Vote The Independent's Best of the Triangle 2012!

By Mary Hartzell

The polls are open to vote for The Independent’s Best of the Triangle 2012.  This is an opportunity for Indy readers to vote for their favorite local goods and services, everything from dog grooming to music venues.  The ballot consists of 259 questions which can be intimidating, but voters need only answer 20 of them for their choices to be counted.  Once you sign up for your account, you can save your ballot and go back frequently to vote so you do not need to complete it in one sitting.  The survey ends on April 15 at 11:59PM so you have plenty of time to start voting and try some new places before you cast your final ballot.  

Click here to begin voting:

Urban Durham Realty won the Indy’s Best of the Triangle 2011 for best real estate agency.  We hope we earned that distinction through community involvement and sponsoring local events.  Last year we hosted a Bookmark event to gather summer reading material for Durham Public School children who may not otherwise have had any.  We sponsored the NC LGBT Pride Festival, the Running of the Bulls 8k and we fielded two teams for the annual Doughman event which raises money for the SEEDS program.  We will be sponsoring all of these events again in 2012 and we hope to see you there.

Individually, our brokers contribute to charities that are meaningful to our clients.  We donate a portion of our earnings from each transaction to a local charity of our clients’ choosing.  We also support local photographers, painters and other artists by displaying their work on a rotating basis all year round.  Our office is a former art gallery located on Foster Street so we are a convenient though occasionally unexpected stop on the Durham Art Walk.  Feel free to visit our office next Saturday after the farmer’s market to enjoy the art currently on display.

Urban Durham Realty brokers provide highly personalized service and we work to give our clients a unique experience.  We are committed to “doing” real estate differently.  If you voted for Urban Durham Realty as best real estate agency last year, thank you.  Whether you’re a repeat voter or new to The Indy’s Best of series, we hope you’ll include us on your 2012 ballot.  

Durham at the Cutting Edge - The Gamble House

By Lou Perron

While there are some terrific and architecturally important houses in the Triangle, it is not often that I see one of such historical significance as the “Gamble House,” located in Old North Durham.  This is an International Style house, looking like something out of Europe built in the late 1920’s/early 1930’s.

When I saw the listing in the MLS, I thought, where is this building?  When I checked on the map, I realized that I must have driven by it hundreds of times without seeing it behind its brick wall and overgrown plantings.

The first time I went to see the Gamble House, I was fascinated.  How did this house get here?  Though I studied architecture in a previous life, my schooling was far away from North Carolina, so I wasn’t aware of that the Gamble House is well known to the local architectural community.

So I looked it up on Endangered Durham. ( and then George Smart’s website for Modern homes in the triangle area (  Then I started connecting the dots.  Some time ago I had peeked in at the neighboring Dillard house, on the corner of Mangum and Markham, not realizing what was next door.  In fact, the land for the Gamble House was split off of land owned by the Dillard family.  Mrs. Gamble was the daughter of Richard E. Dillard. On the land given by Mrs. Gamble’s parents, the Gambles built one of the earliest examples of a residence in what had become known as the “International Style.”

The name “International Style” comes from a book written in 1932 by the architect Phillip Johnson and the historian Henry Russell Hitchcock for an exhibit of modern architecture at the relatively new Museum of Modern Art in New York.  Johnson had ridden a motorbike around Europe looking at postwar buildings, especially those influenced by the French architect/painter know as Le Corbusier and a German school of design called the Bauhaus. (He also got swept up in the Nazi movement, but that’s another story.)

Some of the key ideas of the International Style, as put forth by Hitchcock and Johnson are:

Form follows function – you can tell what is happening on the inside from looking at the outside.  Since the functions necessary on the interior do not need to be squeezed into a predetermined form, this creates an emphasis on balance rather than symmetry.

Materials out of the industrial age allow creation of open spaces with exterior walls that need not be load bearing and can be opened to the exterior with strip windows.  Roofs can be flat.   Thus Volume is created by a series of planes covered by a “curtain.”   The materials themselves create the detail.  This lack of ornament also allows the volume to take precedence.

The International Style was slow to catch on in America.  Part of the reason is that the forces of tradition in European culture were not present here, so a basic motivation was missing.  (The International Style in Europe was tied to a strong social contract.) Further, especially in the South, which was generally conservative, there was little interest in this movement outside of small groups.

To build the Gamble House in 1935, in Durham, North Carolina seems extraordinary.  It took a combination of  1) a client who clearly was interested in the arts and architecture, and in particular modern architecture, and who had funds (during the Depression) and the willingness to not only build but also to live in a house singularly different house from those of all of their neighbors and friends; 2) an architect who had the talent, interest, understanding and willingness to create and implement such a design;  3) a support network so that such a design could exist and persevere in NC; and 4) building techniques and materials not commonly used here.

With these challenges, how did the Gamble House get here?  One connection to North Carolina I knew:  In the early 1930’s, Black Mountain College had taken some of the Bauhaus faculty fleeing Germany.  (The influence of Black Mountain College can be seen in the NCSU School of Design and from there to modern architecture throughout North Carolina.) Black Mountain College was near Asheville, the home of the architectural firm that designed the Gamble House, Greene and Rogers (though I found differing accounts of who the architect of record was).  This seemed more than a little coincidental.  Then I discovered this in a paper by David Black for the National Registry of Historic Places:   

Perhaps the earliest, and one of the best, of these homes was the Howard Gamble House (NR), built in Durham in 1935. It was designed by W. Stewart  Rogers of the Asheville firm of Greene and Rogers. Rogers was an Asheville native, but had received his Master of Architecture degree from the School of Architecture at Harvard, where he studied under Walter Bogner, an Austrian architect whose work had been influenced by Gropius. (Claudia Roberts Brown, National Register nomination for the Dillard and Gamble Houses).

(Walter Gropius was headed the Bauhaus in Germany, then emigrated to the US and became faculty at the Harvard Graduate School of Design.)  So while I’ve uncovered no evidence that Black Mountain College was connected to the Gamble House, the International Style had its students in North Carolina.

But how about the design of the Gamble house, itself?

The siting of the Gamble house is incredible.  From the street, it’s a geometric stack of blocks, stuccoed white, punctured by bands of windows that wrap around the corner, and topped off with a series of flat roofs.  The lot looks flat from the front approach, but this is hardly what you find when you step inside.  You move through a central entrance, featuring to the left a tight curved staircase with a beautiful spiral metal railing.  The floor is a fine grain hardwood like maple.  Ahead of you is a large central room with fireplace and an enormous window looking out at huge hardwood tree and the land falling away into the distance.  It’s hard to imagine that you are in the middle of Durham.

The land below has been subdivided, but because of an easement for the large high voltage lines, this land has yet to be built upon.   Not surprisingly, the large transmission tower at the end of the driveway has been a deterrent to many prospective buyers of this unique house.

Originally there was a series of balconies and outdoor terraces on the second floor, but over time these have been enclosed, making the front façade more monolithic than it was originally.  The windows have almost all been replaced, without the grids of the steel framed windows and their detail.

Two large additions have been built off of the living room, with large exposed wood beams.  I suspect that these beams came out of one of the large Durham warehouses that were torn down in the last couple of decades.

Yet with all the changes, there are still some delightful details remaining.  There is a curved canopy roof over the entry and a sweet round window to the right, bringing light into the bathroom and animating the facade.  The living room ceiling is smooth plaster with two small recesses that give it a subtle cascading effect.  There are niches in the walls of the staircase and the dining room that have glass shelve bases that can be lit from below.  A window in the staircase brings borrowed light from above.  And in the center of the dining room ceiling there is a large round tray ceiling, lit from a hidden recess.  The upstairs has lots of light, two bedrooms with a huge changing room, a couple of sunrooms and a large terrace on the roof of the garage.  The kitchen still even has some of the original marble countertops, and flour and sugar hoppers with cranks.

This is a house that was built for entertaining.  This is a house that demands to be preserved.  

(Note: At the time of publishing this blog, I was happy to hear that the Gamble House went under contract. I hope the new owners will have the respect, imagination, and finances to bring this unique building back to the gem it once was.)

Early Gamble House photo from the North Carolina Collection, circa 1940.  Historic details of the Gamble house thanks to Endangered Durham, Triangle Modernist Houses and David Black paper on Early Modern Architecture in Raleigh Associated with the Faculty of the NCSU School of Design, Raleigh, Wake County, North Carolina for the National Registry of Historic Places, 1994

Urban Durham Realty Hearts Local Charities


by Ashley St.Clair


We are equally invested in the Durham community and in our clients - as a company and as individuals, we are dedicated to the vibrancy and success of the Bull City. As a reflection of this core tenet, each agent at Urban Durham Realty donates a portion of their commission from every transaction to a local charity of their client’s choice. In this way, we are able to support charitable causes that are both local and meaningful to our remarkable clients. But how much does Urban Durham Realty donate, you ask?


I am excited to announce that, since opening in 2009, Urban Durham Realty’s charitable donations have exceeded $23,600 to more than 40 causes...and the sky’s the limit!


We are committed to Durham stewardship on so many levels, and we believe that by operating this way, we help to strengthen the fabric of our community. Thanks to our fans for your continued support and for helping us contribute to so many worthy causes.




by Mary Hunter
This past Saturday, I had the pleasure of spending my evening with friends eating at Dos Perros and then heading over to the DPAC to join a sell-out crowd attending Bill Cosby's show. I found myself driving around in search of street parking. It did not take me long before I remembered Durham has large public lots, very conveniently located, so that events such as Bill Cosby's can be quickly and safely accessed. In a word, I could find a place to park and walk without a lot of stress or wasted time, allowing me (and everyone else) the pleasure of relishing the energy of Durham's downtown evening life. What a wonderful transition from 30 years ago, to see how Durham has become a bright, lively destination that boast innumerable cultural activities. 
Besides playing host to Bill Cosby over the weekend, Durham is participating in culinary arts. This week running from January 23-29 will be Triangle Restaurant Week.  Durham is fortunate to have 21 restaurants participating in showing their culinary excellence by featuring a three course delicious meal at a fixed price that will provide food enthusiasts an opportunity to eat out at several participating local restaurants.  See a complete list at:
I also learned that another opportunity to enjoy the downtown scene is being hosted by the Carolina Theatre.  They will be featuring two Full Frame Documentary Films that are free to everyone.  The dates for these films will be January 25 and February 1, with showings at 7:00 p.m. For information, you can go to
Between the Carolina Theatre, DPAC and the restaurants downtown there are many opportunities to enjoy Vibrant Downtown.  What are you waiting for? 

Durham - Most Tolerant City in America!


DURHAM Voted Most Tolerant City in America by The Daily Beast!  

Read about other great cities on the list!

Survey says homeownership still important to Americans


By Nick Kotecki

Americans continue to place a high value on homeownership, but qualifying for a mortgage and saving up for a down payment in an economy that won’t produce jobs keeps many uncertain.

The results of the Hanley Wood’s Housing 360 Survey say 89 percent of owners and 59 percent of renters feel that homeownership is important to the American family while 87 percent of owners and 73 percent of renters feel homeownership is an economic cornerstone.

Indeed, housing, household operations, insurance, fuels and utilities, water, sewage and trash services and furnishings, among other expenditures, account for about 40 percent of the Consumer Price Index, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Approximately one in three renters and about one in five existing homeowners believe now is a good time to buy a home or to plan on buying in the next two years, according to the survey.

The survey was administered to homeowners and renters electronically from a country-wide sample of adults 20 years of age and older in June to early July 2011 resulting in 3,005 completed surveys, including 1,954 homeowners and 1,051 renters.

“We thought people would be soured after watching home values fall but instead we found the typical American still places high value on homeownership,” said Frank Anton, CEO of Hanley Wood a media company and data research outfit serving the housing and construction industries.

“We found this holds across all demographic groups and across the country, even in hard-hit places like Nevada and Arizona where there have been 50 percent or more declines in value. The increase in the rise of rental rates in many markets is one factor driving people to consider buying,” Anton added.

Survey findings indicate as many as two million potential home buying consumers are waiting for the right time to jump into the market.

Respondents said there is no great urgency to buy, due to soft economic conditions. Many are figuring out how to overcome the challenges of stiff underwriting. Despite some home prices being half what they were five years ago, it’s remains a difficult to fork over enough cash for a down payment and still have enough left over to show lenders they are viable home loan candidates.

“There are obstacles in the way of home buying. The over-correction in the mortgage market is a drag on the process. We’ve gone from one extreme to the other and it’s stalling the housing market and therefore the economy,” said Kent W. Colton, president of The Colton Housing Group and senior fellow at Harvard University Joint Center for Housing Studies.

Read more: Americans Still Hold Home Ownership King |® Blogs 


Environmentally and Socially Responsible Recycling

by Mariana Byrd


The black screen of death - it happens to most electronics.  Recently my iPhone 3G started to fail.  It was slow for months and right before the release of the iPhone 4S it would only work when plugged in (coincidence?).  Needless to say, I needed the phone to work when it wasn’t plugged in to the wall (who knew?!).   I had phone envy from all those other people who had faster phones so my phone failing was the perfect opportunity to upgrade.  


But what do I do with my old phone?  Throw it in the trash?  No.  Sell it on e-bay? Nope, it doesn’t really work.  Put it in the recycling?  No, it’s not accepted.  I could take it to Durham’s Waste Disposal and Recycling Center on Club Blvd or wait for one of their shredding and e-waste events.  (FYI: There is a shredding, e-waste, and christmas tree recycling event this Saturday 1/14/12 from 8am-2pm in the Sears parking lot at Northgate Mall.  For more information about items accepted at this event or the City’s recycling facilities, contact Durham One Call at (919) 560-1200 or visit the City’s website at  But, I had also heard of companies that will pay you for your old phone.  I decided to investigate.


Two of the most recognized companies that stood out were Apple’s Recycling Program (it’s part of the process when purchasing your phone from their website) and Gazelle.  Both options pay you depending on the condition of your phone.  That’s where the problem arose - overall my phone was in good condition (no cracked screen, it had never been submerged in water, minimal scratches) and it did power-on (one of the main questions) but it only powered on when it was plugged in.  Unfortunately there wasn’t anywhere that I could account for that piece of information.  Basically, my phone was either worth about $35 if it turned on or $0 if it didn’t.  I decided to continue searching.


That’s when I found other websites that offered much more for my phone but they didn’t seem legit.  Most had complaints from previous customers who had sent in their phone only to be informed that it wasn’t worth what they were initially quoted.  I stayed clear from these sites.  


Then I ran across  e-Cycle’s main target audience seems to be corporations with a large inventory of outdated wireless technology.  Their mission is to empower businesses and organizations to take a more responsible, secure and cost-effective approach to wireless recycling.  The best part is that they have a set price list for what each wireless technology is worth that month - condition does not matter.  In my case, my iPhone 3G was worth $70 - twice as much as the highest possible offer from Apple and Gazelle.  


I was unconvinced that this was actually true so I decided to contact e-Cycle (fully expecting that they may never contact me).  Within an hour an employee of e-Cycle called me, adequately answered all of my questions, and sent a follow up e-mail.  I was blown away by the level of customer service and attention I received - especially since I was not a corporation and only had one phone.  I packaged and sent them my phone (free shipping!).  


Throughout the whole process I was kept up to date with emails stating that they received my phone, the data on my phone was successfully deleted (I had done that on my end as well), the check was written, and finally an email asking if I was fully satisfied.  Wow.  


Not only did e-Cycle offer the best deal but had the best customer service, is environmentally responsible (recycling obsolete equipment, disposing toxic materials in an EPA-registered facility, and salvaging valuable materials), and, if you choose, can directly donate your proceeds to the charity of your choice.  Truly a great way for individuals and companies to be environmentally responsible in addition to adding money to your telecom budget or making a tax deductible donation to the charity of your choice.  


I always find it encouraging to find other companies, big and small, that share some of the same social and environmental views as Urban Durham Realty.  As always, I try to do my best in supporting their efforts.  The next time you have a phone that needs to be recycled, I encourage you to try e-Cycle.  


Celebrating the Holidays Urban Durham Realty Style!


By Jessica Slice-Sadler
The Urban Durham Christmas party is one of the highlights of my year. There really is no better time to reflect on how far we've come as a company and how thankful I am for my smart, funny, creative and interesting co-workers. Our office is just a fun and supportive place to be and I hope our clients feel that when they walk through our doors. 
This year we had delicious food catered by Molly Devine. We enjoyed appetizers and wine as we socialized in the beautifully decorated office (Thanks, Susan and Ashley!), Dinner was comforting and delicious and followed by a decadent chocolate sea salt tart with rosemary shortbread. The highlight of the evening was, as usual, the white elephant exchange. We saw a few repeats from years past in a mini-car-fridge (yes, that exists) and a illustrated guide to Christmas. Joel and I left with some moustaches (a real need for us) and I think everyone left smiling. 
We hope you enjoyed your holidays wherever you are and we enter 2012 thankful for such a warm and inviting office and the best clients in the world. 

Destined for Success: The Cookery


By Courtney James
Have you ever met one of those couples that stand out to you as a “destined to succeed” couple?  That is the feeling that I have about Rochelle and Nick Johnson. In the typical and beautiful Durham way, I am tied to this amazing husband and wife team through multiple connections (my sister and brother-in-law have each worked with Nick and Rochelle in various and independent projects).  I met Rochelle more than 3 years ago when I came to her with the vision for Urban Durham Realty.  At the time, I fed her with a lot of fuzzy notions about what I envisioned and she was somehow able to transform those hazy thoughts into a logo and website of which I am very proud.  Over the course of the last few years, Rochelle and Nick have become like family to me.  When I heard that they were starting the Cookery, I was immediately intrigued.  With the emerging mobile food revolution, this struck me as a vacuum that desperately needed to be filled.  
The Cookery, a culinary incubator that opened it's doors on West Chapel Hill Street, is a multifaceted business that benefits not only food entrepreneurs, but also food lovers!  The Cookery's commercial kitchen for rent by the hour supports caterers, bakers, food trucks, and a myriad of food producers, but it also offers Culinary Workshops to the general public (see schedule below), and will soon offer an event space in 2012.
I have found one of the most useful services that Nick and Rochelle offer is their ability to link local business with a vetted caterer or baker that suits your occasion.  Urban Durham Realty will be celebrating our holiday party this evening with one of my favorite Cookery vendors, Molly Devine ( Molly's Kitchen ).  If you are looking for an easy and delicious way to support Durham local business, call The Cookery and utilize their wonderful caterers and bakers.  If you are planning a holiday event, an office party, a wedding reception, or you're just looking for unique sweets or goodies for corporate gifts or celebrations, fill out The Cookery's catering form at  
To learn more about The Cookery, visit
Follow the latest Triangle food news on Twitter: @cookery
Culinary Workshops
The Cookery's Culinary Workshops are intimate, hand-on classes that are designed to let you take what you learn home and put it to work in your own kitchen.  These classes are a perfect gift for the holidays - what a better way to give to your loved ones with the gift of a culinary experience!  Upcoming workshops include:
Thursday, January 19th, 6:30PM
"The Wonderful World of Chocolate" with Vanessa Mazuz, owner of The Parlour ice cream truck
Monday, January 23rd, 6:30PM
"Fresh Pasta & Beyond" with Aaron Benjamin, Chef de Cuisine of Rue Cler
Saturday, January 14th, 11:30AM
"Sausage Making: The Basics of Grinding, Casing and Cooking" with Nathan McCamic, The Cookery's Certified Instructor
Tuesday, January 17th, 6:30PM
"A Taste of Spain: Making Authentic Paella"with Adam Cobb, Executive Chef of Glasshalfull

The Best Things in life are free!

by Kelly Garcia

With family coming into town this holiday season it may be useful to have activities planned in Durham that won’t break the bank.  All of these activities are free to the general public. I hope to see you there! 

December 13th . 12-2pm . Duke Chapel by Candlelight Open House    

Enjoy the breathtaking beauty of the Chapel by candlelight -- poinsettias, greenery, garland, wreaths, creche, Advent wreaths, carillon and organ music of the season.. Duke University Chapel, Science Dr.


December 16th . 6-11pm . Third Friday

Gallery crawl with live music and other performances. Maps are available at each participating location including Durham Arts Council, Bull City Arts Collaborative, Through This Lens and more.


December 18th . 2-4pm . "Winter Preparations" Walk

Learn how animals and plants prepare for the cold winter months. West Point on the Eno City Park, 5101 N. Roxboro Rd.


December 20th . 5-6:30pm . Free Wine Tasting

Winegrowers Toni and Imma Garriga will be pouring their Mas Codina wines. Wine Authorities, 2501 University Dr.


December 24th . 1-2:30pm .  Triangle Brewing Company Tour

Tour and taste! Triangle Brewing Company, 918 Pearl St.


Happy Holidays!





Subscribe to RSS - blogs