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SIMS — Tucked away in the western Wilson County woods, a 66 ½-acre estate hosting weddings, classes and conferences is celebrating a colorful addition.
Kelcie Howren is launching the Horse Barn Studios at Stork’s Rest Farm, her grandparents’ home and event venue. The studios will serve as a creative space and teaching center for the mixed-media artist who’s branded her eclectic work Kelcie & The Wildthings.
“Lately I’ve been playing with natural fibers and what I’m calling fiber art, and kind of this modern take on macramé,” said Howren, who also paints and molds plastic wall sculptures. “I love to do all types of stuff ... I just love to live life artfully.”
Stork’s Rest Farm provides a pastoral respite for Dr. John W. Larsen, an obstetrician and gynecologist, and his wife, retired businesswoman Joan Larsen. Howren helps her grandmother manage the sprawling complex, which began taking shape with a custom-designed four-bedroom, 7,058 square-foot house built in 2004.
“Before this house was built, I had bought the plans. I took a six-month course in engineering, and I completely re-drew the plans so that I could move doors and everything else so I could make it fit exactly what I wanted it to do,” Joan Larsen explained. “It looks like an old house, and I wanted it to look that way...We just really created room by room as we went along, and it took about 2 ½ years to do all of them.”
John Larsen served as obstetrics and gynecology department chair at George Washington University’s School of Medicine and Health Sciences and remains active as a consulting physician.
“He just retired two years ago — he didn’t like it, so he went back to work,” explained Joan Larsen, who worked as a hospital finance director and previously was a health care consultant for PriceWaterhouse who provided strategic planning for large institutions.
Retirement led the self-described country girl who grew up on a Nash County tobacco farm back to her eastern North Carolina roots with the property off Old Raleigh Road southwest of Sims and due south of Bailey. She poured herself into building Stork’s Rest Farm into a multipurpose complex and nature preserve that would endure for generations.
“None of us are going to live forever, and I thought, ‘What would I want to happen to this beautiful place when I die?’ she explained. “So I know that it can be a conference center, it can be a bed and breakfast, it can be a venue of any kind. It could be a private home. That was how it was designed so that every room is unique.”
In addition to weddings and corporate retreats, Joan Larsen hosts etiquette lessons — she’s certified to teach etiquette and international protocol — along with formal tea parties for adults and children. The delicately appointed tearoom includes china and sterling silver service sets befitting a proper English tea.
Each of the four bedrooms boasts themed décor, and the downstairs parlor is home to a mannequin dressed in a flowing Victorian bridal gown.
Accent pieces in the home are hand-selected, from chandeliers purchased in New Orleans and California to a bronze sculpture imported from Russia.
“That was designed and made by a Russian artist that Vladimir Putin has said no more of the art can leave Russia. It is sort of a national treasure,” Larsen said. “We’ve got some interesting stuff.”
Formal gardens planted with flowering shrubs irrigated from an on-site pond dot the rambling country estate. Larsen said bluebirds, woodpeckers and owls make their home on the property.
Howren has been training with her grandmother for about a year and helps manage Stork’s Rest Farm along with her art venture. She said a bed and breakfast has been discussed as a future project.
“The sky’s the limit,” Howren said. “We can provide more of a bespoke experience. If somebody has something in mind, we can help them bring that to fruition. We want people to feel special. This is a special place full of magic and I think most people feel that when they drive up the driveway. I think people are going to want to have experiences here.”
Howren is hosting a grand opening reception for the Horse Barn Studios at Stork’s Rest Farm from 6-8 p.m. on June 6 with complimentary drinks and light hors d’oeuvres. Registration for Kelcie & The Wildthings art classes will be available at a discounted rate.
“The house will be open, the tea room will be open and the gardens, so it’ll be back and forth and people can come and see and have fun,” Larsen said.
Those who wish to attend the grand opening are asked to RSVP by calling Stork’s Rest Farm at 252-289-8985 or emailing email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.