A New Life in Forest Hills
Hard-working renovators Lindsey and Grayson Cheek bring a stately Colonial back to life
By William Irvine • Photography By Millie Holloman
The Mason house is a familiar destination on one of the most majestic oak-lined streets of Forest Hills. The Mason family lived here for 60 years until 2014, when Dr. Mason died in his 90s and bequeathed it to his four grown children, none of whom was interested in living there. But the stately Colonial was not an easy sell at all — it needed a lot of work. In fact, the interiors had remained essentially untouched since the year the house was built. (And that year would be . . . 1928.) There were early prospects who wanted a teardown, but the children had hoped to hold out for a buyer who wanted to preserve it.
Enter Lindsey and Grayson Cheek, a young couple with a vision and the skills to take on an ambitious renovation. Grayson, an attorney, was sold on the Mason house from the start. “I was having a love affair with the house, but Lindsey wasn’t,” he says. Lindsey, an interior designer and the owner of Gathered, an elegant housewares boutique, had serious reservations. “I was very reluctant,” Lindsey says with a laugh. She initially walked through the house with an architect friend, stressing that she wanted to be responsible and restore the house, but did not have a huge budget to do so. There were enclosed radiators. Lots of peeling wallpaper. Lots of work. Lindsey’s own aesthetic is more midcentury modern, but she immediately understood that the house had good bones.
The Cheeks bought the house in January 2016 and undertook a six-month renovation. The couple is always game for a new project — they have been in Wilmington for 11 years and this is their eighth home — so they remained undaunted. And so when they were rooting around the empty kitchen cabinets and discovered the single remaining coffee mug, which read: BUDGETS ARE NOT FOR WIMPS, it seemed to foreshadow the days ahead. “It was an omen,” says Grayson with a chuckle.
The Cheeks were able to save a lot on construction costs, because Grayson is very handy. He took out all the radiators and demolished the plasterwork, which in many places was replaced with Sheetrock. He used to come directly from court in a suit and join the demolition crew. “The labor costs went down but the dry cleaning bills went up,” he observes. A refrigerator filled with beer was used as an enticement for those workers who stayed past quitting time at 4:00, when they could not only get a cold drink but also some free legal advice.
Upon entering the house, the first floor was formerly very boxy, with small living and dining rooms off an entrance hall. Lindsey opened up the rooms, creating one big living space and a modern, updated kitchen to replace the existing (tiny) one. “It was a maid’s kitchen, not really suitable for today. And it had green marbleized linoleum floors. I almost cried,” she says. The former living room and sunroom were transformed into a spacious master bedroom suite, with a large tiled bathroom and walk-in shower.
Moving upstairs, Lindsey installed a large round window in the stair hall, which added light and a beautiful view of a gigantic laurel oak in the backyard, and created a picture wall with a mix of family photographs and children’s artwork. (The couple have two children, daughter Tilley-Gray, age 7, and son Maines, age 4.) The children’s bedrooms are connected by a Jack and Jill bathroom: Tilley-Gray’s pink room features an exuberant floral headboard, a pink-and-white-striped rug and an ingenious metal chandelier of flowers. Maines’ bedroom might win the award for the most sophisticated bedroom I have ever seen for a 4-year-old, with a white Eames chair and ottoman, vintage life preserver and a ship’s lamp. Also on the floor is a guest room with a daybed, used by Lindsey’s mother when she comes to town.
The third floor contains a future children’s playroom, which is Grayson’s project — he did the demolition and although still a work-in-progress, features wood-paneled walls throughout and is tall enough for grown-ups to stand up in.
“This is why we bought the house,” Lindsey says as we look out the back window to the spacious yard, a double lot with a swimming pool, whose focal point is the gigantic laurel oak tree, with branches that spread over the entire width of the property. “When we moved in, the backyard was all bricks,” she says. “It took nine dump trucks to remove them all.” A wooden deck runs the length of the back of the house with an outdoor kitchen, barbecue, and an outdoor shower for après pool or beach (Grayson is an avid surfer). “You can see why we spend about six months a year outside,” says Lindsey.
And the Cheeks are deservedly house-proud: their restoration received an award from the Historic Wilmington Foundation. “We were so excited to receive the award. We had no idea that one of our neighbors had nominated us,” Lindsey says. One day, all of the Mason children came for a walk-through of the completed house, and were clearly awed at the changes. “One of the daughters turned to me and said, ‘Mama and Daddy would be so proud,’” says Lindsey. “That has really meant a lot to me — I feel like we have a special relationship with this house, and I realized that we have become part of its history.”
William Irvine is the senior editor of Salt.