When the Hammocks Were Hung the House Became a Home

BY Marimar McNaughton

A year ago this month Bill Strope stood wringing wet in the late summer heat madly grooming his new front yard at 21 Jasmine Place on Harbor Island. His crew was planting palm trees laying the sidewalk and fencing the yard. His twin sons Ben and Will were sweating alongside him. Stopping just long enough to mop his brow and pause for a break sipping a cool beverage under the shade of a live oak tree Strope smiled broadly drinking in the view from the vintage 1950s block cottage he and his wife Lindsey purchased in June 2006.

“We are face-lifting restoring trying to give it that old South Beach Miami look ” he says of his new home and garden.

Working from the outside to the inside comes naturally to Strope owner of Durham-based Old North State Landscape Development. No surprise either that the live oak tree rumored to be the oldest on the island was the deal maker in his decision to purchase.

“The tree is worth more than the lot ” Strope jokes.

This summer the Stropes are chilling out together under the shade of the oak admiring the views of Banks Channel and the passing boat traffic from the patio.

“We can sit here and feel like we’re anywhere in the world. We love Harbor Island ” Strope says of the tightknit neighborhood. “We’re happier here than on the beach. We’re part of a community here … there’s more of a home … feeling.”

“I never really wanted to be on the beach-beach ” Lindsey says. “I wanted to be in a community.”

When they put their 20-year-old 10-acre Roxboro estate on the market in 2003 they never dreamed it would take three years to sell it. They shopped for Wrightsville Beach property the entire time and watched the value of their $1 million budget shrink.

Randy Williams of Hardee Hunt and Williams led them to Harbor Island.

“We never knew this was back here. Most everybody has lived here their whole lives ” Strope says. “People were walking around. We felt blessed. We feel like we’re a part of something that we wouldn’t be a part of … if we lived on the beach ” he adds.

Harbor Island began as a hummock a native habitat for migratory shore birds. Only intrepid fishermen ventured out to the marsh islands a century ago but all that changed in the 1920s when Banks Channel and Motts Channel were dredged in 1924-25 and the land was filled in to create a destination called Southern Shore Acres a suburb of Wrightsville Beach and the town’s first planned community.

Designed around the indigenous live oak trees a Moorish style of architecture with stucco exteriors and arcaded porches popularized during the Art Deco movement was introduced as a model home which opened in 1928. Developers built a hotel a casino and a large auditorium on the Banks Channel waterfront and laid out lots for property owners to build summer vacation cottages.

Sometime after World War II the neighborhood evolved into a permanent year-round settlement a trend that has been revived in recent years as Harbor Island and all of the charms of its retro architectural styles enchant new homeowners like the Stropes who found much to be fond of on Jasmine Place.

Their majestic oak tree is a symbol of the couple’s courtship in Beaufort; their address a reminder of their honeymoon on Harbor Island in the Bahamas; the picket fence the serpentine footpath crushed seashell pavers and the palm trees of their second home in Key West. From their Roxboro estate they brought one fountain and for their new home they created another from an Indonesian urn embellished by two brass heron fountains.

“I wanted a water feature a focal point to break up the façade of the house sort of a Bali look ” Strope says.

Landscaped with tropical plants like succulent portulaca and spiny potocarpus Strope purposely planted flowering shrubs and plant varieties that would bloom year-round — sweet broom spirea abelia camellias and knockout roses.

They admit toying with the idea of tearing the house down. Instead they embraced the cinder block house with asphalt shingles repainting the Bahama shutters and the exterior a fern green over cream with tobacco brown accents.

From a 1956 black and white photo of the house it is apparent that successive homeowners have altered the floorplan of the house over the years.

The ground level which was a garage and storage area was remodeled into finished interior space including a living room dining room kitchen home office and full bath. The Stropes have made only a few interior changes removing the exterior block walls on the southeast corner to create an outdoor garden room adding ceramic tile flooring outside and in painting the tongue-and-groove knotty pine paneling opening an interior wall in the kitchen and renovating two bathrooms.

The original pine floors on the upper level have been refinished linking the master bedroom with three bedrooms a full bath and a family room that doubles as a guest room adjacent to a large open deck canopied by the limbs of the oak tree.

An eclectic mix of island styles is reflected in their home’s antique furnishings which have been handed down from family members.

When the hammocks were hung the Stropes who have six grown children were officially “in residence.” Joe the youngest at 17 studies at Virginia Episcopal School in Lynchburg Virginia. The twins Ben and Will 20 graduates of Episcopal High School in Alexandria Virginia are now enrolled at Cape Fear Community College. Sissie 21 attends Wake Forest University; and Julie 28 and Erin 30 have already left the nest.

As the afternoon sunlight floods the home’s southern exposure Voodoo the black cat naps joined by Lindsey’s Havanese pooches Rio the sire his mate Havana and their pup Santa Clara Claus.

Bill Strope has kept his busy landscape practice in Durham and in the Five Points neighborhood of Raleigh has started renovating a 1930s bungalow.

“We can enjoy the island life — it’s beach friendly boat friendly I feel safe here. You can go one or two or three places and find one of those things but not all of them ” Strope says.

“We don’t really know what we’re doing we’re just doing it ” he adds. “We’re really happy here. It’s amazing how happy we are here.”