CUSTOM BUILDER: “Backstory: Playing Both Sides”

A creative duo’s partnership is driven by client needs, site specifics, and school schedules

Piedmont Retreat-23 copy_0

(Photos: Tzu Chen)



Bluebird Hill Farm Owner Extends Essay Deadline

Aspiring farmers have until August 1 to vie for this small enterprise in North Carolina.

June 29, 2017 (Bennett, NC) — Norma Burns, the architect/farmer who intends to gift her 13-acre organic farm in Bennett, North Carolina, to another aspiring small farmer through a convincing essay, has extended the deadline for submissions to August 1. (Background information to follow.)

June 1 was the original deadline. As that date neared, however, Burns received a flood of questions and comments on the farm’s Facebook page from people who had only recently learned about “The Gift,” as she calls it. And because she has not yet received the number of submissions/entry fees needed to pay off her mortgage so she can gift it to another aspiring farmer, she decided to extend the deadline — in accordance with the rules set up on the website

Norma Burns introduces a young visitor to freshly grown lavender.

“Preserving Bluebird Hill Farm is an important part of The Gift,” she said recently, noting that a general sale would not guarantee it. “I want to preserve this small farm for future farmers. I want to preserve the opportunity for those who dream of farming to obtain their dream.”

Through the Agricultural Conservation Easement that Burns just signed this month, she’s “also assuring that the natural resources, wildlife habitat, and scenic values of this property will be preserved.”

The rules and requirements for submitting a single-page essay that, along with other criteria, will determine Bluebird Hill Farm’s future owner,  are available at Questions and comments may be directed only to the farm’s Facebook page:

Aerial view of Bluebird Hill Farm from the farmhouse (top) to the bright red barn (bottom).


In January 2017, Norma Burns announced that she is inviting committed couples of any type who are also aspiring small farmers to submit an essay on “Why We Want to Own and Operate Bluebird Hill Farm.” Along with meeting certain other criteria (such as a resume indicating experience), a Selection Committee will determine the writers of the best essay who will receive her 13-acre farm in North Carolina’s bucolic Chatham County as a gift with title free and clear.

The farm and all its components is valued at around $450,000. Along with the land, The Gift includes outbuildings, equipment, and the farmhouse that Burns, as an architect, renovated years ago. Furnishings and accessories that are listed on the website also go with the house. Everything The Gift entails can be seen on the dedicated website:

Burns chose to pass her beloved Bluebird Hill Farm on to a new owner in this manner because she wants to give aspiring small farmers who can’t afford to buy property the chance to have their own farm and to preserve and cherish it as much as she has.

“After nearly 18 years of work, love, and care, the farm has become what my late husband and I envisioned it to be when we bought it,” said Burns, who is ready to retire from the hard work of farming and enjoy a more urban lifestyle. “It would mean so much to me to see it in the care of someone committed to its continued improvement.”

She calls her effort to transfer ownership “A Gift of Good Land” in homage to American novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry. For more information:

About Bluebird Hill Farm:

Owned and operated by Norma DeCamp Burns, Bluebird Hill Farm is a small farm that specializes in growing herbs, specialty vegetables, cut flowers, and native plants, along with value-added farm crafts and food products. The farm incorporates the principles of permaculture to maximize the use of space in its raised beds. Burns has grown many types of fruits and vegetables, emphasizing diversity and quality over quantity. The farm is located in Bennett, NC.


UPDATE: Bluebird Hill Farm Essay Contest Eliminates Age Range for Entries, Defines What “The Farm” Includes

Aerial view of Bluebird Hill Farm.
Aerial view of Bluebird Hill Farm

February 13, 2017 (Bennett, NC) — After hearing concerns about the age-range stipulation in Bluebird Hill Farm’s Essay Contest ( from otherwise qualified candidates, farm owner Norma Burns has decided to eliminate it entirely.

Previously, the Eligibility rules for the contest that Burns is holding to give away her 13-acre farm rather than sell it on the market, stated: “At least one member of the couple must be between the ages of 25 and 50 to ensure that the winning couple has the life experience and physical stamina that active farming requires.”

Burns clarified that she never intended aspiring organic farmers to state their ages. “We assumed everyone entering would conform to the age range we indicated,” she said, “We have rescinded any mention of it in the rules since age, by itself, was never an issue or criterion; experience and capability are. Therefore, those entering the contest must not include their ages in any entry document. Only their names should appear on the entry form.”

For those who submitted essays before the change and did include mention of their age, Burns says they need to email the contest’s clerk, Kay Maddox, at “Kay will intercept those entries and return them unopened so the sender can eliminate mention of age,” she said.

Burns also noted some confusion concerning what’s included in the word “farm” — just the farmable land? the land and outbuildings? the farmhouse, too?

To clarify what we feel is expressed on the website, Bluebird Hill Farm includes the gardens, land, outbuildings, the equipment that’s named and shown on the website, and the house, as well as the furnishings named in the photos of its interior,” she said. “Miscellaneous tools and additional furnishings that are too numerous to name are also included. All of it is going to the winner of the essay contest.”

For more information on the Essay Contest, go to and watch the farm’s Facebook page. Questions should be submitted via Facebook.

logoAbout Bluebird Hill Farm:

Owned and operated by Norma DeCamp Burns, Bluebird Hill is a small USDA Certified Organic farm that specializes in growing herbs, specialty vegetables, cut flowers, native plants, value-added farm crafts and food products. The farm incorporates the principles of permaculture to maximize the use of space in its raised beds. Burns grows many types of fruits and vegetables, emphasizing diversity and quality over quantity. The farm is located in Bennett, NC.

WRAL TV: “Couples write essays, not checks, to own Chatham County farm”

Couples write essays, not checks, to own Chatham County farm : 2017-09-10 23-20-31

 — Couples who dream of living on a small farm will have to write an essay instead of a check to own one Chatham County property.

Norma Burns is a widow who lives alone at Bluebird Hill Farm, and giving it the necessary attention has become too much for her to handle.

“Everybody says it’s so serene, and it is when you sit on the porch at the end of the day, but not in between, not when you’re working,” she said.

The former architect is giving away her 13-acre farm to the winner of a 200-word essay contest. The contest has a $300 entry fee and Burns hopes to use the money to pay off the mortgage on the $450,000 property. READ ARTICLE, VIEW NEWS SEGMENT…

NEWS & OBSERVER: “Win this essay contest, get a farm — Bluebird Hill organic farm owner to give it away.”

A Gift of Good Land: Bluebird Hill Farm Announces Essay Contest for Aspiring Organic Farmers

The owner of the Bennett, NC,  farm will award

full ownership to the winning couple.


Norma Burns, owner and operator of Bluebird Hill Farm in Bennett, NC, is holding a 200-word essay contest to award full ownership of her picturesque, 12.88-acre USDA Certified Organic farm in Bennett, NC, to a couple of aspiring farmers. The topic for the 200-word essay is: Why We Want to Own and Operate Bluebird Hill Farm. The deadline for entries is June 1, 2017.

1-monarda-barn“To me, there’s no better calling in life than raising organic food,” said Burns, an award-winning architect-turned-farmer. “I’m looking for a like-minded couple who have experience and training in organic farming and are willing and able to put in the long days and hard work that farming requires. The only thing they don’t have is an actual farm. I want to make it possible for these new farmers to get started.”

After nearly 18 years of running Bluebird Hill Farm — growing herbs, 3-aerial-view_2specialty vegetables, cut flowers, native plants, value-added farm crafts, and food products – Burns is ready to move back to Raleigh and into a more urban lifestyle. But she wants to leave her beloved farm in the care of a “committed couple of any description with the life experience and physical stamina that active farming requires,” she said. And she’s insisting on a committed couple because “experience has shown that Bluebird Hill Farm can’t be operated successfully by a single individual.”

The winning couple will receive the Certificate of Title, free and clear, to Bluebird Hill Farm, which, according to Burns, has been estimated to be worth $450,000. The property is also subject to an agricultural conservation easement.

2-aerial-view_1Calling her essay contest “A Gift of Good Land,” in homage to American novelist, poet, and environmental activist Wendell Berry, Burns has established a website dedicated to the contest – — that explains all the details about the prize, including the eligibility requirements, entry fee, and how to enter.

Burns will not be involved in the selection process, she noted. Instead, a panel of judges consisting of one attorney, one conservationist, and one agricultural professional will choose the winning couple.

Aspiring farmers and others can learn more about Bluebird Hill Farm and see a gallery of photos on its Facebook page — The essay contest winners will be announced on the Facebook page on June 30th.

“When my late husband [NCSU Professor Bob Burns] and I purchased the farm, it was a derelict property,” Burns said, “a barn without a roof, a neglected house, and abandoned gardens. After nearly 18 years of work, love, and care, the farm has become what we envisioned it to be. It would mean so much to me to see it in the care of someone committed to its continued improvement.”

For more information on Bluebird Hill Farm’s Essay Contest, visit

GARLIC, HERBS, FLOWERS copyAbout Bluebird Hill Farm:

Owned and operated by Norma DeCamp Burns, Bluebird Hill is a small USDA Certified Organic farm that specializes in growing herbs, specialty vegetables, cut flowers, native plants, value-added farm crafts and food products. The farm incorporates the principles of permaculture to maximize the use of space in its raised beds. Burns grows many types of fruits and vegetables, emphasizing diversity and quality over quantity. The farm is located in Bennett, NC.


Chapel Hill Architect Arielle Condoret Schechter Receives “Best of Houzz” Honors Second Year In A Row

Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA
Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA

From among remodeling and design professionals throughout North America and around the world.

 Architect Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA, of Chapel Hill, NC, has won a “Best Of Houzz 2017” award in the Customer Service category for the second year in a row.

Over 40 million monthly users that comprise the Houzz community chose Schechter and the other winners from among more than one million active home building, remodeling, and design industry professionals.

Best Of Houzz honors are awarded annually in three categories: Design, Customer Service, and Photography. The Customer Service honor is based on several factors, including the number and quality of client reviews that a professional receives. (Click here to see Schechter’s reviews.) A “Best Of Houzz 2017” badge now appears on Schechter’s Houzz profile, along with the 2016 badge and a 2015 “Recommended on Houzz” honor.

According to Lisa Hausman, vice president of industry marketing, “These badges help homeowners identify popular and top-rated home professionals in every metro area. Each of these businesses was singled out for recognition by our community of homeowners and design enthusiasts for helping to turn their home improvement dreams into reality.”

Founder and principal of Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA, Architect, the architect is perhaps best known for her modern, Net Zero Passive residential designs and her new Micropolis Houses® collection of modern, sustainable “tiny home” plans.

To see Schechter’s Houzz page, click here. For more information on her firm, visit

About Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA:

Arielle Condoret Schechter, AIA, is a licensed, registered architect based in Chapel Hill, NC, who specializes in modernist, energy-efficient buildings with a focus on passive houses, NET ZERO houses, and her new Micropolis Houses® collection of tiny house designs. She is a lifelong environmentalist and animal advocate who was riding on the green design train long before it became mainstream. She lives in a modern, sustainable house she designed in Chapel Hill with her husband, Arnie, and an assortment of foster animals. For more information:

About Houzz:

Houzz is the leading platform for home remodeling and design, online or from a mobile device connecting millions of homeowners, home design enthusiasts and home improvement professionals across the country and around the world. With the largest residential design database in the world and a vibrant community empowered by technology, Houzz is the easiest way for people to find inspiration, get advice, buy products and hire the professionals they need to help turn their ideas into reality. Headquartered in Palo Alto, CA, Houzz also has international offices in London, Berlin, Sydney, Moscow and Tokyo. Houzz and the Houzz logo are registered trademarks of Houzz Inc. worldwide. For more information, visit



Blueplate PR Announces Special, Limited Time “PR On A Platter” Package for 2017

Blueplate PRa boutique public relations agency in downtown Raleigh, is launching a new PR package today for architects who have big PR goals (exposure), big PR dreams (lots of exposure), and not-so-big 2017 PR budgets.

What’s included in the “PR On A Platter” package? 
  • Professional press releases, written by a former newspaper and magazine editor, on all the news your firm generates (new projects, completed projects, awards, new hires, etc., etc. You’ll be surprised by how much news you generate!).
  • Manual press release distribution to relevant media sources. (The media hate “e-blasts.” This is not that.)
  • Hand-picked submissions to appropriate online journals, e-zines, and blogs to raise your Internet presence immediately (very important since potential clients and media sources “Google” information today).
  • Professional pitches to traditional media: newspapers, magazines, television and radio. (The number is limited.)
  • An experienced and committed PR professional who actually knows your industry and delivers results.

Why is this a great deal for you?
Well, if you want all of that exposure for you and your work,
“PR On A Platter” will save you endless hours of…

…Chasing the right reporters who cover your industry and may be interested in your news.
…Waiting for return calls from deadline-driven journalists who don’t even know you’ve left many, many, many messages.
…Staring at the screen of your smartphone for weeks, waiting for reporters to get back to you.
…Wondering why your competitors keep getting “ink” and tons of new leads from the same journalists and reporters you’ve been trying to attract.

Since 2004, Blueplate PR’s message has been simple:

Get a lot for a little.” With our “PR On A Platter” package, we continue to deliver on this promise.
So… what’s it going to cost? Very little, actually. 

For a flat-fee of $700 per month (with a recurring commitment of six months or more), you’ll enjoy our “no billable hours, no surprises” promise and achieve the PR results you want from a professional public relations expert with a track record of securing tons of media attention for her clients.


So – ready to Order Up?
 Call Kim Weiss today at 919.819.0064,
or email her:

   *NOTE: This offer expires January 31, 2017, is available only for new clients and requires at least a 6-month commitment, payable on the first of each month.

Chapel Hill Magazine’s Readers Name Keith Shaw One of the Best Architects in Chapel Hill

Keith Shaw, AIA, founder and principal, Shaw Design Associates
Keith Shaw, AIA, founder and principal, Shaw Design Associates

For the third year, architect Keith Shaw, AIA, founder and principal of Shaw Design Associates, is one of the “Best Architects in Chapel Hill” according to the readers of Chapel Hill Magazine.

The results of the publication’s 2016 Best of Chapel Hill readers’ poll appear in the July-August edition.

Keith Shaw is best known in Chapel Hill for completing over 70 custom-designed estate homes, 100 for-sale homes, and 80 extensive renovation projects in the gated Governors Club and other high-end communities. Time-honored styles, including French Country and English Manor, as well as the American Prairie Style, inspire many of his residential designs. Occasionally, a Modern project comes in his office, such as the 3300-square-foot home he designed in for a fellow architect from the global architecture, engineering, and planning firm HOK .

“Keith’s designs seem to beckon the viewer to look further, to keep exploring,” wrote clients Judy and Dick Blake for Shaw Design Associates’ website. “[He] has taken the hopes and ideas of his clients and morphed them into the home of their dreams. There are many fine architects out there who could design a suitable home, but Keith will create a masterpiece that truly reflects who you are!”

One of the builders with whom Shaw works offered, “Shaw Design Associates seems to come out on top in our minds. Previous homeowners that we’ve worked with, and who have worked with Keith, rave about how happy they are with the design, and at how much he seemed to listen to their requests throughout the process.”

Keith Shaw is also becoming known for liturgical architecture. Among other structures, he designed the timber-frame Chapel In The Pines on Great Ridge Parkway and the New Life Fellowship church on Weaver Dairy Road.

Chapel Hill Magazine is published by Shannon Media six times a year. With 52,000 readers, it covers Chapel Hill, Carrboro, Hillsborough, and northern Chatham County. For more information, visit

For more information on Keith Shaw and Shaw Design Associates, visit

About Shaw Design Associates:

Founded by Keith Shaw, AIA, in 1995, Shaw Design Associates, P.A. is a recognized leader in providing innovative architectural solutions for all project types – solutions based on time-tested, enduring standards and plan elements that are vital to design integrity. The firm adheres to these design truths by focusing on the land, the light, and the patterns of interaction between the owner, the structure, and the environment. Shaw Design Associates is located at 180 Providence Road, #8, Chapel Hill, NC 27514. For more information, visit or call 919.493.0528.

Durham’s BuildSense To Host June’s “Thirst4Architecture”

The BuildSense building in downtown Durham.
The BuildSense building in downtown Durham.

BuildSense, an award-winning design-build firm located in downtown Durham, will host “Thirst4Architecture,” a networking event sponsored by North Carolina Modernist Houses (NCMH) and Emilie Huin of Triangle Modern Homes Real Estate, on Thursday, June 16, from 6-8 p.m., in the firm’s offices at 502 Rigsbee Avenue.

T4A events are opportunities for architects, artists, building managers, contractors, engineers, furniture dealers, realtors, and anyone else interested in Modernist residential design to connect and create strategic alliances in a casual environment. The hosts provide refreshments and other entertainment while introducing T4A participants to their businesses.

Founded by Randall Lanou and Erik Van Mehlman in 1999, BuildSense Inc. is a full-service architecture and construction firm known for designing and building both modern and traditional sustainable, energy efficient homes and renovations. The firm frequently participates in NCMH events, including homes tours and the Matsumoto Prize for Residential Design.

Those attending the June T4A will be able to tour the firm’s ca. 1945 building that served as an auto service center for 30 years before Lanou and Mehlman retrofitted into one of the most energy-efficient buildings in downtown Durham in 2014. For more information on BuildSense, including directions to the offices, visit

For more information on NCMH and the locations for future Thirst4Architecture events, visit

redchair smAbout NC Modernist Houses:

North Carolina Modernist Houses (NCMH) is an award-winning, 501C3 nonprofit organizations established in 2007 and dedicated to documenting, preserving, and promoting Modernist residential design. This year, the American Institute of Architects awarded NCMH founder and director George Smart its Collaborative Achievement Award for his work with NCMH. The website is now the largest open digital archive for Modernist residential design in America. NCMH also hosts popular architecture events every month and frequent home tours, giving the public access to the most exciting residential architecture, past and present. These tours and events raise awareness and help preserve these “livable works of art” for future generations. For more information: Find NCMH on FacebookFollow NCMH on Twitter and Instagram.

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Media contact:

Kim Weiss, Blueplate PR


Image attached: BuildSense building in downtown Durham, courtesy BuildSense