We've all heard the term "buying the block" as it relates to efforts of buying commercial properties to help slow, or even stop, the damaging effects of gentrification. But there's also the phrase, "don't sell grandma’s house," and millennials around the country are taking note. They're leading a new movement of inheriting (or buying), renovating and ultimately living in homes built by or purchased by their elders. For TaLaya Brown and Kerrick Faulkner, a married couple based in North Carolina, transforming Kerrick's grandparent's 1950s brick, ranch-style house into their forever home was a no-brainer—especially as big developers take over the up-and-coming metropolitan city's historic landmarks and neighborhoods.
The effects are disheartening as more and more native residents of color are displaced from the communities that raised them, or that they've called home for decades on end. But, thanks to folks like the Faulkners—along with their neighbors—we're seeing some historically Black neighborhoods get special designations that prevent anyone from coming in and altering the legacy and aesthetic that so many fought to build.
"We live in the Historic Oaklawn Park neighborhood in Charlotte, NC. Our neighborhood is less than 3-miles from center city and if you know anything about Charlotte, it’s growing at a very rapid pace and gentrification was becoming a major concern for our neighborhood," TaLaya Brown shares. "We saw the changes that were happening in surrounding neighborhoods, so as a community we decided we wanted to do something about it. It was important to us to preserve the character of our neighborhood, which is mostly made up of single-family mid-century brick homes. Our neighborhood was established in 1955 specifically for African-American families, so there’s a very rich history that flows through our community. Our goal is to honor and preserve that. It was a two and a half year process working with the Historic District Commission to eventually become the first African-American historic district in Charlotte, NC, and it’s something that we are very proud of."
When the couple first inherited the home from Kerrick's maternal grandparents, they had to make a decision on what to do with the home's interior, as it was very outdated. After about a year of contemplating—and in the midst of the couple's engagement—they began the process of transforming it to their liking.
"His mother was raised in this house along with her sister, and at first she was surprised that we wanted to take on this renovation. Ultimately, I think what we’ve been able to accomplish made her very proud," explains Brown. "My husband spent a very large portion of his life growing up in this home. Family gatherings happened here; holidays happened here; so many memories were made here. My husband was picked up by his grandfather every day after school, and he spent that time in this house. So, selling wasn’t an option."
Taking things at their own pace, and prioritizing those things that were absolutely necessary to make the home functional, the Faulkners completely transformed the Charlotte home into a cozy, modern bohemian-inspired oasis. The transformations are so stunning that it was recently featured on a now viral episode of HGTV's streaming series, Handmade.
"I have always loved interior design, so it was a welcome challenge for me to make this home functional for our needs as we combined our lives (and possessions). We knew that the home had excellent bones. It had been well taken care of since it was built by Kerrick’s grandparents in 1956, so we knew most of our renovations would be strictly cosmetic. It was important for me to let some sunshine in, while also utilizing all 1500 sq. ft," says Brown. "One of the first things we did was pull up the wall-to-wall carpet, which unearthed beautiful hardwoods floors that we had refinished. We painted the entire interior, and eventually renovated the kitchen, removing the upper cabinets and installing open shelving. We painted the original lower cabinets, replaced all the hardware, and got new countertops and tile installed. Over the years, some other projects have included replacing all the windows, replacing the metal railing on the porc, and removing a half wall that divided our main living space from our kitchen which completely opened up the space."
When asked if she would go back and take on this type of project again, Brown gives an absolute yes!
"I wholeheartedly believe that our decision to make this family home our forever home has enriched our lives in ways that we couldn’t have even imagined," she shares. "Our community is so important to us. We have made life-long friends with neighbors, and we take immense pride in the legacy of those that came before us—those that shaped and molded this community to be what it is today."