At first glance, one of the newest homes featured in this year’s St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Christmas Homes Tour appears to be one of the oldest. Completed in 2016, Don and Jeanie Stanley’s house has much of the character of a Colonial home built about 1760.
“It’s not a popular style (in eastern North Carolina),” Don said. “From Maryland north, you see a lot more Colonial houses, both reproductions or restored ones … to me (the style) seemed timeless.”
Many of the exterior and interior features of the Stanleys’ home are reminiscent of Colonial Williamsburg, the restored and reconstructed area of the historic capital of the English colony. But the more than 8,000-square-foot home on Lori Drive has quite a history of its own.
The Stanleys have called Greenville home for four decades, since Don came to work at East Carolina University. The former high school sweethearts bought a 1,700-square-foot home on Prince Road, where they raised their three children.
In 2003, the same year that “Extreme Home Makeover” made its television debut, Don began a home makeover of his own. But unlike the television version, which involved a weeklong, round-the-clock effort by hundreds of workers, Don’s renovation was a one-man show that went on for nearly a decade.
Although Don had a career as a biologist, home construction was a bit of a family tradition. A log house built by his great-grandfather in 1873 is still standing. His father and grandfather built his parents’ home on the family farm near Kernersville, and Don had been interested in building since before his 10th birthday.
He also took a great interest in history, which helps to explain why his home additions favored a style that was nothing like the Stanleys’ original brick ranch home. From a workshop he had built in 1994, Don began crafting a Colonial-style home. About three years after beginning the project, he retired from ECU, which allowed him to devote even more time to the renovation.
“There were television series that came and went, and I never saw a single episode,” Don said, laughing. “You talk about being focused on one single thing for nine years — I was.
“I put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into this thing, literally all three,” he said, explaining that he once fell off a scaffolding while working and broke his leg.
Don estimates he spent 60 to 80 hours a week on woodworking, construction and masonry. He built seven chimneys and single-handedly hauled tons of shingles to the roof.
“He did everything,” Jeanie said. “Don doesn’t do anything halfway.”
But nearly a decade into the building of their dream home, the Stanleys awoke to a nightmare. Before the work was completed, a March 2012 fire destroyed most of the house and its contents. Only the library, workshop and a bedroom and bath above the workshop remained.
“We had so many people come by after the house burned,” Jeanie said. “They were really concerned about Don ... losing everything he had done.”
After the fire, Don set to work to rebuild on the same property but with a different address. The front of the new home would face Lori Drive.
Rebuilding would take the better part of three years. Though the Stanleys hired workers for much of the exterior work, Don remained general contractor. As he did the first time, he took on many projects himself, including building and installing exterior shutters and sanding and finishing floors. He spent nine months milling and installing the interior trim, which, if placed end-to-end would extend for three quarters of a mile.
Before moving into their reconstructed home in July 2015, the couple spent much time in Colonial Williamsburg, where they found inspiration for the design of mantels and paneling surrounding the home’s 12 brick fireplaces.
“When we got ready to buy light fixtures, door hardware, we really had to go north,” Don said. “Altogether we probably spent six months in New England states.”
Designs of dormers, window casings, interior molding and wainscot are all influenced by Williamsburg styles. The home also features more than two dozen paint colors found in 18th-century Colonial homes.
For the homes tour, even the Christmas décor is a nod to the styles of Williamsburg, incorporating material that mirrors what would have been available to the colonists. Pine cones, evergreen branches, sea shells, dried fruits and flowers provide a rustic beauty. The home is decorated with three Christmas trees, including one in Don’s workshop.
The Stanleys will don period clothing as they greet visitors on Saturday, and they will demonstrate hearth cooking.
While upstairs areas are not included in the tour, the Stanleys will have photographs on display to give visitors a glance into those rooms as well.
“This (house) is my baby,” Don said. “This has been my life for the last 20 years.
“I know it doesn’t make sense to a lot of people,” he said, “But it’s just my personality.”
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church Christmas Homes Tour tour will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. Tickets are $25 in advance and $30 on the day of the tour. See related story on today’s Look front. Call 752-3482 for more information.