Kimberly Hixson’s revitalized — and revitalizing — High Point renovation
By Quinn Dalton • Photographs by Amy Freeman
As with most of Kimberly Hixson’s projects, the house at 111 West Farriss Avenue in High Point found her, not the other way around. But this one kept finding her even when she tried again and again to turn it away. “I don’t take on every house that I’m asked to do,” she says. “The ones I choose have indeed found me and usually at a time when I’ve needed them as much as they needed me. They tell their stories to me. What they ask of me at times can be a difficult and expensive path to take, but every one of them has been worth it.” She had her reasons for holding out on this house, but as she sees it, the house had its reasons, too.
Some houses just insist.
Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, the one-story, Mission Revival-style house at the corner of West Farriss Avenue and Hillcrest Drive had been built around 1927. In more recent years it became known to locals as the Clontz house, after Jim W. Clontz, a World War II veteran and prominent High Point attorney, who purchased the house for his growing family. He and his wife remained there for the next 40 years.
Even as the four Clontz children grew up and moved into their adult lives, they thought of their home as more than the cherished shelter of their childhood memories, but as another family member, one they could not bring themselves to abandon.
This was why in early 2014 Clontz’s son, Jimmy walked a few doors down the street to another house Hixson was then renovating to ask if she could come with him for a few minutes and take a look.
Two things she remembers. “So much water damage — you could see from the front door through to the back yard.” The Mission (sometimes generally referred to as Mediterranean) style is, after all, an architectural answer to staying cool in arid, sunbaked climes. It features thick stucco exteriors and low-pitch or flat rooflines with clay tiles rather than shingles. Humid climates with frequent rain and abundant, moisture-trapping shade are kryptonite to this style.
But the other thing: “I felt a connection the moment I walked in the door,” Hixson remembers. “It was an instant, soul-deep link.”
Hixson, a general contractor known for her exacting and creative workmanship, has renovated and custom-built dozens of homes across the Triad and beyond over the years. But by 2014, Hixson’s practiced gaze was turning toward the Blue Ridge; she was already working toward building a home for herself and her husband in Boone, where they planned to retire.
But you can’t help what you love. Hixson looked at 111 West Farriss and saw in its faded elegance the possibility of healing. “I thought I might restore it into an actual mission — a place for people in recovery.” This vision seemed especially fitting because of the house’s immediate proximity to St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. And the cause itself was as close to her heart as her oldest son, whose heroin addiction had by then led him to prison. But it turned out the timing wasn’t yet right for the Clontz family to sell. And their price was too high given what Hixson knew would be required to bring the house back to life properly. “The truth is, as much as I felt the pull of that house, I was almost relieved,” she recalls.
Two years later, in 2016, Hixson received a call from a broker representing the Clontz family. They had reduced the price. This time, it was Hixson’s turn to say no. Her 23-year-old son had since died. She had no intention of doing another project in High Point, or living there a day longer than she had to, so crushing was her grief.
But the broker called back, and then called back again, each time announcing reductions in price. She said no, and still he called back. The fifth time, he told her the family was reluctantly considering tearing the house down in order to sell the lot, had even gotten bids. It hurt her to think of that, but she still said no.
The sixth time he called, she recognized his number. “I said to God, ‘You really want me to do this, don’t you?’” She picked up. “OK, yes,” she said. “I’ll buy it.”
“Don’t you want to know the price?”
Hixson laughs, remembering. “I was just accepting my fate.”
The transformation of 111 West Farriss was beyond a restoration. It was a reimagining, down to the studs. Hixson moved the kitchen so that it would truly be the center of the house. She opened up the floor plan, moved doorways for better flow, and added modern amenities such as an en-suite master bedroom, while also nodding to the Spanish Mission style by arching all of the new doorways, which, in the old floor plan, had been squared off.
The exterior required as much or more effort. The stucco and structural integrity had to be shored up. Mature white oaks in the front yard, though beautiful, would only create more moisture problems and had to be removed. Much as it pained Hixson to clear them away, the end result opened the approach to the house and allowed its face to shine in the sun.
And this was her aim, to open. She found ways to embody the pull she’d felt from the first moment she’d stepped inside. For example, the graceful outward sweep of iron railings framing the front steps seem to mimic an embrace. The low-walled terrace extending the length of the façade allows from the street a view of comfortable perches inviting a visit. Tile from the guest bath adds a spot of color to the mailbox — the inside reaching out.
The overall feel of the house inside and out is crisp, clean and open. The cool white exterior contrasts with the rich dark tones of the front door and window casings. This contrast repeats inside, with the low gleam of the refinished wood floors and pristine white walls throughout, which not only reflect the abundant natural light but seem to glow from within. They serve as a canvas for every piece of furniture and artwork. The front room is anchored by a whitewashed fireplace, the kitchen by a generous central island and a mix of cabinetry, with some glass-front doors displaying treasures within.
At just under 2,000 square feet, the main floor was comfortable in size, made to feel more spacious with the opening up of the floor plan. But there was also an unfinished basement, which Hixson took upon herself to completely and creatively finish, doubling the living space.
Hixson and her husband moved in, and it wasn’t long before offers to purchase came along. This is an occupational hazard of success in Hixson’s line of work — people try to buy the results right out from under you.
But Hixson was and is just as resolute about not selling as she had been about not buying years before. Among the houses she has lovingly transformed into homes — work she describes as her calling — 111 West Farriss Avenue holds its own ground in her heart. “I’ve never been so attached to a house,” Hixson says. “I don’t know that I could ever sell it.”
But with the dream of someday retiring to the mountains, Hixson found another option. After rebuffing multiple offers to sell, a perfect tenant appeared in the form of Michelle Casey, a personal trainer with a strong design aesthetic of her own. Her tastes run toward the modern and minimal, and they happen to complement perfectly the clean, simple lines of the house.
Casey marvels at the deep calm that seems to emanate from every room, especially the kitchen, which both she and Hixson name as the space they gravitate toward the most.
“Houses have souls,” Hixson says. She’s convinced every house yearns to be cared for, and, if time gets the better of it, to be made whole again. “That,” she says, “is where I step in.”
And what good fortune that she did — for the community, the house and its latest grateful occupant. “I wake up every day and pinch myself,” Casey says. “I can’t believe how lucky I am to live here.”
Quinn Dalton is the author of two story collections and two novels, most recently Midnight Bowling. She also co-authored The Infinity Of You & Me under the pen name JQ Coyle with fellow UNCG M.F.A. grad Julianna Baggott.