Alban Barrus has fallen in love with two things in his life practically at first sight: his wife, Juliet Barrus, and the blueprints for the couple’s French Country home in Kinston, North Carolina. In fact, three months after the couple met they were engaged. They married three months after that. Building the house took a bit longer.
From the one-of-a-kind architectural details to the stunning art—quite a bit of which was created by Juliet, an accomplished artist—to the peerless antiques adorning the spacious rooms, it’s easy to imagine that such a home could become a look-but-don’t-touch kind of place. On the contrary, Juliet says, “It’s not a showplace. It has been so lived in.”
The Barruses raised their two sons, Alban III and Charles, in this very home and Juliet recalls them playing in front of the fireplaces, riding their tricycles, and running down the halls. One has to wonder if tricycles and toy trucks were what William Harvey, who happens to be my grandfather-in-law, imagined when he drew and built this estate, complete with pool and attached pool house.
And it’s unlikely that interior designer Otto Zenke pictured children, grandchildren and dogs among the millwork he hand designed and furnishings that he either personally created or scoured the globe for.
And, yet, this home is lovely yet not too precious, picturesque but real, in the way the best homes always are. “It’s such an easy house,” Barrus says. “We live all over it.”
Juliet saw a fender similar to this one in another Zenke-designed home and knew it would be the perfect addition to the room—and would keep the children away from the fire. Mr. Zenke found one in London and it was cut and recovered to fit the space.
You can tell by the way her face lights when she talks about this house that the memories here are so vivid, so real, that this home, though updated and changed over time, is in some ways a relic of a beautiful life, that each room contains memories of birthday parties and cocktail soirees, cherished houseguests and family Christmases. Although she has a degree in interior design, Juliet did little to the house when she moved in, so as not to disrupt Zenke and Harvey’s almost perfect vision.
As the years have gone and the home has evolved, one of the loveliest changes has been the addition of Juliet’s stunning art to the rooms. The power and grace of a racehorse is exquisitely captured in a piece over the den mantle, a subject that is close to the artist’s heart. She has long had a love of horses. Her favorite movie is Seabiscuit.
Perhaps one of my favorite things about this house and the couple who has made it a warm and welcoming home, is that they share it so willingly. In fact, they have opened their doors to celebrate the launch of my new novel, Slightly South of Simple and raise money for a cause near and dear to all of our hearts, the Lenoir County SPCA.
It is another act of love, one that will have widespread and far-reaching consequences, another memory that will be made in a home so full of them.
There is no denying that that one little glance—at a blueprint and at a future wife—created not only a family but also a life well lived.
Kristy Woodson Harvey’s third novel, Slightly South of Simple, the first book in the Peachtree Bluff series, combines her two loves: writing and interior design. She writes the blog Design Chic, an inaugural member of the Design Blogger Hall of Fame, with her mom, Beth Woodson. Harvey lives in North Carolina with her husband and five-year-old son. Slightly South of Simple (Simon & Schuster, 4.25.17) is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Target, and wherever books are sold.
From the next “major voice in Southern fiction” (New York Times bestselling author Elin Hilderbrand) comes the first in an all-new series chronicling the journeys of three sisters and their mother—and a secret from their past that has the potential to tear them apart and reshape their very definition of what it means to be a family.
Photography: Lindsay Corrigan Photography