Two UNC alums blend old charm with modern flair in the renovation of this historic home
The subtle pop of Carolina blue on the kitchen island is a nod to Dell and Glen’s love for the university.
By Elizabeth Poindexter|Photography by John Michael Simpson
Dell Yarbrough and Glen Yarbrough met as undergraduate students at UNC in the 1980s. Nearly 40 years later, they renovated a historical home on Mallette Street in downtown Chapel Hill, complete with an inviting red front porch swing.
“There are a lot of people who come back to town, and they often show up on our porch on game days,” Glen says. “I knew that if we moved back here, Dell was going to want to eat, sleep and breathe UNC.”
LEFT This guest bedroom was designed to embody a calm and restful oasis, complete with custom linens and bedding.
RIGHT Dell, pup Bob Barker, son Gray and Glen gather in the shade of the craftsman-style porch.
The pair moved in 2018 from New Haven, Connecticut, back to Chapel Hill, where Dell is chief of the Department of Otolaryngology/Head & Neck Surgery at the UNC School of Medicine.
Historical homes appeal to Dell and Glen, both of whom are double Tar Heels. In Connecticut, they lived in a house built in the 1930s, which they kept as a second home after moving down to North Carolina.
A Google search for local design services led Glen and Dell to discover Cat French, principal designer and CEO/founder of Cat French Design based in Southern Village. Later they’d all realize a special connection: As it turns out, Cat’s husband’s grandfather served as one of Dell’s mentors during medical school at UNC.
Glen described Cat’s team as having many and various superpowers. “Their talents complement one another,” she says. “I have so much trust in all of them, and that trust resulted in something downright magical in this house. Everyone who visits feels it.”
The remodeling primarily focused on gutting the downstairs level to ensure it would allow for entertaining and hosting friends. During the demolition process, led by CQC Home based in Durham, the team discovered beams across the ceiling in the kitchen’s vault, which are now centerpieces of the space. “We fused the old with the new,” Glen says.
Kenneth Combs, CEO of CQC Home, says his team preserved existing historical elements of the home and modernized it for the next generation. They incorporated principles of universal design, which allow for aging in place and considers accessibility, such as a zero-entry shower.
The upstairs, now primarily bedrooms, is a space for Glen and Dell to host their friends and those who find their way to their inviting porch. “My four dearest friends were the inspiration for making the upstairs – with its user-friendly baths and four rooms that are beautiful in different ways – perfect for company,” she says.
“A big highlight was working with the homeowners and to be able to showcase the dramatic change,” Kenneth says. “Being able to take something in a beautiful area with great character and historic value and bring it back to life […] and to make it a healthy, happy home for a generation now was the best feeling.”
Cat’s team helped Glen settle on paint colors during 2020 – a process that involved the pair using FaceTime to explore colors with Glen in the home’s adjacent studio apartment, where Gray Yarbrough, one of their two adult sons, currently lives. “Glen had one image she loved – a gorgeous chocolate brown wall – and the concept for a completely custom, full-home design was born from that inspiration,” Cat says.
The home’s central location means Glen and Dell can walk to run errands or grab a dinner or drink with friends, often at the Dead Mule Club, Franklin Motors or Glasshalfull. Their second son, Miller Yarbrough, manages Grata Diner in Carr Mill Mall.
“If you’re coming to town, and you want a Chapel Hill experience, it doesn’t get much better than Mallette Street,” Glen says.
For Cat, who holds a master’s in fine arts in interior architecture and historical preservation, designing the home with its owners led to a process of discovery and defining their sense of style. “It speaks to me deeply to design a historical home,” she says. “Even when we design new construction, we work hard to layer in family heirlooms and art to help create a sense of time and place.”
The neutral primary bedroom weaves together old and new with an antique bedframe and abstract art.
Glen and Dell have heard from neighbors that they are likely the fourth or fifth owners of the home built nearly 100 years ago. Cat’s use of rich textures and colors added dimension to complement the architectural detail of the home, to honor its historic feel and to give it a sense of quiet luxury.
“We integrated many unique design moments – intentional and beautiful spaces to gather, rest, relax and truly enjoy the space in every sense,” Cat says. “They are genuinely wonderful people, and they have really trusted us to bring a gorgeous, layered space together and make it really personal to them.”
LEFT A circular table encourages conversation and promotes a communal feel in the dining area.
RIGHT Cat surveyed the home during her graduate M.F.A. program many years ago. Meeting Glen and Dell and redesigning this historic craftsman bungalow years later has been a full-circle moment.
Glen says adding more windows to the downstairs kitchen opened up the home, and she often walks their dogs, Bob Barker and Biscuit, in 3-mile loops around town. Meanwhile, Dell frequently uses his bicycle to get to work.
Returning to Chapel Hill after years away – and to their native North Carolina – provides a lifestyle they enjoy. “It seems like I’ve been surprised how much it’s changed, especially Carrboro, but how little it’s changed.”