When Bill Marshall explained his vision to five contractors bidding to renovate his Raleigh home, they told him he was crazy.
After looking at Marshall's blueprints, two flat-out refused the job. The other three, he says, "gave me bids that Donald Trump would have trouble with. They said, 'Why don't you just sell the place or tear it down?' I said, 'Beyond these walls is a view unrivaled in Raleigh, and I will not leave this place until I've captured the view and completed the house.' "
Frustrated by the contractors' response, Marshall -- an attorney, then recently divorced, and a self-described "wannabe architect" -- decided to act as his own general contractor, doing all his own design and overseeing more than 30 subcontractors.
So began a 20-year architectural odyssey that transformed a basic suburban box into an eclectic 6,000-square-foot labor of love that blends Hollywood drama with neoclassical and Art Deco stylings, perched in the treetops overlooking House Creek inside the Beltline in Raleigh. He started on the first of three additions in 1985. Two more followed in 1993 and 2003.
Today no sign remains of the plain 2,000-square-foot box that Marshall first constructed in 1980 on a quiet cul-de-sac off Ridge Road.
The front facade mingles neoclassical touches -- Palladian arches and columns -- with round windows and glass-block walls evocative of the Art Deco style popular in Miami Beach. Visitors enter through a glass gate into a series of striking spaces that reflect the evolution of the house and Marshall's interests and personality.
An interest in meditation prompted the addition of a small Zen garden, complete with pond and waterfall, in the entryway. Another glass door leads to a 50-foot indoor lap pool lined with palm trees and heated to a comfortable 86 degrees. Framed by soaring vaulted ceilings, a stained-glass bathing beauty appears to be diving in.
"I kept having to reinvent myself and reinvent my house," says Marshall, who worked in criminal, real estate and personal injury law before concentrating his practice in family law in 1991. "[Over] 25 years of coming home alone, you get very introspective. With that came the creative process."
The process often involved multiple iterations. For instance, one space started out as an outdoor deck, then was remodeled into a screened-in porch, and later became a glass-enclosed room that now houses a floating bed hanging from cables. It's a perfect spot to watch the sunset, and "the grandkids love it," Marshall says. "It's like an indoor swing."
Throughout, each room flows seamlessly into the next, showcasing an ever-changing collection of art, photography, paintings and sculpture found in his international travels and at local festivals such as Artsplosure.
The kitchen, with birch cabinets, granite countertops and a stainless steel backsplash, leads into a game room that Marshall added when his son moved to Raleigh to attend N.C. State. There, a huge quilt depicting Andy Warhol's Marilyn Monroe looks down on a black-topped pool table. Nearby, a cascading fountain gurgles atop a double stone fireplace -- gas on one side, wood-burning on the other, "because I couldn't decide," Marshall explains.
A narrow flight of stairs leads to a tucked-away master suite with a denlike bedroom with built-in cabinetry and an ultra-modern bathroom with a barrel-vaulted ceiling, Jacuzzi tub and outdoor shower.
Marshall's favorite space is his "living room on the edge of a cliff," with 27-foot ceilings and walls of glass on two sides, offering a dramatic view that sweeps through the forest down to House Creek. In the winter, he can see the Beltline through the bare trees; in the fall, it feels like a mountain hideaway.
"You're sitting at the very tops of the trees," he says, "literally hanging off the hill."
The view has provided a constant inspiration for Marshall.
Raleigh born and bred -- he graduated from Broughton High School and N.C. State and left the area only briefly for a U.S. Army stint in Korea and to attend Wake Forest Law School -- he toyed with the idea of leaving the Triangle. He bought a second home in Miami Beach, Fla., but was frustrated by the traffic, congestion and noise, so he sold it and decided to stay in Raleigh. "I thought, there really is no place like home," Marshall says. "I decided to bloom where I was planted."
He set out to create a resortlike haven of beauty and whimsy, so he wouldn't need to travel to feel he was getting away from it all. "A house has to be fun, to entertain you," he says. "Travel has been so difficult since 9/11. I wanted to be able to stay in Raleigh and be happy being home."
Sonya DuBree, an attorney who has worked with Marshall since 1995 and became his law partner in 1998, says the house -- with its blend of comfort, elegance and humor -- mirrors Marshall's personal style and reflects his powerful commitment to bringing a unique vision to life.
"All the other lawyers are out on the golf course on Saturdays -- he's meeting a contractor," she says. "I'm amazed at his dedication to it. He feels a constant need to change it and make it better."
While he says he's happy with the current state of his living space, Marshall is already thinking ahead to a new project.
He has purchased the one-acre lot next door and plans to construct a new house. Inspired by Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish architect who designed the World Trade Center Transportation Hub as a dome with a retractable ceiling, Marshall envisions a "quintessential 21st century house" with a three-story atrium and the entire back made of glass, incorporating Charleston, S.C., architecture with the feel of an Italian villa.
This time, though, he'll be starting fresh: He plans to hire a contractor and build from scratch, maybe with a partner to help.
Looking back, he says, he's still amazed that he was able to create the house he envisioned. "I'm glad I stuck with it and did it, but I could not repeat the process. It took so much perseverance and patience," he says. "It's very hard for me to believe I pulled this off."