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A New Safe Haven Built From the Foundation of 97 Years of Stories

Nov 06, 2020 04:56PM ● By Catherine Diehl

As soon as you pull up to the front of the house, its grandness becomes your own and you instantly become a part of its story. The story of this house dates back to 1923, and after 97 years of history, you wish the walls could talk. If you listen closely, you can hear them. Last Thanksgiving, the hue of these historic walls were drastically changed as a fire broke out while the homeowners were away visiting their daughter in Durham, NC. Homeowners, Bill & Inga Balatow, received a call from their next door neighbor and they told them that their house was on fire. They came home to a place they didn’t recognize and a place where the once lively walls were now silenced. A home that lost its natural scent of safety, and was now engulfed in the smell of fear and pain that not only destroyed 75% of their personal belongings, but also took the life of their precious family dog, Max.

The fire didn’t destroy everything

Red brick owns the exterior of this house, fortifying every inch in strength and power, and as soon you walk into this house, you’re welcomed with an overwhelming sense of belonging. Even though there has been so much suffering and loss, the new spaces that have been redeemed all throughout, genuinely allow for a sense of joy to be sparked deep inside your bones. This sense of newness hasn’t always been here, and as the walls are being built and new finishes are being made, there are still marks along the walls that remind you of the stark reality that once owned every inch of this regal space. Like anything in life, there’s a process to building something and making it great again, which is exactly what Bryan George of By George Construction, Inc. is doing to this house.

The entire inside of this house was almost completely gutted. Walls have been moved, the layout has been rearranged, windows have been re-installed allowing natural light to hug the walls throughout every inch of this house. It’s stunning and it’s just walls, bare floor, windows, and primer, but it isn’t the “stuff” that makes this house beautiful. It’s the people who have called this place home for the past 21 years. 

The Balatows

Bill and Inga Balatow have been married for 31 years and although different on the exterior, they’re very much the same internally. Bill is from Buffalo, NY, and after his dad received a new job offer, they moved to Lenoir, NC, when he was very young. He went on to graduate from The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and has been a real estate agent for the past twenty years at Allen Tate Realtors. Inga is from High Point, NC, and graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro with an interior architecture degree. Both of their parents were in the furniture and design business, which is what brought them both to the same spot on the map in North Carolina, and now they’re a unique duo that has stood the test of time. Inga was dealt the hand of cancer and after facing that battle, they lost their house in the fire. “I’ve been through a lot of tragedy in my life and it reinforces our marriage and what we stand for. What can you do but move forward? You move forward and you show people that you can and you show yourself that you can too,” were the words that graced Inga’s voice as she looked around the space of her empty kitchen.

 455 Sullivan Rd.

23 years ago the Balatows were looking for a home. They wanted an older home they could raise their kids in. At the time, they only had their daughter and they wanted to have at least one more child. They found 455 Sullivan Rd. It needed a lot of work, but that didn’t make them love the house any less. “I did everything to this house from mudding, plastering, walls, painting. It’s a love, hate relationship,” said Inga as her laughter echoed and faded throughout the space as she went on, “We love this house and we’re just lucky to have the opportunity to make it what we’ve always wanted to make it from the beginning.”

Their family dog, Max, was a big part of what made 455 Sullivan Rd. feel like home. Max was an English lab “with a big boxy face. He was hyper and a trouble maker,” Inga said with a kind smile on her aching face, “but he was old and had bad hips, so we couldn’t take him with us on vacations.” “It’s a horrible thing that has happened and losing the dog was the worst part,” said Bill.


The walls now lay bare with white primer and the floors are purely just a foundation for your feet to not be nervous to take the next step. The space is clean, airy, open, and filled with light. The door has been upgraded from two pieces of wood to a beautiful door that “is almost identical to the old one. Bryan did an amazing job matching this door,” Bill said. The beautiful mahogany wood is gently touched with glass pieces that accentuate the dark wood, and as the light peeks inside, it is welcomed by walls that have missed the warmth of sunshine.

Moving forward

The inside of the house matched the outside- it was grand, had old style characteristics, smaller walkways, fireplaces in every room, French doors, and crown molding, but as the Balatows walk into a new chapter, their house will get one, too. The Balatows have been renting an apartment since their house burnt down. It’s a more modern / contemporary style and Inga said she loves it, so her plan is to mix the old with the new by bringing in a few modern touches.

The floors still show traces of where the old walls used to be and it really makes you thankful for the extra newfound space. The old fireplaces have been covered in order to utilize more of the area in each room, but the older, main mantle in the now dining room welcomes you as you walk into the house. Inga was explaining all of the details that she’s undoubtedly so excited to have featured in her new home, but she has her spirits already high up in the clouds when it comes to a few special things.

The kitchen and the picture window

The kitchen has been completely changed and has been adorned with new windows, and after having dreams about having a picture window in front of her kitchen sink, Inga gets to have it now. Her face was beaming as she explained the layout of the kitchen and how she can’t wait to do her dishes and look outside her picture window at the same time. Inga went on to say that “the kitchen is my favorite part of the house. It’s the communal space and we have all these big windows so we can see our beautiful backyard and be able to connect with nature. It will be so cool and so fun!” and almost as if Bill had been prepped in what to say, he followed Inga by saying, “what we’re going to be able to do with the kitchen is something you can’t do with any other room in the house. The kitchen is where you live. You don’t bring your guests into your bedroom, but in the kitchen, you bring everyone.” 

The space is beautiful, welcoming, and sets you apart from the rest of the house. The kitchen is in the back of the house and the entire space is designated for this grand communal area. The rest of the house has been opened up, and by seeing where the walls used to be, the house somehow feels more quaint- more welcoming, not as restricting. The areas flow together, as if the walls are asking you to dance around and take it all in. The master bedroom has been moved to the bottom floor and the closets and showers have been opened and refreshed. From walk-in closets to walk-in showers and beautiful baths, each space has been carefully curated by the maker, Bryan George and his brother, Alan, who helped design the changes.

Beautiful, grand beams enrich the ceilings in the bedroom and in the kitchen, and everywhere you walk, there’s something to gawk at, and the house isn’t even completed yet. The Balatows wanted to keep this project close to home, so they tried to use local people, with the desire and intention of giving back to the community. Bryan George of By George was their immediate choice as their lead contractor and from there, they trusted Bryan to pick locals to work on the house with him. 

There’s always something to learn

Although the Balatows lost their home and sweet Max, their spirits seem to be hopeful for what is to come of their home. With Inga and Bill’s backgrounds in real estate and interior design, they were able to figure things out together, but some people don’t have their background. “If I could tell a family that has been through something similar, I would tell them that first off, be grateful that all the people are alright and then you just have to recognize that at whatever stage you’re in, it’s another thing you have to put on your plate and you can’t let it consume you. You have to compartmentalize,” said Bill. He also wanted everyone to make sure that ‘Replacement’ is in their insurance policy and not ‘Depreciated Value.’ “If it weren’t for ‘Replacement cost’ being in our insurance agreement, we would have lost everything and nothing would have been covered.”

Hopeful Beginning

The house is already absolutely breathtaking and it’s just the beginning of something hopeful for the Balatows. “I’m most excited about getting all of our stuff in one place. Having our neighbors, our backyard. You feel like a person without a country,” said Bill and after not having a home for Thanksgiving or Christmas, it’s going to be nice to have a place to feel safe in again. Bryan George said, “I’ll be glad for them to have a home again. For them to have lost so much and to be a part of the rebuilding of their home, I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of it.” They may have lost their home and precious Max, but they’ve gained a community, hopeful hearts, and a new foundation where 97 more years can be lived out through stories of new life and hope.