At Home ~ How a House Became a Home
Story by Leah Shapiro | Photos by Paul M. Howey
As you head up to the 26 acres of fenced-in pasture at the Wendover Estate, you’ll likely see the resident Dolly Llama relaxing in the shade. Next, you’ll drive by the original cabin that stood on this Weaverville property that Dee and Dr. Tom Howald purchased when they moved to North Carolina in 1974. Then you’ll see the 4,400-square-foot custom manor home they built four years later.
You’ll find a parking spot under the basketball hoop where the couple’s three children played years ago before they, in turn, had children of their own. Then, when you get out of your car, you’ll look out upon the rolling fields and the beautiful mountains that lie beyond.
“We’re not front door kind of people,” says Tom matter-of-factly when he intercepts me on my way up the front walk.
Once inside, Dee begins the tour by saying, “I knew I wanted a fireplace in the kitchen and a flat enough spot in the backyard so that the kids could play baseball.” The architecture is French Huguenot and American Farmhouse, but this is a house that is very much shaped by the stories waiting around every corner.
Both an artist and a seamstress, Dee produces her own fashions in her upstairs workshop. “I come from a long line of people who did handmade things,” she explains.
Throughout the house, Dee’s trompe l’oeil artwork adds unexpected dimensions. A painting of her eldest grandson is on one wall. On the opposite wall is a painting done to look as though the wallpaper had been stripped away to expose several rows of bricks. Dee also added the image of a chicken coop door leading to the outdoors. And this is all along the staircase.
Framed poems, including one penned by Robert Service that Tom framed for their 25th wedding anniversary, hang at the top of the staircase. This is a romantic couple, and you can trace their love story year by year as you walk along the hallway.
Dee points out a painting depicting the spot where Tom first kissed her at the Frontier Nursing Hospital in Hyden, Kentucky, where they met. At the time, Dee was the assistant dean of the School of Midwifery, and Tom was completing a six-month rotation in pediatrics. Tom later went on to be one of the first emergency department physicians at Mission Hospital where he worked for 34 years.
“Our children all have very creative bones in their bodies,” says Dee. She shows us the rafters in the attic where their kids and others have written notes in colorful markers. One claims: “Last sighting of Elvis here, 1978.”
The floors throughout the house are made of red oak that was harvested on property and used to replace the wall-to-wall carpeting in the 1980s. Other additions throughout the years include the construction of a wood cabin that the couple rents to short-term visitors.
In the backyard is the organic garden in which Dee decided to grow her own food while raising her children. “We introduced cauliflower, broccoli, and melons to our region,” she says. “People were skeptical,” she adds with a smile.
Now with three grown children and five grandchildren all living elsewhere, Dee and Tom have decided to move into a smaller space and put their house on the market. It’s a move they’re both comfortable with. They made this custom house a custom home, and there’s no doubt they will do that again wherever they live.