Each summer for 12 years, the North Carolina couple walked down a stretch of beach on Bald Head Island with their children, dreaming of the day they would have their own vacation home on the island. They fell in love with one special house, which they named the “Dragon House,” for the charming weather vane that graced its roof. Two years ago, when they began actively searching to buy, the Dragon House came on the market. The couple jumped at the chance to own it.
When it was first built in 1997, the home sat all alone on the southern stretch of the barrier island. Formerly known as the Texas Sea Ranch, it was designed by award-winning architect Chuck Dietsche and described as “a romantic jewel box of native wood and stone.” The home’s original design featured walls and ceilings of unfinished wood, a stone fireplace, and actual trees used as structural support columns in the home’s living room and foyer.
Home to two previous owners, its last residents painted the natural wood walls and ceilings in vibrant hues of Country French yellow, green, and orange with strong teal and red accents. They replaced the original tree trunks with lighthouse-shaped columns painted teal, creating an eclectic farmhouse feel. The family loved the home’s location and its original architecture, but they knew changes were needed to make it their own. Their goal, in addition to adding another bedroom and laundry room for their guests, was to restore the integrity of the home’s original architecture and allow it to shine. They assembled a team of the best designers and builders to help them achieve their goal, bringing in architect Cothran Harris, builder Parker Dudley, and interior designers Vicky Serany and Julia Ross from Southern Studio Interior Design.
One challenge facing the team was the new addition, which Harris seamlessly integrated into the home’s existing architecture. The logistics of building and designing on an island presented another obstacle — getting to the island meant taking a ferry, and transportation to the house was only allowed by golf cart.
“We had to think ahead, being efficient and organized,” Serany says. “If you’re missing a pillow or if anything breaks and needs to be repaired, that could mean extra time you just don’t have.”
But the biggest challenge may have been in the home’s main living area, where the new owners wanted the lighthouse-shaped columns removed. “This was a big decision because removing them meant adding steel beams to the ceiling for support,” Serany explains. “It was worth the effort because it opened the living space and made a huge difference.”
A new color palette was chosen to bring the serenity of the natural environment inside, drawing inspiration from the gorgeous views of the beach outside every window. New mosaic tiles around the fireplace and existing countertops in the kitchen helped dictate the new colors. “The kitchen granite features greens, blues, and tans,” Serany says. “It looks like the ocean, so we kept it.”
Careful thought was given to which elements of the home’s interior should stay and which should go. “We wanted to do everything with respect for the home, keeping elements that reflect the existing structure and the coastal lifestyle — informal, casual, and carefree — without looking too beachy or themed.” The family’s lifestyle drove most of the decision-making. In the kitchen, the island was completely reworked to add seating and make it more functional. The high quality, custom-made cabinets were carefully removed, repainted, and reinstalled. “The owners wanted dining room chairs to be very comfortable,” Serany says. “They sit for hours to play games and do puzzles. We used durable fabric throughout so they won’t have to worry about maintenance.”
The sleeping quarters were given special attention, with extra space built in for children and guests. The bunk beds in the children’s room were custom made to take advantage of the views in an unusually shaped room. The upstairs guest room has an additional twin bed built-in on top of the existing bed, and the new guest room has a built-in window seat that doubles as a twin bed.
Custom, handcrafted touches were added throughout the home. The dining room and coffee tables were handmade to look like natural distressed wood from the sea. The foyer lighting from Ro Sham Beaux in Charleston, South Carolina, was hand-beaded to mimic shells from the ocean. “The details are subtle, and that’s what gives them great impact.” Some of the furniture came with the house, passed down from the original owners, including the iron bed and upholstered chairs, which Serany had reupholstered in the master bedroom, foyer table, and sea chests.
“Keeping pieces of this home’s original history was important,” she says. “Layering in old and new gives this home its personality and character and makes it feel warm.”
The new owners love their new home, calling it a magical place for their family — the calming retreat they’ve always wanted. “The team envisioned a space that allows you to escape, relax, and reenergize — a home with casual sophistication,” Serany says. “There will be many memories made in this home, where they will sit and reconnect with their kids and all their worries will wash away. That gives me satisfaction; it’s why we do what we do.”