You might say that Brian and Brittani Phillips’ love affair with one another began with a love affair with a house and the Fourth Ward neighborhood.
You can see the results at the Fourth Ward’s annual holiday home tour Dec. 5-7.
When Brian Phillips moved from Seattle to Charlotte in 1999, however, sinking deep roots into the center city with a wife, toddler son and a showcase home were the furthest things from his mind.
A bachelor with a promising career with Microsoft, Phillips had been in town for six years when he and a buddy decided to invest in a modest fixer-upper in historic Fourth Ward. The one-and-a-half-story, 2,600-square-foot Victorian bungalow at 315 W. Ninth Street had been built in 1903 and was suffering from what he called some unfortunate remodeling projects in the 1970s. The guys knew they liked living uptown, but figured they’d do some upgrades inside and then flip the property.
During the renovation process, which lasted into 2006, Brian happened to meet Brittani Rotunda, a vivacious Florida native, through mutual friends. The UNC Charlotte graduate, who worked in real estate, loved to walk in Fourth Ward and had already decided that she, too, wanted to live in the heart of the city. “It’s such an eclectic mix of people and architecture, and I knew Fourth Ward was where I wanted to be,” she said.
It wasn’t long before the couple were looking at Brian’s bungalow as a joint project – and perhaps not one to sell, but to transform into their dream home together.
They bought out Brian’s housemate and married in 2008. In 2011 their son, Sullivan, was born. Work on the house never stopped entirely – window panes kept falling out, for instance. By 2012 they had developed their master plan for an entire remodel. The family moved out for the 15 months during construction by The Urban Building Group.
“We looked at this project as restoring the house to its original turn-of-the-century character, not just adding living space,” says Brian. The couple more than doubled their heated space to 5,300 square feet on three floors, including six bedrooms, five-and-a-half baths, home theater, and an entertainment room with a New Orleans-themed bar.
While the interior was enlarged, the house still appears proportionate to its neighbors. White rockers on the expanded front porch beg pedestrians to come sit a spell.
Classic, but automated
But it’s the details indoors – all dressed up now for Christmas – that will wow tour-goers. Features include three imported hand-carved fireplace mantels of marble and travertine; 11-foot ceilings in all sections of the original home; heart pine flooring and period-specific wooden moldings throughout; custom-built tables in the kitchen and a bar constructed of reclaimed barn wood; and much more.
An unfinished attic was repurposed as a laundry room, bathroom and recreation space. A back porch and outdoor kitchen were also added. The aluminum siding came off; natural cypress siding went on the exterior in keeping with what was used originally.
Not as evident but nevertheless a key element to the house is the fact that it’s now fully automated. As the couple were envisioning their new home, they drew up lists of wants and needs. For Brian, who now works for Avanade, a subsidiary of the international technology company Accenture, bringing the home into the 21st Century technologically was a “need.”
Brittani, who works on the Kenwood Myers Park townhome project for real estate developer Jim Gross, was not sold on the idea initially. But she now appreciates the value of these advances, which have added security and convenience as well as energy efficiency.
“If we’re traveling, Brian can punch in a code when we can land at the airport, turn up the furnace remotely, and it’ll be warm by the time we get home,” she says. “And lights are programmed to go off automatically if a room is vacant for awhile.”
Brian adds, “Even with doubling the square footage and adding all these automation devices, our electric bill has stayed the same.”
Trolling antique shops
Brian, who learned a lot from his general contractor father, custom-built the banquette that curves behind the kitchen table. But Brian admits he didn’t have “the furnishings vision” and turned over that responsibility to his wife. In turn, she often turned to her artistic mother for help.
“When I was growing up, my mother used to drag me to all these antique shops, which I hated then,” she recalls. “Now, I’m so glad she did.” Evidence of their shopping sprees at auctions, antique shops and flea markets, as well as local retailers such as Circa Interiors can be found throughout the home.
Many of the holiday decorations come from family – the nutcrackers in the library and the miniature carolers on a table in the open-plan kitchen and den, for example. Except for the living room mantel decked out in a spectacular white arrangement and a small white tree with butterfly ornaments in the entry hall, the mantels and staircases are dressed in traditional garlands of red and green.
Indeed, red is the accent color everywhere in the home during this season – in throw pillows, stockings, the traditional Christmas tree, candles, serving vessels. Brittani will switch them out periodically for accessories in other colors to reflect the seasons.