Sometimes a house is just a house. Often, a house becomes a home. Once in a blue moon, a house becomes so, so much more. “We said this house must have been waiting for somebody. I was waiting for someone to get it that got it. Through this whole process, I kept saying, ‘I just hope somebody really nice lives here.’”
Alaina Money, division president of Garman Homes, is standing in the open kitchen of a Briar Chapel home she helped design and build. The kitchen is stunning, with custom cabinets painted navy blue, a huge island meant for lingering after breakfast and an automatic espresso machine that puts a Keurig to shame. “Those cabinets are a Sherwin-Williams color, but it’s [informally] called ‘Miracle Blue,’” says Allison King, vice president of product and design at Garman.
That’s because this is the 2014 Miracle Home, an annual donation of proceeds from the sale of a custom home to Duke Children’s Hospital & Health Center. Each year, a builder is asked to take on the celebrated project. “Allison and I did a lot of praying about this house,” Alaina says. “It all came together.”
House As Caregiver
Here’s how it works: A local building company heads up the Miracle Home project. That team chooses where and how to build the house and also pledges to raise a certain amount of money – $200,000, in this case. It culminates in MIX 101.5’s annual radiothon for Duke, when the donation is made. It’s the real estate industry’s take on fundraising – so while selling the home is, of course, a goal, it’s not necessarily the top priority.
“We wanted to design this from the perspective of caregiving,” Alaina says. “A house as a mechanism of caregiving. That was our inspiration.” Therefore, not only is the master bedroom downstairs, but also another bedroom and bathroom. It could be used as an in- law suite or a guest bedroom, but the idea stemmed from a family friend of Alaina’s who recently had back surgery. With limited mobility and no bedroom space downstairs, the woman had to set up a temporary makeshift bedroom space in the living room, which offers no privacy or refuge.
Every single layout decision was made with consideration of both the practical and emotional aspects of caregiving. “We wanted to have places to gather and celebrate and places to retreat and reflect,” Alaina says. The mindset informed design decisions, too. It’s full of small, intentional accents, like sliding closet doors to maximize bedroom space and a built-in cabinet area near the front door that’s outfitted with outlets, perfect to use as a family charging station and an organizing spot for school folders and backpacks.
It’s also full of larger accents that are, simply put, pretty sweet. An upstairs deck features an automatic retractable screen so you can lounge in the sun or hunker down and watch a movie on your screened-in porch. “Why shouldn’t your home feel like a vacation home or a spa?” Alaina says.
House As Charity
One such sweet spot is the sunken outdoor stone living room. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like, including a fire pit. “I love it out here. I’m from Chicago, so these Southern winters don’t faze me,” says Mike Heflin, who recently purchased the Miracle Home with his wife, Betsy. “This sold me by itself. I’ll be out here, like, 12 months a year.” The Heflins just closed on their new home in January and moved in last month.
Mike and Betsy knew it was time to relocate from Chicago and had decided on North Carolina. They spent the fall living with her parents in Governors Club while slowly house hunting, with the intent of really seriously looking post-holiday season. A love
of green spaces led them to Briar Chapel – this is where the story gets really cool.
Mike went to visit the Miracle Home with his Realtor one Saturday morning and came home raving about it. “Her parents are both teasing me because I’m easily excitable. They said, ‘You like it too much. There’s no way you can like it that much.’” After Betsy went and also fell in love, they decided to make an offer. Only then did they learn about the Miracle Home’s purpose.
“My daughter was born at 26 weeks and spent almost exactly four months in a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU),” Mike says, getting emotional. “My son was born at 35-and-a-half weeks. How do you give back to a children’s hospital? You don’t get a whole lot of opportunity to give back to a children’s hospital, so this was, like, a fantastic opportunity.”
It seemed like fate. When another offer was made, Mike says they put “the full-court press on” by sharing their personal experience with children’s hospitals, in hopes it would help their chances. “We weren’t going to lead with a story about our kids, but when [they] got another offer we were like, ‘OK, we’ve got to put it all on the table,’” Mike says. “We’ll tell Lyla one day that her story helped secure this house. She basically grew up in a NICU, and now she gets to keep growing up here.”
Betsy had never heard of a Miracle Home before. “The fact that purchasing this home we love also supports a cause so near and dear to our hearts means the world to our family,” she says. “We are so honored that this home can help out other families like ours, or anyone who ends up needing high- quality hospital care for their little one.”
House As Home
Proximity to good health care was a priority as the Heflins decided to move south, since 3-year-old Lyla and 5-month-old Graham still easily catch infections. “Having premature children, especially as young and small as Lyla was, is the most helpless feeling I’ve ever experienced,” Mike says. Excellent nearby medical institutions provide a peace of mind that will allow the family to settle in to their new life. “I have no doubt in my mind that this house was made for you,” Alaina tells Mike, before revealing that they actually turned an interested buyer down earlier last year because it “just wasn’t right.”
Briar Chapel’s cultivation of an active lifestyle is something the former city dwellers can’t wait to embrace. “We want our kids to be able to enjoy the outdoors as much as possible,” Betsy says.
For those gloomier days, though, when even the sunken outdoor living room and automatic screened-in porch are no-gos, the family can retreat to their secret playroom.
Push on an upstairs bookshelf and it opens – a secret door! – to a brightly painted room complete with a curtained stage in one corner and two swings hanging from the ceiling. “Because, why not?” Alaina says. “This room is about having a really good life and being present.”
That’s exactly what the Heflins plan to do. (Mike got a full-size popcorn machine for Christmas in anticipation of family movie nights.) Really, though, it’s about cherishing their moments as a family. “Babies of Lyla’s gestational age statistically have about a
50% survival rate. Had it not been for our incredible hospital with a top-tier NICU attached to one of the best children’s hospitals in the U.S. [in Chicago], we most likely wouldn’t have had the same outcome of our perfect beautiful little girl,” Betsy says.
“The love, care and attention that they gave our children is incredible,” Mike adds. “We will never be able to say thank you enough for the miracle they gave us. This home is hopefully our opportunity to try to live that spirit. To give our children what we couldn’t in the first days and weeks of their lives but that the hospital gave to them in our place: love, affection, attention and, most of all, a safe place to call home.” CHM
Photography by Briana Brough