to watch football games or go have a bite to eat. It meant so much.”
As time went by, Viki felt she was ready to get out more and began organizing groups of friends and neighbors to join her for live music or dinners. “Johnny was always invited, and we eventually realized how much fun we had together,” Viki says. They married in September 2019. “I’m a really blessed person,” she says. “I had already had one sweet marriage – I’m not sure how many people get to experience that twice in one lifetime.”
After they married, neighbors wondered whether the couple would move into a bigger home together. “We said, of course not, we love our life here,” Viki says. Johnny’s office is nearby, and in addition to the restaurants downstairs, the condos are walking distance to Walgreens, Fresh Market and the Glen Lennox and Meadowmont shopping centers. “It’s great to be able to grab supplies without getting in the car,” Viki explains.
Moving in together did mean compromise, though. “We sold my unit and combined all our belongings into 1,100 square feet,” Johnny explains. The result is a blend of both traditional and contemporary art and furniture. “It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you’re used to living alone and making all the decisions,” Viki says. “I like a certain amount of glamour, and he likes a certain amount of color. But we are so happy with how everything has come together.”
The entry hallway, once a blank canvas, now includes soft lighting and colorful artwork. “Johnny has a great eye for design,” Viki says. The couple replicated his den layout, but kept her beloved kitchen the same. Since Johnny moved out of his condo, Viki wanted to ensure that he still felt that he had space of his own. So, the guest bedroom became his multipurpose room. “We covered the walls in grass cloth and added sconces and a TV,” Viki says.
The room also features artwork depicting golf courses Johnny has played at and the couple’s beloved vacation spot, Bald Head Island.
But their favorite place to spend time is the balcony overlooking the golf course, watching the sun set with their Yorkie pups, Audrey Hepburn and Grace Kelly. “The dogs just love Johnny,” Viki says.
“There’s always a breeze here between the buildings, and the views are amazing,” Johnny adds. “We wouldn’t want to live anywhere else.”