From Hospital to Southern Home

Patricia Lyons
by Haskell Harris - North Carolina - April/May 2013

A North Carolina design duo gives new life to an old building

>See more photos of the home 

“This shell right here was given to me by my grandfather,” Beth Collier says as she picks up a bleached white oyster the size of a salad plate, its ridges smoothed by decades of tumbling in the North Carolina surf. If she had to leave in a hurry, she says, “I would grab it before I grabbed my jewelry.” Nearby hangs a map tattooed with circles that mark the same grandfather’s favorite fishing holes in the marshes and tidal creeks of the Pamlico River. A five-foot-tall pecan stump that Beth and her husband hauled from a construction site sits in the corner of the breakfast room. 

Each room in the home of Beth and Chris Collier is like this, layered with objects chosen for their looks, yes, but also for their stories and sentimental value. All the more fitting when you consider the couple’s connection to the home itself. 

Locals in Washington, North Carolina, remember the building as Tayloe Hospital, a place where three generations of Down East doctors, including Chris’s maternal grandfather and great-grandfather, saw life come into the world and leave it, too. After a new facility was built in the fifties, Tayloe was converted into a nursing home. Beth’s grandmother spent her final years there. 

But when the Colliers bought the property in 2004, the building had been boarded up for more than a decade, and the interior was in a sad, spooky state of disrepair. Caved-in ceilings, empty hospital beds, dusty slippers, and stained walls greeted them during their first walkthroughs. The attic was the worst. “We went up there with a flashlight,” Beth remembers. “There were hundreds of dead pigeons. It was terrifying. Very Alfred Hitchcock.”

But where others might have seen, well, pigeons, the Colliers saw promise. They were enamored with the structure’s Georgian architectural details and the fact that the property was in the town’s historic district on a lot the size of a public park. “We saw it as something worthy of saving,” Beth says.

Beth grew up in Washington and Chris in nearby Kinston, both in families rooted in eastern North Carolina’s once-bustling tobacco trade. Together, the couple moved back to Washington in the nineties following careers in the arts. Beth worked as a museum curator before starting her own interior design business. Chris was an antiques dealer. Their interest in the hospital was twofold. For starters, they didn’t want this piece of their town’s history in the hands of a rogue developer; second, they saw a unique opportunity to house their work and their home under one roof.