A Ranch-style House Opens Up with Artisan Flourish
Karen’s Cottage ~ A Pineland Retreat
By Ray Owen » Photos by Brandon Williams
Karen Frye is a Sandhills original, a community pillar, owner and founder of Nature’s Own Market in Southern Pines. Since 1987, she has operated this popular establishment, helping people live better lives through good food and nutrition and a healthy way of being. At the end of each day she travels home to Vass – bound for her pineland cottage.
It began as a typical ranch-style house, constructed in 1989 on a 5-acre tract given to her as a home site by her grandfather. Moore County natives, back in the day it was a working farm where they raised tobacco, cotton, rye, wheat, corn, and soybeans – the whole gamut.
“I used to play on this land,” Frye recalls. “I would trek back here into the trees and the moss. It’s fond memories from my childhood, being in this particular area of my grandfather’s farm in this beautiful forest. I like being off the road and having my yard looking wild and woolly, like it blends into the woods.”
“Growing up, I was something of a loner. One of the stories my mother tells, we were hanging clothes out when I was a toddler. Suddenly, she realized I had disappeared. I had wandered down the drive to the main road and a state patrolman picked me up and brought me back. These days, I would never have survived on that road.”
The original part of the house is an adapted floor plan that Frye came up with. She did some tweaking in her renovation a few years ago, making sections bigger and wider, with a screened porch and another porch connected to the master bedroom. “It was pretty much my rough drawing, and then a contractor put it together with a draftsperson,” she says.
Frye’s taste is fairly eclectic — she likes some old things as well as contemporary and modern pieces. Her cottage is filled with a lot of wood and natural colors, their warmth and her artwork creating a cozy environment with lots of atmosphere.
“I fell in love with Hill Country Woodworks from Chapel Hill,” she says. “I bought my dining room table and buffet many years ago. The chairs have been recovered a few times but the table has never been touched. My introduction to Hill Country led to many other purchases of cherry furniture.”
A central feature of the main gathering room is a stone fireplace, rebuilt four or five years ago from the original flat stones, making it more compact and not so obtrusive in the room. “I love the fireplace, she adds, “and I enjoy being out in the woods and the feeling of solitude and seclusion.”
“Lighting makes an impression on me,” she muses, “like the way it comes into the room. Even during the day I have candles and lights on, and to me it creates a relaxed and peaceful atmosphere. I also like to have music playing and always try to have fresh flowers in the house.”
“You can be influenced by the beauty around you, if you let it in, but you also have to emanate beauty. I’ve been around people who have very negative attitudes about life and they can totally ruin an atmosphere in a second.”
“When I think about the peace I have here, it’s as though I feel the presence of angels. Not like a personal encounter, more like my house is a very spiritual place. Visitors sometimes comment on this when they enter my home.”
The house is filled with paintings and pottery. Some of her favorite paintings are colorful, cartoon-like pieces by the renowned Chapel Hill artist Jane Filer, like the one that fills a wall in the dining area. “I actually went to her home to meet her as she was painting it,” says Frye. “I got into her art a longtime ago and bought a few pieces. She’s a very interesting, incredibly wonderful woman and I love her work.”
An expansive painting by Asheville artist Larry Gray hangs near the front door. Gray is nationally recognized for his sweeping, atmospheric vistas, with hints of the land as the quietest component. In the library is a figured-maple sideboard that’s been in her collection for almost 30 years. Crafted by David Pike, a traditional woodworker from Ula, N.C., Pike also made thefloor lamp that illuminates the edge of her kitchen.
“I have always liked art and design,” she reflects. “When I was little and visited friends, I always loved to see how others lived just to know what was out there. I’ve always been intrigued by people’s lifestyles.”
“I think that the culture of Southern Pines is really lovely, she says. “All the new people that have moved here have added a nice diversity. It’s been interesting, working in a public place, getting to talk with them. Especially the young mothers, a lot of them come to store with their children.”
For Frye, growing up in Southern Pines was very laid-back. It was a little bit of a hippie culture then, everybody just having a good time. “It’s peaceful and loving and connected with people looking out for each,” she says. “I still have fond memories, like sitting by a lake listening to live music – there was music everywhere. It was just a very fun and safe place to be.”
She was introduced to health and nutrition through a magazine article in 11th or 12th grade. It was about various vitamins and all they did for you, health-wise, for energy and the nervous system. Later, she met her first husband and his mother, Flora Goneau, who knew everything about nutrition. “I was so intrigued and fascinated by her wisdom,” says Frye. “She really opened the door and that was it for me.”
“Once I got into this lifestyle, I knew this is what I wanted to do and I’m really grateful. I can say from the bottom of my heart that I’ve never worked a day in my life. When I go to work, it’s not like work at all. I just love it, and I’ve been in business nearly 35 years.”
“I’m a homebody,” say Frye. “I’d be perfectly okay living here forever, being close by my family. My children send me pictures of houses in Southern Pines, and they’d love for me to live there. I don’t see myself moving – this is home.”