Nick Nixon and Beth Connell fondly recall the first time they drove down the narrow road off Masonboro Loop, heading toward the Intracoastal Waterway.
Nixon was in the process of selling the North Myrtle Beach-based self-storage business he owned with his brother. When the sale went through, he and Beth -- who runs a physical therapy practice on Oleander Drive -- would move from Leland to Wilmington. The married couple had just one criterion: Their new home had to be on the water.
They explored virtually every creek between Wrightsville Beach and Carolina Beach looking for their perfect spot.
"We drove down pretty much every road looking for something on the water," Nixon says. "If there was even a hint of something that was for sale, we'd look at it."
As the road zigzagged and turned from paved to sandy dirt, they saw it -- a lot with a breathtaking view of the ICWW, and with plenty of room for their two goldendoodles, Zeke and Kelso. It was the ideal spot.
The couple purchased the land and hired Wilmington architect David Lisle to design their home.
"He came out and looked at the property," Nixon says. "I told him what my thoughts were. We said, 'We want to see what you come up with, what you are inspired to create.'"
Nixon and Connell had envisioned a contemporary craftsman style, but what Lisle produced was something entirely different.
"He drew this and said, 'Just look at it. It's probably too contemporary, modernish for you, but I can make it look like anything,'" Nixon says. "We said, 'No, we really like it.' We tweaked the fa?ade slightly and tweaked a few things on the interior layout. Very minor. He was surprised by how contemporary we went."
The stairwell at the ground floor entry leads to the main living area. A double-sided fireplace separates the living room from the kitchen. Windows on every wall provide access to the views over the water and contribute to the bright, airy feel of the home.
"The inspiration for the house was the owner's desire to maximize their incredible views," Lisle says. "Every room has an Intracoastal view."
Color comes from subtle decorating touches and the use of different tone woods -- cherry, maple, hickory, ipe.
"It was a big change for us going to a contemporary design," says Connell, who did her own decorating. "Things are cleaner and plainer with not as much color. Some contemporary houses can be cold. The natural wood gave it a more organic feel."
Cherry wood on the kitchen islands adds warmth. The countertops are quartzite.
"We really like the function of granite and how durable it is, but wanted something more contemporary," Connell says.
The fish on the wall above the fireplace have been collected over the years.
"The fish are something Nick's been giving me for years," Connell says. "We had them in our kitchen at the other house."
Nixon wishes the collection was bigger.
"She made me stop buying them," he says. "I would have the whole aquarium. I just love them. I think they are really funny."
The high ceilings help make the home seem larger than it actually is.
"It's 4,100 square feet, and it looks much bigger because of the height, and the height of the ceilings," Nixon says. "We needed to build something to fit the lot. We didn't need to build a 10,000-square-foot mansion."
The map in the kitchen is one of the few things on the walls. In most places the homeowners opted for windows instead of wall space.
The dining table was custom made for the space.
Nixon and Connell can lean back from the his-and-her desks and see views in either direction, including past the stairwell.
"David did so many things," Connell says. "I wanted to keep sound from going down the stairs and said, 'Let's do a solid wall here.' He said, 'No, that's your sunset.' I said, 'Let's put one more cabinet in the kitchen.' He said, 'No, that's your sunrise.'"
Modern lighting fixtures, neutral colors, clean lines, and occasional splashes of color are hallmarks of their contemporary home.
The home includes two master suites.
"We set it up to encourage family," Connell says. "We've got parents that are getting older, so we set it up for if anyone wanted to come for an extended period of time. It's alsohandicap accessible."
The couple opted to put their master suite on the topmost level, with the bed facing the window to take advantage of the view over the ICWW.
"Being empty-nesters, we wanted a reverse floor plan," Connell says. "We can see the ocean from the top floor; the views are better. And this is our exercise plan as we get older, using the stairs."
Nixon, who did his own landscaping, cleaned out the live oak thicket between the home and the water.
"There were a lot of scraggly pines in there that were threatening the live oaks," he says. "It was impenetrable, overgrown with vines. I cleared the thicket out and slowly took out the pines and ground the stumps myself. It took me all winter."
There's more work to do now, cleaning up debris from Hurricane Florence, but otherwise the home wasn't damaged by the storm.
The clean, bright aesthetic is continued in the two bedrooms on the middle floor, which include the living space for Nixon's daughter when she's home from college.
"I'm really, really happy with what David did for us," Connell says. "I've always been an old house person. I've lived in the historic district. This is very outside my wheelhouse. It's a big change. But I like it."
So does her husband.
"We have a great view, and of course water access," he says. "Our neighbors up the hill and next door are such lovely people. We looked at so many properties. Really, we just got so lucky."