Mary Hooper and Steve Hooper learned that less is more when they downsized into their perfect home
By Anna-Rhesa Versola | Photography by John Michael Simpson
Mary Hooper and Steve Hooper were ready to sign a yearlong rental agreement when they could not find the right home. Then, at the last minute, real estate agent Gretchen Castorina showed them one more house. “We had no idea that [the development] existed, to be perfectly honest with you,” Mary says about the home in The Hamptons neighborhood off Mount Gilead Church Road.
The Arthur Rutenberg-designed home was built in 2019 to specifications of a different couple. However, due to unexpected circumstances, the home sat unoccupied through the pandemic lockdown until early 2021.
ATTENTION TO DETAILS
Steve and Mary felt as if the 3,000-square-foot house was waiting for them. “What I wanted was first-floor living,” Mary says. “That’s what I wanted, and that’s what this is.” They appreciated thoughtful details throughout the home, like the light switch plates installed lower than in standard homes, wider doorways, pocket doors and the main suite bathroom with a no-step shower entry. The laundry room has a wall-mounted ironing board opposite a wide counter and sink. The whole house was wired for a backup generator, and there was wiring ready for the installation of a smart panel.
“And, I actually love the fact that this stairway is back here [by the laundry room] and not in the front of the house,” Mary says. Upstairs, there was an additional 500 square feet in an unfinished bonus room.
On the main floor, Mary was immediately drawn to the kitchen with its upgraded appliances and ample storage. “If one could love inanimate objects, I would be in love,” she says, embracing the massive granite kitchen island “so huge we call it a small country.”
Her excitement is hard to contain. “I love, love, love the kitchen in this house,” Mary says. “When we came over here, we were saying, ‘What would it take for us not to move forward with building? How correct would a house have to be?’ My husband for quite a while has wanted every bedroom to have its own bathroom. [Now], we have three bedrooms on the first floor, and each bedroom has its own bathroom here. For me, it’s the kitchen. The pantry here is gigantic. There were just so many things for us that struck chords.”
Steve and Mary lived in Durham for 26 years and raised their two daughters in a 3,500-square-foot home in Fairfield. Steve admits the adjustment took time, especially since moving into a new home was an opportunity to “downsize” their possessions.
“We’ve been talking about it for a while,” Mary says. “You know, the only way we can – or I can – handle a move is if I have all of my attention and time available. And so everything just kind of came together.”
Mary retired January 1, 2021, as executive director of the nonprofit i2i Center for Integrative Health (formerly known as NC Council of Community Programs) that focuses on public policy and advocacy for behavioral health services. She received the state’s highest honor, the Order of The Long Leaf Pine, in recognition of her service.
Steve, who has been in North Carolina since 1987, is associate dean and chair of the department of health sciences at UNC. He is also associate director of the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities.
To cull items for their move, Steve and Mary agreed on some ground rules for sorting through three decades of accumulated belongings. “We just started working on getting it out of the house,” Steve says. “Probably the only criterion we had was that if we said yes, then we [would] have a purpose for it. If it was something we both wanted, we’d say, ‘OK, this could go in the living room, or this could go upstairs.’ And it worked pretty well. We were able to clear things out in about six or seven months.”
It’s been more than a year since Steve and Mary moved to northeastern Chatham County. They continue to make changes that reflect their own style. They installed built-in bookshelves that flank the living room gas fireplace, and they added a corner fireplace on the screened-in back porch.
Instead of curtains, there are retractable privacy screens and plantation blinds. The oversized sliding doors that separate the living room from the back porch also have retractable screens to shield the interior from bright sunlight at different times of the year.
Upstairs above the garage, the once-unfinished bonus room is now finished with a wine fridge and a refurbished bar pool table. Behind the house, Steve says he wants to install a 10-by-40-foot lap pool for Mary but is checking first with the Chatham County planning department. Their house sits on three acres but stream buffers may limit their options.
Steve and Mary pared down their possessions to ones that hold special meaning for them like the carved, howling coyote from Santa Fe, New Mexico. In the hallway leading to the owner’s suite, Mary points out the wall prints that remind her of her native Block Island in New Shoreham, Rhode Island.
Mary says she moved to North Carolina the day after the couple married in 1989. In the owner’s suite, the Scandinavian furniture is prominent.
“This is the only thing that we bought when we got married,” Mary says about the bedroom set.
“We never had a honeymoon,” Mary says. “We’d go do something like Disney World with the kids when they were little. And he goes, ‘So, is this our honeymoon?’ [I’d say,] ‘No, no, no, no, no. This is not a honeymoon.’”
In June and July, Steve and Mary celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary with a three-week trip to Croatia and Spain. And staying true to their renewed philosophy of minimalism, they brought back a single souvenir from their summer trip: a large print from Barcelona, Spain, of ‘La Sagrada Familia’ that they will hang in the dining room as a daily reminder of their long-awaited “honeymoon.”