The twitter of nesting songbirds is silenced by the swooshing of passing cars on North Lumina Avenue, drowned out by the thrum of powerboats cavorting between the bridges in Banks Channel.
This noisy cacophony envelops the outer layer of the historic Wrightsville Beach cottage nestled in the 200 block of North Lumina Avenue among four others of its vintage built after the town’s great fire in 1934. Yet inside the sprawling five-bedroom home, you could hear a pin drop.
New owners Sam and Laurie Sugg of Raleigh, along with their building contractor Tom Hanna of Wrightsville Beach, architect Philip Humphrey of Wilmington and interior designer Susan Tollofsen, also of Raleigh, have earned the first National Register of Historic Places designation for Wrightsville Beach with their sensitive restoration of the 1937 James D. and Frances Sprunt Cottage.
Architectural historian Beth Keane prepared the application in August 2013 as the year-long restoration was winding down. The Suggs were notified of their acceptance in December the same year.
Among the National Trust’s criteria for inclusion on its prestigious list, the property must embody the distinctive characteristics of a type period, or method of construction; and the property must be associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad patterns of history. These criteria are easily checked off the list, especially when framed against the larger context, or events that led prominent Wilmington families like the Sprunts to build summer homes in Wrightsville Beach; same for the property’s association with the lives of persons significant in our past.
Tom Hanna said, “That was such a unique house that it could qualify in many respects for inclusion in the National Register.”
In her narrative, Keane notes the home’s architectural elements among its finer points: elevated on pilings with a 17-foot setback from Lumina Avenue; shingled with western red cedar from Seattle, Washington; floored with heart pine throughout the interior.
The 13-foot wide porches — the ceilings painted an authentic shade of deep green, and the floors an authentic gray — were one of the singular features that contribute to the integrity of the architecture, Hanna said. “A 10-foot porch is a big porch, but a 13-foot porch is unheard of,” he said.
And the house had not been substantially altered since it was built.
“We were still working with the original footprint. That’s another thing that made it unusual,” Hanna said.
Once the restoration began, Hanna discovered all of the foundation pilings had rotted. The house was lifted, the heart pine pilings were replaced and the house was lowered.
“We had to put it back in the exact same place,” Hanna said. “We left the chimney intact. We disconnected the chimney from the house — that’s a three-story chimney — then jacked the house up beside it.”
In some instances Hanna said he photographed the process.
“I had to document any work that typically would not comply with what they want … to show that this was rotten beyond repair.”
The restoration of the porches, the pilings, the balustrades, the pickets, lattice screens, six-over-six sash windows and wooden shutters — all dismantled, refurbished if salvageable, replicated if rotten and rehung — create a second envelope, albeit one buffered by the sound bed of birds, boats and motor vehicles, and an outdoor environment intended for use all summer long. Wrapping from the southern elevation to the west, the porches support outdoor dining tables, a clutch of furnishings, old fashioned platform rockers and a swing.
Multiple points of entry lead from the ground level garage via an interior elevator, from the eastern elevation driveway and an engaged stairway to the covered front door, from the latticed northeast corner utility stair to the fish-cleaning sink and a service entrance to the kitchen and from the northwest corner directly onto the main porch overlooking Banks Channel.
From this porch, there are at least three more ways to enter the main house: from the porch to the living room, from the side porch into the center hall and through the screened door of a coveted guest room that offers complete privacy seduced by instant access to outdoor spaces.
Aside from the rewiring of the antiquated knob-and-tube electrical system, the installation of modern plumbing fixtures, a modification to the floorplan to open up access to the kitchen from the elevator, and new kitchen and laundry room appliances, little about the cottage interior has been altered.
Beneath 9-foot, 4-inch ceilings, Laurie Sugg continues to feather the nest with a palette of peacock blues and greens against white walls in the living area, pinks and greens in the dining room that features authentic built-in corner cupboards, and flashes of Asian-inspired lighting fixtures and decorative accessories.
No federal credit exists for residential projects like the one the Suggs have undertaken in Wrightsville Beach, but the state currently awards a 30 percent credit for residential projects spending $25,000 or more. The town also granted an easement in September 2012 for the chimney, stairway and landing that fall within the street end right of way.
“One thing about the Suggs, they recognize what they have in that house,” Hanna said. “I’ve been building on this beach for 28 years, most people would take a bulldozer in there and knock it down and put up a brand new … McMansion on the lot. The Suggs are just the opposite. They have the ability and the foresight to realize, ‘this is a cool little house. If we can bring this thing back up to its former glory we’ll be doing something,’ which is 10 times harder than knocking it down and building some generic box.”