A House that Became a Home

03 Oct 2022

A custom home builder turns his talent to a hands-on renovation of a Pinehurst bungalow

By Elizabeth Sugg

Photos by G. Frank Hart

Four years ago Michael Etowski was single and had just purchased a bungalow in the Village of Pinehurst to live in and work on over time before reselling when the timing was right. This was a pattern begun by the second-generation custom home builder who had just sold a 4,000-square-foot home he built in Vass for a tidy sum. Though he has been managing house and development projects for 25 years, first working for his family's homebuilding business and then for himself, this graduate of North Carolina State University with a construction management degree, has been hands-on in his own homes through the years, and transforming this 1939 gem was his
next challenge.

Yet times were a-changing. There is an age-old technique related to the psychology of designing in threes, that the effect is inherently more satisfying to the eye, and that people have an ingrained tendency to react positively to things that come in threes. This natural gravitation may be what happened to Etowski: he bought a house intended for resell; he sought the assistance of a longtime acquaintance Nichole Cox to help guide the colors and furnishings; and through that process, the two became attracted towards one another such that Etowski popped the Big Question. Call it fate, call it romantic serendipity or could there have been stardust in the 83-year-old house that created a bit of magic for Cox and Etowski as they brainstormed their quest to turn the cozy Pinehurst house into a home. Whatever the kinetic energy, a year and a half after buying the Pinehurst bungalow, Etowski was a family man, and the newlyweds had a baby on the way.

Tucked on a quiet street, a comfortable walk to the village and, in the future, Pinehurst Elementary for the couple’s little girl, the 1,500-square-foot cottage needed to be expanded. Sensitive to the friendly exterior of the current house, Etowski planned an addition that would complement the original expanse, paying particular attention to the scale of the windows across the front. With a deep lot both side-to-side and front-to-back, The Etowskis decided to put the addition off the kitchen to create a larger room that would include a dining and sitting area. Off the kitchen would be a downstairs laundry room and an expansive master bedroom and well-appointed bath.

The heart of the couple’s home is their enlarged kitchen. Both enjoy the outdoors so as you enter through their busy back door the very first sight encountered is an homage to the original house, the number “1939” in black lettering embedded in white tile, a flourish that adds a fitting touch to the gracious space you are walking into.

Follow the beams of the kitchen’s cooking area, and you will see the confines of the original room. At some point a previous owner expanded a few feet to where the exterior kitchen door and sink are. Around the corner, the partial dining area wall marks where the room had been expanded to decades before and the full wall that Etowski tore into to make the improvements.

In the kitchen sitting area note the two large windows. Etowski replaced a smaller window that had been fitted during the prior expansion and then added another moving towards the bedroom, scaling the size up to mimic the large windows in the original living room of the bungalow. The window casings of the old and new match as Etowski is committed to detailed touches. The heart pine floors throughout the original house needed to be extended through the kitchen sitting area over to the entrance of the master, and a seamless look to the wood flooring was not in the cards. Cox found the solution by suggesting a very pleasing blue gray porch paint for the flooring, and the effect is bright and airy.

Etowski explains why the two work together so well. “I do the hardscaping and Nichole does the landscaping,” meaning she handles all the finishes, furnishings and touches.

Nichole is just as hands-on. Walk through the house with her and she points out the coffee table in the sitting area she rehabbed herself and painted a pretty blue on a productive weekend. Textured coffee bags Nichole found at a festival are draped across the back of the two wingback chairs that flank the repurposed table. Very close to her paternal grandmother, some of the couple’s blended furniture include two reupholstered Victorian sofas that belonged to her late Grandmother Mararuth, that Nichole updated with current fabrics. Welcome pops of color in both the master bedroom and what they call the “piano” room where the original dining space was, Nichole has a knack for mixing vintage and family furnishings with new and vibrant looks. For example, she chose to leave a copper-colored wallpaper that adorns the ceiling in the piano room because of the retro touch it added to their music space, plus the pattern included music notes, very fitting. The handsome glass-fronted wood cabinet that spans the wall across from the piano was a find at Eclectic on 5 and stores Etowski’s cultivated bourbon whiskey collection.

The master is where the addition brings a modern sensibility to the addition. A 10-foot tray ceiling, lots of handsome windows and airy white walls beckon you into this comfortable space. Although the entrance to the bedroom is a glass-fronted barn door, the couple master-minded a brick pony wall just inside the master that allows privacy but without closing a door all the time. A future project for Nichole, one day soon she plans to whitewash the brick expanse to soften the look. Right now, the brick wall serves two purposes: one, it is the handsome backdrop for a vivid photograph of a tree in full autumn color facing the kitchen, and on the other side it holds a large TV for movie watching in bed.

The master bathroom is a dream. Two back-to-back sink areas share a wall in the center, creating two pathways in the large bath. To the right is a free-standing tub, while on the back wall is a shower inspired by the couple’s periodic trips to Costa Rica where they have traveled to enjoy paddleboarding, tropical beaches and the night sky lit with stars (and where once they even ran into Christian Bale twice in one day!). Two white porcelain tile walls flank the green and blue hues of glass tile laid in a flowing vertical fashion to reflect the sea the two love so much. Etowski constructed a cedar backdrop for the towel bars adjacent to the shower, adding a spa feel.

Inside the bedroom are those grounding touches Nichole masterminds for both to feel cozy and anchored. A striking sofa she inherited has been recovered in a shade of blue her late grandmother loved, and above the bed is a map of Europe in a collage of six frames, another continent where the couple have traveled, most recently to the wine country in France.

Etowski is the founder and president of Pride Custom Homes, a boutique design-build firm, and an active participant in the National Association of Home Builder (NAHB), and past president of the NAHB Builder 20 Network Group. A licensed real estate broker, he also has had a hand in developing residential developments around North Carolina. Nichole has a passion for helping others and works in the healthcare industry, complemented by her degree in business management and a minor in accounting from NCSU along with the anticipated completion of a Masters in Healthcare Administration (2023).

At home the couple set aside their goals and busy lives to enjoy the sounds of their daughter laughing at the antics of their pudelpointer Whiskey as he laps around the yard. There is talk of using the leftover wood flooring as the back paneling of the twin built-in cabinets in the dining nook of the kitchen. Reclaimed from a site they drove to in Georgia, they both love the natural patina with its “protective layer of callous on it,” according to Etowski. That attention to detail, that desire to make their house something even more special, is what made the 1939 bungalow a home.

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