The Historic Beach House
A classic gem in Greensboro’s Fisher Park echoes with the lives of its various inhabitants
By Jim Dodson
If and when it happens, for Mary and Jeff Beach, saying goodbye to their spectacular century-old house in Greensboro’s Fisher Park Circle will be a bittersweet occasion.
“This house holds so much history, including our own family’s,” says Mary Beach. “Not only did we restore it and loved living here, but our boys grew up here. For 30 years this house has been a fantastic place to bring up a family.”
Their sons have grown up and flown away to their own busy lives. But memories live on.
The tale begins on June 1, 1989, when Jeff and Mary closed on the house where well-known Greensboro attorney, the late Bynum Hunter, grew up on Carolina Street, a majestic brick Georgian that spoke the language of craftsmen from a bygone era.
“The classic beauty of the house struck us right away. But unfortunately it wasn’t air conditioned,” Mary relates with a laugh. “We had a 1-month-old baby at the start of Carolina summer!”
Mary, a Texan by birth, knew about Southern summers but had fled to Manhattan after college, where she lived and worked as a top executive at Bergdorf Goodman and Geoffrey Beene for more than a decade, eventually meeting and marrying Jeff Beach, a UNC-Chapel Hill graduate. It was his business interests that brought them home to North Carolina in 1989.
Their first renovation of the house — original blueprints of which indicate it may have been completed in 1922 but probably planned at least two years earlier — solved the air-conditioning issue and provided the foundation for an even more comprehensive renovation of the 5,000-square-foot property undertaken in 2009.
The ambitious scope of their second renovation required the family to move to smaller accommodations in the neighborhood for 14 months, an inconvenience that happily added another thousand square feet of living space highlighted by an expanded kitchen and utility area, a detached two-car garage addition and a stunning classical terrace framed by an expanded private yard.
In addition to its classic exterior, the functional charm of the house resides inside its three-storied walls. The Beaches not only preserved original architectural elements throughout — including triple moldings, all four fireplaces and most window treatments — but engaged an old friend and designer, Christopher Ostafin, from Mary’s days with Bergdorf Goodman, to transform their living spaces into a seamless flow of contemporary rooms that strikingly complements the classic lines of the house: Burnished wallpapers in earth-tone browns and a variety of elegant modern patterns are made invitingly warm by high ceilings, abundant natural lighting and contemporary mirrors and accent fixtures. A dramatic staircase and landing, along with a cozy den/family room that features ebony, textured walls, give these peaceful family spaces the air of a fine museum. A spacious master bedroom and a pair of equally elegant bedrooms with updated full baths are rivaled by a finished and spacious third-floor, where the Beach sons enjoyed their own private living space.
“The boys basically lived up here until they went away to school,” Mary Beach explains during a third-floor tour. “The house is so well-built and quiet, we could hardly hear them up there at times.”
She notes that with their boys grown and gone, it was really time to begin thinking of a smaller house that fits their needs.
“They still come back for the holidays,” she adds, “and I think for all of us, the idea of saying goodbye to a house that was our home for 30 years will be really difficult, when the moment comes.”
She glances at a spectacular family photo wall that includes informal portraits of generations from both sides of the Beach family’s journey from Texas to New York and back home to North Carolina.
“Wherever we go — somewhere in the neighborhood, we hope — these will go with us, of course.
“My hope,” Mary Beach allows as she leads the way down the magnificent foyer staircase, “is that whoever buys the house will love it as much as we do, and will want to create their own story here.”
900 Carolina Street, Greensboro
Asking price: $1,150,000
Listed by Tyler Redhead & McAlister (336) 274-1717 or trmrealestate.com