January ABODE: Living history

(Photo by Andrea Hubbell)

Local builder and craftsman David Kurtz has a soft spot for anything that comes from the past. The way he and his wife, Kirby, have renovated and appointed their 1935 house reflects Kurtz’s passion for accumulating timeless, functional treasures. In their living room, that means a wood burning stove, antique peach crates, two metal architectural chests of drawers, and even antique suitcases used to carry children’s clothes during World War II.
“I love patina. You don’t get this stuff at IKEA and you can’t go out and buy this stuff. You come across it and have an eye for it,” Kurtz says. Specializing in sustainable building, he’s got no qualms bartering or finding deals. In fact, it’s an area where he flourishes.
“My parents didn’t give me an allowance after I reached an age that I could use a lawnmower. They gave me a lawnmower and helped me pass out fliers to start a lawn mowing business. So from an early age I’ve never had a problem knocking on doors and offering a service.”

One things for sure: Kurtz is a collector. His space includes a vintage brass lamp he got in eighth grade, strips of wood that he kept from the house he built in North Carolina, and a wooden trunk he traded for an antique piece of his own. Each element has a history, like the house itself. “We bought this house because it was built in 1935. It’s real 2x4s, it’s not inch-and-a-half by two-and-a-half. It’s real plaster, so the walls aren’t flat. If you flash the light down the wall, it ripples. You see somebody’s hand in that. Every time I tear something out of the wall, I find people’s initials on boards who were proud of what they were doing at the time.”

Of course, Kirby has brought her touch to the mix. When two partners have equally strong opinions about how a space should look and feel, it can be tricky. But they seem to have made it work. “Kirby is Veranda. And I’m Dwell magazine meets Foxfire, which is where they build things out of twigs. I know what I like and I know what I don’t like, and so does she!”—Cate West Zahl

“We got the wood burning stove off craigslist. The house has no insulation in the walls. Sealing up this house would have ruined the charm of the house. So if you’re going to be throwing money at heat, you might as well be getting the cheapest heat you can get. And wood is pretty cheap, or at least it is around here with all the microbursts that cause trees to fall down.

“When we first moved in, everything was white. Everything. The plaster was all cracked, it was completely falling off. So, I learned how to plaster. Every time there is a crack in the plaster you have to make that crack a half inch wide and press it through to the wooden lath behind it, and then redo it. It took weeks. I’ll never do it again—I’ll get a bucket of sheetrock mud and slap that up there!

“I built a house out of compressed wheat straw panels that are made out of agricultural waste. The owner was the head of air quality and standards for the EPA, so she wanted this super green house. So I said that I would be the one to do that. These blueprint cabinets were her grandfather’s. She gifted them to me when the house was completed.

“I can’t afford having things that just look good. We don’t have enough space to go fully form over function, so everything that I have really is something that I couldn’t part with. The stereo console I made out of old peach crates that I got from an estate sale and a piece of wood that I saved from an old tobacco barn I disassembled.

“If you meet the right people, the ones that are looking out for fellow builders and appreciators of pragmatic living, you can find people who will help you out. There are plenty of ways to skin a cat. I take a common sense approach to building and design that helps me out in the long run.”


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