Marsh-Side Haven: A House on Town Creek
“This house has been a haven for us.”
That’s Kit Fry, who, along with her husband, Skip, lives in a two-story house overlooking Town Creek. From two bedrooms and nearly every spot in the public area of the home, a commanding view of more than 2 acres of marsh is there to greet you.
Situated at the end of a long, wooded drive, the Frys’ home is neither ostentatious nor plain, it just is. There’s a relaxing, restorative air here, and you feel its effects when you get out of your car in the circular drive. It’s quiet. The only sounds are the wind across the marsh and the insects. The sounds of a living forest.
The home is what’s called an “Envelope Home,” an energy-efficient building concept that arrived in the United States in the 1970s and is still in use today. An Envelope Home, sometimes called a Thermal Envelope Home, features thick walls and well-ventilated crawlspaces and attics that allow air to circulate around the home, creating in insulating “envelope” of tempered air around the internal living spaces. The idea is that the air will help insulate the interior and reduce the cost of heating and cooling the home. And it works.
The Frys’ Envelope Home, which has been modified to suit our humid environment, uses less electricity than similarly sized homes in the area; over the last couple of years, their electric bill has averaged $170 a month, impressive when you consider that time frame includes one of the warmest summers and coolest winters we’ve seen in a long time.
“We’ve always lived in nontraditional homes,” says Kit, “so when we saw this Envelope Home on this gorgeous piece of land, we looked no further. In fact, it was the only place we looked when we decided to buy in Brunswick County.”
Nontraditional living is an understatement for the Frys. They met on St. Croix in the early 1970s, then moved to Wrightsville Beach in 1974. Skip was employed as a boat builder at Westsail, and he built a boat for himself and Kit. They called Wrightsville home for two years, and then they moved onto their custom-built, 32-foot Westsail sailboat. They headed to the Virgin Islands, where they worked for a while taking tourists on pleasure cruises around the Caribbean. After a few months, they decided on a trans-Atlantic trip. From the Virgin Islands, they headed north to Bermuda, then east to the Azores, then on to Portugal. They rested a while everywhere they landed, but ultimately decided to head back to the Caribbean. St. Croix was their first stop; there they worked, saved and moved on to Tortola, the largest of the British Virgin Islands.
“Our time on Tortola was great,” says Kit. “We stayed there for five years. We sailed. I taught school. We lived on our boat for most of that time, then in a little house for a while. Eventually, we felt like it was time to come back home.”
Coming back home meant returning to our corner of North Carolina. They lived on Wrightsville Beach for a while, then found their home in Brunswick County.
“As soon as we saw it, we were intrigued,” Kit says. “The thing that made it firm in our minds was the first glimpse we had of Town Creek and the tidal marsh behind the house. We saw that and knew this was the view we wanted, this was the place for us.”
In 1985 they moved in.
Kit and Skip made changes, some right away, others over time. They enclosed the upper and lower decks, expanding the living space and creating an airy solarium on the top and ground floors. A bank of windows upstairs and a bank of deck-accessible doors downstairs bring in plenty of light and, during milder months, allow the home to take advantage of the breeze and its own convective envelope effect. Eventually, they remodeled the bathrooms and kitchen, performing the little tweaks that make a house a home and creating a lovely, livable space.
The house is a reverse-floor plan, so the communal living space — kitchen, dining, TV and gathering spaces — is upstairs and the bedrooms are downstairs. The living space is comfortable, and the art that the Frys have collected over their years of travel reflect the places they’ve been and loved. Many pieces are bright, tropical paintings and prints of landscapes, nature and scenes. There are a number of small wooden boats, built by Skip in his downstairs workshop, that speak to their seafaring lifestyle.
Just as on a ship, there isn’t any wasted space. The kitchen is as big as it needs to be, with plenty of counter space for the few countertop appliances the Frys need, and a large, granite-topped island that provides more work area for meal prep and entertaining as well as separates the kitchen from the dining room. On the kitchen side of the island, there’s storage for pots, pans, spices and the like, keeping them out of sight and organized, and on the dining-room side, there’s ample storage for linens, silverware, serving ware and entertainment essentials.
The TV room is adjacent, with the television hidden behind doors in a cabinet, a touch that puts it, like the pots and pans, out of sight, allowing the focal point of the room to be the people in it and the view of the marsh.
Kit’s favorite part of the upstairs is the solarium. She and Skip spend much of their time here. It has no TV, but takes advantage of the natural settings to provide a little visual stimulation.
“What a place to wake up and have a cup of coffee in the morning,” says Kit. “I don’t care how many times we’ve looked at this marsh, we never get tired of it.”
The area is bright and breezy, and touring the house with Kit, she keeps returning here, orienting herself to this cozy corner of the house and revealing with her actions and her words how this space draws you to it.
A spiral staircase leads downstairs, where part of the solarium has been turned into an office (with fantastic views of the marsh, of course). Off the solarium are three bedrooms — two for guests and a good-sized master bedroom. Out of each of the bedrooms you can catch a glimpse of the marsh reeds and sunset skies, something she says adds to the restive nature of the home.
The master bedroom is plain, and the bed sits squarely in the center of the room. Instead of a traditional headboard, a custom-built piece serves double duty as a headboard on one side and chest of drawers on the other.
“We designed this piece when we built the house,” she says. “Instead of pushing the bed against a wall, we decided to build storage into the headboard. We love it, it makes this room feel larger than it is and adds something to it that you don’t often see.”
The cleverly integrated storage is again reminiscent of a ship’s efficient use of space.
Behind the house, a deck leads to a path that leads to a dock where Skip has on and off kept a 16-foot johnboat. A watery path through the marsh takes you to Town Creek. Kayaks, canoes and paddleboards are welcome, and Kit says that their friends often call and say they’re on their way and are going to put in at their dock.
As much as Kit and Skip enjoy the home and the solace it offers from their work lives, they’re feeling that itch again for something new.
“It’s time, we think, for someone else to love this house,” says Kit. “Someone with an adventurous spirit, someone creative, someone who wants a haven and the privacy that so much of Brunswick County offers.”
So, they’re planning to put the home on the market and pass it along to someone else who appreciates all the home is and can be.
Kit explains: “It’ll be hard to leave. We’ve loved it here, we’ve grown here, we’ve made a lot of memories in this home, but it is time to do it all again. That’s in our blood, this need to move and explore. Frankly, I’m surprised we’ve stayed in this one place for so long. But I guess that speaks to the home and the property and what will make it hard to walk away. This place is a true haven, a retreat from all the noise outside. We both hope we can take a lesson from this house and turn our next one into a place that offers a similar sense of solitude and space.”