Coming Home to Seven Lakes
A third generation is thriving along the shoreline of lake life
By Crissy Neville » Photos by G. Frank Hart
A Lake Life sign hangs on the sunroom door of the Seven Lakes waterfront home of Katie Carpenter and Canyn Russell. The “Life Is Better at the Lake” mantra is evident in every part of the couple’s cozy, relaxed ranch-style home—a brick plus board-and-batten classic—originally owned by Katie’s parents, at least from an outsider’s perspective. However, those in the know might find a Family Life banner more apropos. That a “Life is Better with Family” flag is a better fit for this house, one that love of family rebuilt.
Rebuilt. Not a typo but the recent status of Katie’s family home on Overlook Drive after it was heavily damaged by fire in 2016. John and Linda Carpenter, Katie’s parents, built the 3,500-square-foot house along the 220-acre Sequoia Lake, the largest water basin in West End’s Seven Lakes North community, in 1983. Though Katie only lived in the home for four years before leaving the Sandhills for college, she wanted nothing more than to save the 33-year-tenured family home and fashion it into a forever place for her and Canyn, whom she describes as her partner “in crime, business and life.” Though the story of the home’s purchase in June 2017 and renovation completion in 2018 has the happy ending of a beautiful, family-honoring home, it also comes with twists and tragedies.
The first unlikely turn of events that Katie described as a “God thing” was that she was home visiting her parents the weekend of the fire.
“In 2014, my dad was diagnosed with stage four colon cancer, and my mom was progressing in Alzheimer's disease, and so in February of 2016, my dad was not great, and mom wasn’t either,” said Katie. “I was living in Charlotte then but wanted to come home to give my dad a break — he was mom’s primary caregiver — but he was also very sick. It was after breakfast when I went outside to help my mom retrieve the dog that I saw flames shooting out of the garage.”
She quickly got her parents and their dogs out of the home and watched as the firetrucks arrived. The youngest of the Carpenter’s three children, Katie called her brother, Chip, who lived nearby in West End and her sister, Kim, who, as a NICU nurse at UNC-Chapel Hill, had just called 20 minutes earlier with a landline number to use for the day “in case she needed anything.”
“It was amazing because I would have never reached my sister that quickly otherwise,” Katie said, noting Kim had forgotten her cell phone that day.
The sisters-and-brother team took their elderly and sickly parents to the hospital, where it was decided her father needed Hospice care. He died six days later from complications from his cancer, unrelated to the fire, but in Katie’s view, “I think he was tired, and I think with the fire, he was done. He couldn't fight anymore. And so, he had a very peaceful passing at FirstHealth Hospice House in Pinehurst.” Linda Carpenter succumbed to Alzheimer’s a short 14 months later. Since the fire, she had been living at Pinehurst’s Fox Hollow Assisted Living Facility in a memory-care unit.
Grieving the loss of her parents and her family home, which “had to be taken down to the sticks,” with three parts gutted, the roof razed, all sheetrock removed, and more, Katie felt overwhelmed. Planning to rebuild and then sell the home in conjunction with her siblings, she made regular weekend trips home. On one such trip, she and Canyn walked in to find downed walls and a new water view when they realized the house’s greatness — and potential.
Their wheels started spinning. “I always loved the house but, as a teenager, right out of high school, I wanted to leave West End for a bigger place. After college, I worked in tennis first in Raleigh and next in Charlotte, which was my dream job,” she said.
In rediscovering the home of her youth, she had first to ask her siblings if she and Canyn could buy it and then figure out how to make a living so they could move.
The income source came to her in another family-related venture — one also in need of repair. Katie not only grew up in Seven Lakes but also learned to play tennis there — as a member of The Racquet Club at Seven Lakes. The only tennis player in the family, she often laughed when her dad joked about her coming home one day to buy and run the nearby center. In the ultimate déjà vu, that is exactly what happened.
Katie played at Pinecrest High School and earned a college scholarship to play at Elon, where she attended as a freshman, and also at N.C. State, when she transferred. Her distinguished collegiate years led her to instruct and eventually become the Head Tennis Professional at Raleigh’s North Ridge Country Club, where she worked for 20 years. Her next move was to Charlotte and the elite, platinum-level Carmel Country Club as Director of Tennis.
“Then we just happened to go up to the local clubhouse one day when we were here,” Katie explained. “I was going to show Canyn where I grew up playing tennis, and the building was just kind of a disaster. I called my brother to ask about the club’s condition, and he replied, ‘Well, it's for sale.’” Katie’s kneejerk reaction was to ask Canyn, “So, do you want to buy a tennis club?”
However, work was not the first thing on Katie’s mind at the time of that query, but her sister, Kim, who was battling breast cancer at the time.
Reflecting, she said, “And at that point, I thought, you know what, life's too short.”
The pair first bought the private club in 2017 and hired another pro to run it, but Katie soon took over as owner/operator and teaching professional. Co-owners, Katie is the President of The Racquet Club at Seven Lakes and the full-time Director of Tennis and Canyn is the Vice-President, Membership Director and Tennis Center Manager, though this fall, she will put her full-time tennis work aside to resume her preschool teaching career.
In making updates to their new acquisition — simultaneously with work on the Overlook Drive home — another piece of family history fell into place when, adding salt to a wound, repairs to The Racquet Club at Seven lakes were needed due to a water leak.
“That was one of my breaking points,” said Canyn. “We had just finished the renovation.”
The silver lining in that gray cloud was the discovery of two old Seven Lakes signs in the tennis center’s attic that coincidentally — or not — bore street names connected to the Carpenters. The family had lived on Cardinal Drive in the ‘80s when building their permanent residence on Overlook Drive.
Pieces of both those past times lay in that attic.
The time-weathered wooden signs with vertically written street names in large white, block-style lettering were the only things up there, “a crazy, unbelievable mystery,” said Katie of the items she promptly hung by the interior front door of her old-turned-new lake-front home. The signs, to her, were, well, just that — signs that she was in the right place.
She is the third generation in her family to put down roots in Seven Lakes, following in the footsteps of her parents and maternal grandparents (whose house was sold some years back), who lived there for some 15 years on the lakeshore of Big Juniper. Now three years cancer-free, her sister recently moved from Chapel Hill to join her in the old neighborhood, living .08-mile away and sharing their grandparents’ long-ago water view.
The family drumbeat continues inside the house, whether at the custom-built farmhouse table that easily accommodates the dozen family members who often come over just to hang out and certainly to celebrate every holiday or with Katie and Canyn’s family photos from the past and present that adorn hallways and stairways.
Katie’s mom’s antique buffet table is a dining area staple, topped with whimsical twin lamps and a tell-all canvas that reads, “This is OUR happy place.” Comfortable seating, industrial-style fixtures and contemporary farmhouse décor —Canyn's channeling of her “inner Joanna Gaines” — pattern the personality of both women. Tail wags from fur babies Pinto, a Brussels Griffin and Dilly, a beloved rescue dog, say they’re happy here, too.
“So, I jokingly say that as great as my mom was, she was not a great decorator. Our tastes were completely different,” said Katie. “While we were able to save all things important to our family thanks to our firemen friends that night, the house is now very much changed.”
Dark wooden paneling and cabinetry were replaced with neutral, airy colors in shades of whites, blacks and light and dark grays; ceiling fans acquiesced to recessed lighting and nice lamps; an interior wall and one “knee wall” came down to create openness; and, carpet caved to the functionality of engineered hardwoods in most rooms. Outside, the sways of Adirondack chairs, porch rockers and a tree-flanked hammock match the swells of the lake’s gentle blueway, the road of choice for the partners’ pontoon boat along with other floating/swimming paraphilia, even Linda Carpenter’s only-three-time-used paddleboat “that mom just had to have,” said Katie.
Lake Life? Family Life? These Seven Lakes residents say yes to both, please!