03 Feb 2021

Downtown Living in Southern Pines

By Ray Owen  »  Photos by Mollie Tobias

Taylor and Baxter Clement have a short commute to work, downstairs to Casino Guitars on Broad Street in Southern Pines. You couldn’t really call them citified, these lovers of small town-downtown living. They could have ended up anywhere – LA, Nashville, New York. Instead, they made their home in the heart of our community.

Baxter, a Southern Pines native, is a graduate of the North Carolina School of the Arts and Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music. After college, he moved to New York, worked as a musician on Broadway and created a successful band, The Blondes, Inc. He also toured with Richard Lloyd, formerly of the punk rock band Television.

He returned to Southern Pines in 2006, opened a teaching studio and purchased the Schemmler Building in 2009. The storefront, built around 1910, once included a bowling alley and casino. “When I moved back, I knew I wanted to be in the middle of it all,” says Baxter. “I think it was a mental adjustment for Taylor, but once she moved in, she loved it.”

“I was determined the town was too small,” says Taylor. “Being downtown made it easier because there’s always life around and it’s busy. Except for last March when Covid hit. It was a ghost town with no cars on the street – we missed the voices.”

Taylor, a former financial adviser from Kentucky, moved to North Carolina in 2007. Her first date with Baxter was at First Friday across the tracks from the place that would become their home. The couple married in 2009 and lived in a modest apartment at the Schemmler Building with one bed, one bath and no closets.

They learned their building had another name after Taylor discovered a broken window one night when Baxter was away. Not wanting to go in alone, she called the police to check things out. Taylor says: “On the report they wrote the Casino Building. I think that’s the first time I knew it had been a casino.”

The couple began restoring the property in 2012. “We designed our home on a cocktail napkin and we had some help,” says Baxter. “Sally Ronalter came up with the stairwell. She said we needed an ‘entrance’ so she designed a big square with massive beams, then Taylor had this idea to create a chandelier from multiple long chains dangling from the upper ceiling.”

Southern Pines architect John Heckethorn helped adapt their concepts for functionality so that doors didn’t open into other doors, walls were the proper height and nothing would fall down. Being in the Downtown Historic District, building plans required approval and the architect helped with that.

“Overall, it was an exciting experience,” says Taylor. “In the back, we ripped out the walls to expose everything. It was just blocks filled with concrete and it was fun climbing through it everyday. There was a pitched tin roof but not so angled that you couldn’t walk on it. We’d go up and tape off the layout of the rooms. Seeing it all come to life was really neat.”

The construction process took nine months to a year. “In a weird way, I wouldn’t change anything,” says Baxter. “We might have done some things different with our master bathroom and closet, but it’s all we need. It was a gamble because we didn’t know if it would be amazing or feel closed in.”  

“I feel this building lives and breathes,” say Baxter. “We tried to preserve the original structure and it’s like the house has bones and we uncovered them. There’s timbers 60 feet high – three stories of wood – with one beam holding up the entire stair system. It has this strange life cycle that’s different from what it ever had before.”

Depending on the time of day, Taylor says the sun comes in, hitting all the reflective surfaces, and colors bounce around the living room. It has strong rays of light, very direct, and you see prism shapes across the house. Especially in the summer, they don’t have to use the lights much at all.

She says: “In our bedroom about three o’clock, heat comes through the old windows and you can sit at the foot of our bed and feel like a cat resting in the sunlight – it’s that wonderful kind of warming.”

Though it’s open and bright, Taylor admits: “We have more than I’d like and I’m always giving stuff away. I appreciate the look of what we have and we’ll still have the same things when we’re old. We don’t buy extra – we’re busy living. I think the way a room is put together creates an exhibit for each piece.”

“We like things with a bit of character,” says Baxter, eyeing his surroundings. “We like the clean lines of American and Danish pieces and craftsman-style on the precipice of industrialization. I find that fascinating when they were at high design mass production, like Charles and Ray Eames. That idea of bent plywood is a beautiful art form.”

“A Bruno Mathsson chair was the first expensive piece I ever brought in New York. I paid $700 and they’re thousands of dollars now. I remember carrying it down the street by myself. I sat in my little apartment in my one nice chair, clothes on the floor in boxes. But I had a chair – I’d made it.”

“The art to us is the house and the light,” Baxter continues. “We also have some paintings, Venetian works and sculpture that are antique. I do like a pop of color, neon pink and surf green. There’s an artist I love named FA-Q. He was part of the post-Warhol scene. I couldn’t afford his originals but he’d do sketches for $10 apiece, so I brought tons of them.”

“A lot of our furniture was found at local estate sales. We brought a Vladimir Kagan coffee table in Pinehurst. I think we paid $25. We spent a year going to sales almost every weekend. When we finished furnishing the house, we just stopped.”

The couple opened Casino Guitars in 2015, now one of the showcase dealers for some of the top makers. “We’ve been very lucky,” says Baxter. “Living where we work is really nice. With customers around the world it’s great coming downstairs and having the guitars on hand.”

“I don’t think we could have our lives here in New York,” says Taylor. “Things are good and it’s possible because we’re here. I love to visit the city, spend a few days, then come back home.”

“We can affect lives so much easier here,” says Baxter. “You can make a difference, a deep impact. You get lost in the city in
that respect.”

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