Modern Beacon

You’ve seen the house,
now find out who lives inside.

It was just an ordinary day for Marshall Davis, owner of Gallo Pelón Mezcaleria, when his doorbell rang. He opened the door and was greeted by a woman who said she was ready for her hair appointment. He kindly told her she had arrived at his home not a salon but it took some convincing to get her to believe him. “Trust me you don’t want me cutting anyone’s hair,” he says, with a laugh.

The woman isn’t the first person who has knocked at his door nor will she be the last. Marshall lives in the modern house with the bright blue door, just off the Wade Avenue exit. Literally tens of thousands of people drive past it daily, so it isn’t a huge surprise that many around town are asking questions about it and wondering who lives inside.

“We’ll have people pull in the driveway and ring the doorbell – it happens once or twice a week. I’ve had people leave notes in the mailbox asking for tours, and to text them in the next two hours,” he says, but he doesn’t see it as a nuisance. “It’s an odd and interesting house in that area and people are curious why anyone would build a house there. My dad and I would often do the same thing, stop at an interesting house and ask if we could see a detail.”

Marshall’s dad also happens to be architect Walter Davis, who designed the house in collaboration with his son. The unusual lot tucked between Wade Avenue, the train tracks and a cement factory wasn’t the designer’s first choice; however, when his son expressed an interest in living closer to downtown it ended up being an affordable opportunity and Walter was up for the challenge.

The duo did their due diligence over the next year, uncovering all the challenges of the site and finding cost-effective solutions to address them. “People are slowly forgetting what that lot looked like but it was a nightmare,” says Marshall. “I’ve seen the path and I’ve seen the woods, and I’ve always gone through the woods.”

The resulting design is a three-story, 1,700-square-foot modern residence enveloped in cypress and grey concrete panels manufactured in Finland. The angular roof slopes over a large, two-level paneled window and a bright blue-painted door beckons onlookers. The home is trisected into three separate living spaces. The ground floor serves almost as an independent unit, the bedrooms are ensconced on the second level, and the top floor features an open living space and kitchen with a deck that juts out towards the train tracks less than 40 feet away.

“I love the train,” says Marshall. “I go out there to have breakfast or coffee and watch it.”

But there’s more to the story than a modern home that leaves people scratching their heads. The house is a testament to the close relationship between Marshall and his father.

“This will be a forever house for me, I’ll always own it,” says Marshall. “This project is very special to me because it’s a father-son collaboration. My dad’s had some health issues so we became very present to how short life is.”

That doesn’t mean there weren’t fireworks along the way: “He would be the first to tell you that we butted heads quite a bit. He created a monster in me—I’m more particular than he is.”

“It was a challenge because my son never gives up on an idea,” agrees Walter. “He pushed the boundaries with me. It cost more money but it was a labor of love and it was fun. He challenged me to go past some of my sensitivities. It truly was a strong collaboration ”

Walter has long been a devotee of modern design with both father and son inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright and mid-century modern architecture. “If I had my way I would have done this kind of work all my career,” says Walter, “but we’re in the south and people don’t always embrace it.”

That may soon change given the prominence of the home on such a well-travelled route. It now serves as a beacon for modernist fans and an intriguing question mark for those who don’t care for the style, exposing Raleighites to modern architecture on a daily basis.

“Marshall said there won’t be a person in Raleigh who doesn’t know where I live,” says Walter. “He thought about it before I did.” Of course, this visibility is also a cause for concern for Marshall’s mother. “My mom’s the worrier so we made sure to build it very safe,” Marshall adds.

When asked would he change anything about the house, he shakes his head: “Sometimes you get your dream car and every time you get in that seat you can’t wait to drive. My house is the same way. Every time I get home, I’m excited.”

Alexandra Drosu
Alexandra Drosu

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