The Home Well-Traveled

Changed lives beget changing lives — an inspired family moves to Wilmington with a suitcase full of stories

By Isabel Zermani     Photographs by Rick Ricozzi

To call the Greens travel buffs would be an understatement. A quick tour around their newly built home on Stokley Drive with an unmistakable international vibe will turn the conversation from a sunrise at Machu Picchu to wildlife in South Africa to Angkor Wat in Cambodia. It’s tough to keep up with these globetrotters.

Martin and Lou Green began traveling when their daughter was 2 years old. Their first trip? The Bahamas. Now, they’ve been to 38 countries. Traveling became a family tradition for the Greens of Greensboro, especially after their children’s high school graduations — the Green family graduation gift is a life-changing solo trip to anywhere in the world.

Their first daughter, Ashlie, backpacked Europe. Their son, Dustin, “wanted a truck,” says Martin good-humoredly. But believing in the horizon-expanding power of experiencing unfamiliar worlds, Martin doubled down. “No, you’re getting a trip,” he said. Dustin backpacked in Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands. “When he came back it was like someone had flipped a switch on my child,” remembers Martin.

Six months later he died in a car accident. A student at N.C. State with ambitions to study architecture, Dustin caught a ride on campus with a friend. Two minutes after taking off, an oncoming car struck their car, throwing Dustin from the vehicle, causing fatal injuries. The family was devastated.

That was 15 years ago. It forever changed the Greens and, subsequently, many others.

“You’re at a crossroads,” Martin describes it, “where you’re either going to stick it out or give up.” A man of enduring faith, Martin and his family turned their grief into service to others by launching “Dustin’s GreenHouse,” a nonprofit service-learning program for high school students that culminates with international adventure travel. The Greens want other young people to experience that “flipped switch” like Dustin.

Scuba diving in the Galapagos, protecting rhinos in South Africa from poachers by trimming their horns, dropping into a shark-viewing cage off the coast of Cape Town: These are not your average trips. Dustin’s GreenHouse selects 10 to 20 students from Guilford County schools that fall into the gray area — not at-risk, not exceptional — that hold untapped potential. The students train for six to eight months in preparation, developing leadership skills and “self-actualization,” then the group goes abroad for two to three weeks. Past iteneraries have included Guatemala, Uganda, Peru, Romania and Hungary. In July they will travel to an old favorite, Ecuador and the Galapagos Islands, Dustin’s trip.

Martin coaches the students through their fear. He will gently but firmly say, “You’ve got to get in the shark cage.” Or let an anaconda be wrapped around their shoulders. “I’ve had kids I didn’t think would do it, do it,” says Martin. “Once they’ve done that, they can do anything.”

Just as important is the night they spend in the slums. “It’s the worst night you’ll ever have,” but it’s worth it. One night in Third World conditions leaves a lasting impression on American students for whom global poverty is an unknown. Often, says Martin, the students come back from the trip changed, wanting to get into education, global outreach or medicine.

The Greens’ travels inspired the design, finishings and furnishings of their new Wilmington home. International elements emerge in both the lifestyle and look Martin and Lou desired for their beach home, where they are retiring from careers in the software industry. “Our home is a smart home,” Martin says and shows his phone screen. “I can control every room: music, lights, temperature, security.” He’s got Dave Matthews playing in the living room and Jack Johnson upstairs.

First to join the team when building this distinctive home was Suzanne Trecco, an interior designer who was born and raised in Brazil but has called Wilmington home for nearly 20 years. Trecco once lived in the Amazon for six months and arrived in Wilmington by sailboat. She and the Greens were soulmates. Trecco recommended local builder David James, who brought on architect Matt Williard, and the team was assembled.

Stokley Drive is one of those little locals-only throughways, making it one of the most charming. It also has the benefit of arriving at the foot of Fish House Grill, The Bridge Tender, and, of course, gorgeous views of the Intracoastal Waterway. The lots on Stokley are small, challenging Williard to “grab as much square footage as I legally can.” James and Trecco had to become masters of efficiency as well, creating the best use of the living space and making a small home still feel posh.

You’ll notice the home is of a similar outline as two other coastal cottages on the block, but Trecco’s non-traditional color scheme and Williard’s update transform it. The initial plan to renovate the existing house “was thrown out pretty early,” says James who weighed the costs of the much needed repairs and “8-foot ceilings — where do you draw the line?” with the benefits of a brand new home. Willard rethought a new design within the old footprint, added a hip roof and created a taller jewel box home that still fits in on Stokley.

Going from a 5,500-square-foot house in Greensboro to a 2,200-square-foot home (on a much smaller lot) left no room for error. “We began looking at houses in California; their footprints are very tight,” says Trecco who came up with a winning, though expensive, idea: a large ipe privacy fence. The fence slats in nautical horizontals allow for light and air to pass through, but enclose the back and side yards, nearly doubling the ground floor living space.

“Martin and I always had the idea of Costa Rican-style outdoor living,” says Trecco. An outdoor kitchen, pizza oven and a Green Egg smoker will serve up something good on the stunning live-edge dining table the Greens bought in White River, South Africa. “This set the stage” for the look of the house, says Trecco, who first saw a photo of it. “They sent me that pic — Oh, game on.” It weighs 400 pounds.

Inside, a local Cypress root pulled out of the Cape Fear River was customized into a dining table (by Coastal Live Edge) with a circular glass top. Above, a hand-painted ceramic wall plaque by South African artist Anton Bosch depicts a tree with its branches reaching high. The poetics of the tree rising above and root table below are no accident. Trecco created this space. “It’s about family,” she says. A circular chandelier above is fashioned with strings like prayer beads of milky glass.

“A house is a story,” says Trecco, whose background in set design for film influences how she tells those stories. “A curation of special pieces,” she says. Some so special that the house was designed with them in mind, like the Chinese kimono encased in archival acrylic. Martin’s grandfather, head of the New York library who traveled the world assisting libraries, “was given this kimono by the Emperor of China in the early 1900s,” says Martin.

With a lifetime full of travels, textiles, ceramics and mementos, Trecco whittled their collection down for this house. “Everything has to have a lot of emotion in it.” She and Martin laugh that they could decorate an entire other house or follow through on their idea to host a local pop-up shop. (Fingers crossed it’s the second one.)

A house with two masters, downstairs and upstairs, showcases two different footprints and style finishes from the team. Some elements carry over, like the Ro Sham Beaux beaded chandeliers over the freestanding tubs, but the downstairs master boasts a steam shower and classic white subway tile, while upstairs feels more like spa and tree house combined.

The texture of natural wood plays a big role for both James and Trecco, who sourced raw wood beams from Asheville for the ceilings, and antique cabinet doors from Egypt. A large raw timber post in the living room by the staircase was Trecco’s idea, one that gave James reservations, but “then when it’s there — it works.” Similarly, the beams on the bedroom ceiling initially looked too thick for James, who suggested splitting them in half to reduce the scale. Tempering, collaborating, the team rallied to create these unique looks. “David’s woodworking people were amazing,” says Martin, giving a tour of these details. The powder room sink features a “raw edge walnut free-floating sink shelf,” says Trecco, and a wall of reflective pewter tile in place of a mirror. Raw edge shelving in the kitchen plays nicely against high-end painted cabinets in slate gray with Piatra gray quartz countertops and island.

With a mesmerizing mix of international textures and proportions (tall and thin doorways, a steep staircase) and a cool paint palate with warm raw woods, James and Trecco achieve both luxury and efficiency. Everything you want, nothing you don’t. When you travel as much as the Greens, you learn how to pack.

“These guys are obviously entrepreneurs,” Trecco explains the command station/lounge area upstairs. “These guys don’t use a desk.” Two super comfy chairs and ottomans sit side by side facing a custom media wall — smart enough to Skype to Peru, relaxed enough to watch Minions with the grandchildren. Office, be gone.

Glass doors in the upstairs shiplap front wall — Trecco’s one ode to coastal — open to a covered porch shaded by an old magnolia, the centerpiece of the front yard. A walkway of pavers spaced with Mexican stones offers a Zen quality to a grassless front yard. “I don’t want to mow anything,” says Martin with a laugh. Native plants and azalea bushes provide all the greenery one needs. (Brock Chisholm with Flora Landscapes was indispensable, they agree.) The downstairs master bedroom opens to the exterior privacy fence trained with climbing jasmine, fragrant this time of year, but the team is still looking to install a living plant wall by the open kitchen out back. (Wilmington doesn’t yet have a company that maintains green walls — any takers?)

Art abounds in the Greens’ house. African and Peruvian vessels are on display in the custom built-ins in the living room, plus family mementos like “a bird’s nest from my daughter’s wedding,” says Martin. A small sampling of the art collection includes paintings by George Pocheptsov, Goxwa and a work on paper by Victor Delfin, Peru’s most famous artist. The Greens met the 90-year-old Delfin while staying in his family’s bed and breakfast.

Not everything is from far and away; Trecco chose rugs from the High Point furniture market to add some color. And some items are from Dustin’s room: a folk art painted lamp and table, a fishing basket-style backpack. Though brand new, the Greens’ house already feels like home.

Wilmington is a safe harbor for travelers and entrepreneurs alike. Undoubtedly, the Greens will find themselves in good company for their next chapter. “The world is a book,” says Martin “You’re only going to see one page of that book — are you kidding me? You’ve got to see it all.”

For information on Dustin’s GreenHouse visit www.dustinsgreenhouse.org. To see more from architect Matt Williard, visit www.mwwilliard.com, or David James, visit www.wilmingtonbuilder.com, or Suzanne Couri Trecco, call (910) 264-0248 or follow @suzannetreccodesigns on Instagram. For custom furnature by Jon McDow at Coastal Live Edge, call (910) 617-0976.

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