Home Home and Garden Techie Transforms a Farm Into a Home

Techie Transforms a Farm Into a Home

Kimberly Jenkins has worked for Microsoft, Steve Jobs and now Duke. But her historic farmhouse off Old Greensboro Road is where she finds solitude.

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This was originally published in out September/October 2014 issue.

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Photo by Briana Brough

Kimberly Jenkins must choose her words carefully. She methodically plans out what she’s going to say and then climbs the ladder with a fistful of letters and numbers. It takes two people about an hour to change the message on the antique church board that’s high above the La Cornue range that the previous owners installed in her kitchen. But instead of service times or verses, Kimberly and her new husband Mac Chisolm display the menu from the latest dinner party at their Chapel Hill farmhouse.

A GATHERING PLACE

Kimberly and Mac’s huge kitchen – and by extension, the house – is a gathering place for loved ones coming together for food, fellowship and stories. Friends and family, including Kimberly’s two grown sons, McCain, 28, and Carson McMurray, 25, are eager to visit and even have their own space out in the pool house.

For Kimberly, the appeal of the farmhouse 12 minutes outside of downtown Chapel Hill is personal. The quietness of farm life balances out her busy schedule of working with Duke students in the Silicon Valley program and helping entrepreneurs launch their RTP businesses. “It’s amazing … to have the peacefulness and serenity of a farm but the proximity to all the culture of Chapel Hill and Durham,” she says of the area she’s loved for decades.

BRINGING MICROSOFT TO CHAPEL HILL

After earning her undergraduate and graduate degrees at Duke in the late ’70s and early ’80s, Kimberly went to Seattle to embark on a career in the tech industry. A few years into working at Microsoft, “I talked them into letting me open up an office in Chapel Hill. They were like ‘Chapel what? Where’s that?’” Kimberly says of her move back east. “I just wanted to live there and still work for the company but have a better lifestyle, and I did for a number of years.”

Then Steve Jobs came calling. He’d been fired from Apple and wanted Kimberly in California to be a part of his startup, NeXT. She stayed on the West Coast until the mid-’90s, when a group of CEOs asked her to move to Washington, D.C. For a decade, she worked with members of Congress who were starting to regulate the Internet while maintaining a second home, a farm on the Eastern Shore, and filling it with treasures from area antique shops.

“Then I got to a place where I was far enough along in my career that I thought I really wanted the quality of life that Durham and Chapel Hill provide,” Kimberly says. “So I deliberately moved here without a job. Mostly I thought it was a great place for my kids to go to high school and to stay for the rest of my career and life.”

Kimberly was living happily in Greenwood when designer Cindy Spuria told her she should check out the available farmhouse being vacated by former LabCorp CEO Richard Novak and his wife Laura. “I said, ‘I need a farm like I need a hole in the head. I’ve already had a farm, and I don’t want that,’” Kimberly remembers of her initial reluctance. But ultimately, she decided to at least look. “That’s all it took. … I just went and I fell in love with everything: the setting, the architecture, the proximity, the location. The quality of what the couple put together is really very special,” she says.

And that’s how she found herself, in 2009, with a 37-acre farm.

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Photo by Briana Brough

‘I WANTED THE VIEW’

You wouldn’t know it by looking, but despite being built in 2000, the home has history. The heart of the farmhouse is an 1846 barn the Novaks brought down from New Jersey and rebuilt beam by beam. “As someone who renovates a lot of stuff, I really have vision, and I can see the potential in things that other people would get rid of,” Kimberly says. “But when I look at this picture of what this barn used to look like, I’m telling you, I would have scrapped it.” Now the space serves as a rustic and inviting den with floor-to-ceiling windows – no drapes or blinds necessary
– and oversize couches. There’s a bedroom in the barn’s loft with jaw-dropping views of the wooden beams and a 15-foot dining room table underneath. The Novaks kindly left their dramatic chandelier hanging in the beams on a pulley that balances out
the room’s other anchor, a huge stone fireplace.

Although she’s renovated eight homes during her life, Kimberly says, “This
was the first place I ever went into that I thought, ‘There’s not a whole heck of a lot to do here.’” But she did end up making some tweaks. “[The Novaks] had small windows in [the master bedroom] that I think are more traditional to that era of farm life,” she says. “But I wanted the view.” Kimberly had a big picture window installed and instead of curtains, she talked a builder into installing big metal doors on rollers. “During the day I have this gorgeous view or at night sometimes the starlight and the moonlight,” Kimberly says.

The 1756 cabin off a hallway near the master bedroom is the oldest part of the home. Originally a tobacco barn in West Virginia, it became the Novaks’ media room. When Kimberly bought the house, she opened the dark space up by making it one floor and hanging a lit art installation on the wall. Kimberly and Mac plan to hold wine gatherings in the newly renovated cabin.

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Photo by Briana Brough

THROWBACK LIVING

As stunning as the home is, it’s easy to forget about the land itself and its history. Kimberly has learned about the past from all the Dawsons that live on Dawson Road with her. The family still owns a sizable chunk of nearby acreage, and a Dawson or two regularly helps out with farm upkeep. “Part of what I like about the farm is the really wonderful neighbors,” Kimberly says. “It’s a great community, and it’s a throwback to a time when neighbors would really look out for each other.”