photograph by Lissa Gotwals

Historically and necessarily, North Carolina farmhouses were functional and unpretentious, a simple structure meant to protect the people who worked the farm. Wonderfully, their design lends itself to both preservation and transformation. When Alys and Alex Protzman found this 1880s beauty in Bynum, they set about adapting it to accommodate a growing family. The resulting blend of architectural integrity and clean contemporary — old and new — is a light- and love-filled expression of how we live now.

Fresh Takes

Keep it real for posterity: white clapboard. Metal roof. Screened porch. “Four over four” room design. Heart pine floor.

Once, simplicity was a lifestyle dictate. Today, it’s a decorating choice. Inside and outside, elements of the pared-down farmhouse get an update.

Heart of the House

Where does everything important take place in a home, whether contemporary or historic? The kitchen. Alys Protzman preserves the charm of the traditional with a stove vent hood covered with heart pine from the old floors. During renovations, the owners created a contractor “save” pile just for repurposing possibilities. These salvaged touches appear throughout the home.

Wide Open

A warren of dark downstairs rooms was opened to welcome both the bare feet of toddlers and the flow of casual entertaining. Stokely, an Australian Shepherd, oversees the light-filled foyer and original staircase. Renovations were completed in 2012.

Past with Personality

A farmhouse is a farmhouse is a farmhouse — until you make it your own. The pride of the serene master bedroom is the headboard fashioned by a Chapel Hill woodworker from a fallen walnut tree.

Nothing to Hide

Only birds and squirrels can peer into the master bath, where vanity shelves are the house’s reclaimed beams, beloved for their history and holey imperfections. Even the faucets are reminders of farmhouse water pumps.

Family Matters

Then, a bedroom might house six children, and central heat meant a fireplace in nearly every room. Now, the fireplace Poppy’s (short for Penelope) room has a modern function: a library. While the turquoise hue is hardly original to the house, Mickey Mouse’s mantle definitely is.

Old Becomes New

“My great-grandmother’s front door leaned against the wall in my Chapel Hill apartment for a year,” Alys says, before she added barn hardware and installed it as a guest house sliding door. Mudroom furnishings retain
a utilitarian, workaday feel.

Take it Outdoors

Few architectural features harken back to North Carolina farmhouses like a wraparound porch for escaping the heat at day’s end. Now, gliders, a tobacco basket, and a “haint blue” ceiling — intended to keep ghosts from indoors, and wasps from making nests — lure friends and family all hours of the day.

The Porch Perch

For a.m. coffee and p.m. wine; for lingering and lazing; burgers and barbecue, no farmhouse of any age can call itself complete without a porch. Beyond the screens, 250-year-old white oaks — and 23 surrounding acres — claim center stage. Feet up. Head back. Deep sigh. Our farmer forebears knew contentment, too. 


For more information about Alys Protzman and her interior design, visit







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