James Taylor’s Childhood Home Was a Ghost of Itself, Until a New York Couple Saved It
Kanebridge News
Share Button

James Taylor’s Childhood Home Was a Ghost of Itself, Until a New York Couple Saved It

The North Carolina property was in bad shape when its current owners bought it for $1.66 million, but a $2 million renovation brought the Midcentury Modern back to life

By NANCY KEATES
Wed, Nov 16, 2022 8:46amGrey Clock 4 min

In the song “Copperline,” James Taylor sings about the Morgan Creek neighborhood where he grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., lamenting the overdevelopment that has since changed the area. “I tried to go back, as if I could, all spec houses and plywood, tore up and tore up good,” the song goes.

The lyrics refer to “the McMansions speculators tend to drop everywhere,” Mr. Taylor explained in an email.

But thanks to its current owners, James Keith Brown, 60, a senior adviser at global-investment firm Coatue Management, and Eric G. Diefenbach, 63, an attorney, Mr. Taylor’s own childhood home still stands—and its lot of nearly 25 acres hasn’t become the site of a subdivision.

The couple, who are art collectors and museum supporters, bought the rundown, seven-bedroom, 3,172-square-foot, 1950s wood-and-glass Midcentury Modern home at an auction in July 2016 for $1.66 million. They then spent about $2 million on a restoration and renovation, finishing in the spring of 2021.

“We thought it was important to preserve the legacy of the Taylors,” says Mr. Brown. “Besides, it’s a beautiful house.”

The home was the vision of Mr. Taylor’s mother, Gertrude “Trudy” Taylor. She took the lead in its design, Mr. Taylor says, and was influenced by Frank Lloyd Wright.

“Designing, building, decorating and landscaping that house was her creative outlet,” he says of his mother. “The house was a declaration of her uniqueness and, by association, our otherness. I remember being proud of it.”

The fundamental aim of the renovation is to honor the original design, says Matthew Griffith, a founding principal of a Raleigh-based architecture practice called in situ studio. Mr. Griffith says his firm focused on making the house “how it was supposed to be,” by uniting the work of its original architects: the celebrated Midcentury Modernist George Matsumoto, then the dean of the School of Design at North Carolina State University, and renowned Durham architect John Latimer.

Mr. Griffith says they didn’t change the footprint of the main two-story structure, focusing instead on creating a cohesion between the front and back by redoing the siding and windows, and adding skylights. They reworked the floor plan to make it a three-bedroom, three-bathroom house by breaking up some rooms and expanding others.

Outside, a partial deck was made to wrap around the whole house. An existing guesthouse, which was prefabricated, was replaced with a 786-square-foot, two-bedroom, one-bathroom custom-built version with a family room and a kitchen that mimics the one in the main house. A swimming pool and a pool house was added to one side of the yard.

Mr. Brown and Mr. Diefenbach live in a prewar co-op on West 72 Street in Manhattan, which they created out of three apartments and filled with art, including works by Franz Ackermann and Olafur Eliasson. The couple also owns an 8,000-square-foot, four-bedroom, five-bathroom, art-filled modern house on 11 acres in Ridgefield, Conn., where Mr. Diefenbach is on the board of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.

Mr. Diefenbach says updating and reusing beautiful vintage architecture was one appeal of restoring the Taylor home. “We had been looking for another platform for art and the house was ideal,” he says.

Another impetus for buying the house was to be close to family, says Mr. Brown, who grew up in Siler City, where his mother still lives. He graduated from UNC-Chapel Hill in 1984, where he has served on numerous boards and committees. They have 36 nieces and nephews, 16 of whom live near the Morgan Creek house. Mr. Brown says he has happy memories of North Carolina and missed being close to his relatives.

Mr. Taylor’s memories of growing up in North Carolina are more ambiguous. His family moved from Boston to Chapel Hill in 1951 when his father, Isaac “Ike” Taylor, a Harvard-trained physician, accepted a position with the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

But just when the house was finished, around 1955, his father volunteered to be a medical officer for the Navy in Antarctica. During his two years there, Trudy Taylor became increasingly alienated from the politics and culture of North Carolina, which became a “major dynamic in all of our lives,” Mr. Taylor says.

“She refused to put down roots and constantly impressed upon us the idea that civilized life was elsewhere (to the north),” he says. “Her constant, epic work of tending and shaping the landscape around the house was not only her labor of love but a fierce proclamation of her unique independence. We got it.”

Ike Taylor returned to North Carolina from Antarctica an alcoholic, straining his marriage and his relationship with his children, Mr. Taylor recounts in his audio memoir, “Break Shot: My First 21 Years.” His parents divorced and sold the house in 1974.

When the home went up for a sealed-bid auction in June 2016, it was in bad shape, with termite damage and a dilapidated roof, says Sarah Sonke, owner of ModHomes Realty and AuctionFirst. She says the house had been vacant for some time but wasn’t officially on the market; developers were aware of it and had made lowball offers with the intent to take down the home to build multifamily units. Ms. Sonke says she was hired by the seller, whose parents had been living there before they died, to find a buyer who would keep the house and property intact.

George Smart, the executive director of NCModernist, a nonprofit that documents preserves, and promotes modern architecture in North Carolina, organized a tour of the house before the auction that attracted some 1,300 people, including many who wanted to play guitar on the deck. Ms. Sonke said locals stopped by with stories and memories about the Taylor family.

Musician and artist Kate Taylor, Mr. Taylor’s sister, says she is grateful for the restoration. The home was instrumental in her development and that of her siblings, including James, Livingston, Hugh and Alex, who died in 1993, says Ms. Taylor.

Trudy Taylor let the kids “run and roam” on the property, encouraging them to play music and make art: “It was an ideal breeding ground for creativity,” she says. “Looking back on it now, I can see that it was extraordinary.”



MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Related Stories
Lifestyle
A ‘cheeky’ seat takes out the top prize at Australia’s Next Top Designers Awards
By KANEBRIDGE NEWS 17/06/2024
Lifestyle
Aston Martin Refines Its Exotic Family Car
By Jim Motavalli 15/06/2024
Money
A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now
By CALLUM BORCHERS 14/06/2024
A ‘cheeky’ seat takes out the top prize at Australia’s Next Top Designers Awards

A cash prize from Kanebridge Quarterly magazine, offered for the first time this year, drew a record number of entries for the design competition

By KANEBRIDGE NEWS
Mon, Jun 17, 2024 2 min

A versatile stool with a sense of fun took out the top prize at the Australia’s Next Top Designers awards at Design Show Australia last week.

The ‘Cheeky’ stool designed by Maryam Moghadam was the unanimous winner among the judging panel, which included Kanebridge Quarterly magazine Editor in Chief, Robyn Willis, Workshopped Creative Director Olaf Sialkowski, Design Show event organiser, Andrew Vaughan and Creative Director at Flexmirror Australia, Matt Angus.

Designed as an occasional stool or side table, the Cheeky stool comes in a range of skin tones. The judges applauded its commercial applications, its flexibility to work in a range of environments, and its sense of play.

In accepting the $10,000 prize, designer Maryam Moghadam quipped she was pleased to see ‘other people find bums as funny as I do’. A finalist at last year’s awards, Moghadam will put the prize money towards bringing her product to market.

Winner Maryam Moghadam said the $10,000 prize money would be put towards developing her product further for market.

Australia’s Next Top Designers is in its fourth year, but this is the first year a cash prize has been offered. Kanebridge Quarterly magazine has put up the prize money to support the next generation of emerging industrial design talent in Australia.

Editor in Chief Robyn Willis said the cash prize offered the winner the opportunity to put the money towards whatever aspect of their business it would most benefit.

“That might be prototyping their product further, spending on marketing, or simply paying for travel or even childcare expenses to allow the designer to focus on their work and take it to the next stage,” she said. “We’re thrilled to be supporting this design program and nurturing emerging design in a very practical way.”

The Coralescence lamps from the Tide Pool series by Suzy Syme and Andrew Costa had strong commercial applications, the judges said.
The Mass lamp by Dirk Du Toit is crafted from FSC-certified oak or walnut.

Two finalists were also awarded ‘highly commended’ by the judges — Mass lamp by Dirk Du Toit and the Coralescence lights from Suzy Syme and Andrew Costa at Tide Pool Designs. The judges agreed both products were beautifully resolved from a design perspective, as well as having strong commercial applications in residential and hospitality design. 

MOST POPULAR
11 ACRES ROAD, KELLYVILLE, NSW

This stylish family home combines a classic palette and finishes with a flexible floorplan

35 North Street Windsor

Just 55 minutes from Sydney, make this your creative getaway located in the majestic Hawkesbury region.

Related Stories
Lifestyle
A ‘cheeky’ seat takes out the top prize at Australia’s Next Top Designers Awards
By KANEBRIDGE NEWS 17/06/2024
Money
Quit Being a Cynic at Work. It’s Holding You Back.
By RACHEL FEINTZEIG 17/06/2024
Money
A Killer Golf Swing Is a Hot Job Skill Now
By CALLUM BORCHERS 14/06/2024
0
    Your Cart
    Your cart is emptyReturn to Shop