Monte Durham greets visitors with what can only be described as Southern hospitality. The West Virginia native is recognized wherever he goes for his high-profile role on the pre-nuptial reality show, yet his feet stand firmly on the ground—as well as in the beloved Belle Haven home he’s shared with his longtime partner, Jakob Evans, for the last 20 years.
The 70-year-old house, a graceful, welcoming center-hall Colonial, perfectly reflects Durham’s personality and style. It’s traditional, brimming with 19th-century antiques yet punctuated by whimsical personal touches in the form of artwork and family heirlooms. It’s also a labor of love: Over the years, Durham has put in much of the work on it himself. In fact, it only recently underwent a professional renovation, of which Durham and Evans are justly proud.
Home & Design visited the couple while the remodel—which encompassed the kitchen, a new breakfast room and adjoining breezeway and a basement office—was still wrapping up. Durham is an avid collector of Jackie Kennedy memorabilia (an interest gleaned from his mother, whose fascination began during the glamorous Kennedy era), and a tour of the house features a room showcasing a gallery of photos and an exact replica of the First Lady’s wedding dress. He also collects antique china; sometimes these interests overlap, as in an array of stemware on display in the kitchen, originally ordered by Jackie Kennedy for the White House and scooped up from an online source by Durham.
The living room, dining room and TV room—once a 1940s-era jalousie-windowed porch off the dining room—have undergone mainly cosmetic alterations at the hands of their owner, who particularly likes painting rooms himself. “Doing my own painting is the most inexpensive and quickest way to change a room,” he explains. “And I figure if I do it myself I can change it. It allows freedom without conversation—I don’t have to convince anyone of anything!”
Durham recently painted the dining room a warm gray that provides the perfect background for a collection of blue-and-white Delftware. The space is furnished with antiques, including a grandfather clock bought in San Diego, sideboards and a china cabinet. Crate & Barrel draperies have been trimmed with fringe to give them a more formal air. “I tend to go very formal,” Durham observes. “I like damask and silk.” In the cheerful yellow parlor, formality and warmth unite with heavy silk drapes, stately camel-backed sofas and a grand piano.
The renovated kitchen synthesizes the traditional aesthetic found in the rest of the house with a more modern, updated look, conveyed partly by a fresh lemon-grass hue on the walls and gray-painted cabinetry. A beveled subway-tile backsplash in Carrara marble matches the island countertop, creating a timeless look.
The kitchen opens out to a breakfast room with a vaulted barn ceiling and a window seat that overlooks the backyard—now home to a breezeway and patio. To house outdoor plants, Durham spray-painted large planters from the grocery store. “We want to think about how much money we spend on certain things,” he comments. “A pot for outside, I’m going to think about. But for upholstery, I make the investment.”
While Durham clearly has an affinity for interiors, fashion has always been his first love. He began his career as a personal shopper in DC, where he found that “women wanted someone who could tailor their clothes and do their hair,” he recalls. “I said, ‘I can’t sew but I bet I can do hair.’ So I got a hair degree in London, then came back and went to work as artistic director for Elizabeth Arden for 12 years.”
After styling hair for a bridal show in Tysons Corner, he discovered his niche. “I got booked with 12 weddings immediately,” he says. “I was listed as most preferred for hair and makeup in Washingtonian in 2000. So I said, ‘I think I better run with this!’”
Durham met Lori Allen, his TV co-host, when he did hair and makeup for her daughter’s wedding, which was broadcast on WE TV. Allen, who owns a bridal shop in Atlanta, had been approached by The Learning Channel about hosting a spinoff of the New York-based reality show, “Say Yes to the Dress,” in Atlanta. She brought in Durham, and the rest is history.
These days, a diverse career keeps Durham very busy. In between trips to Atlanta for filming, he’s launched a haircare line, Monte Durham (available through salonstudio.com), and is considering designing his own line of tuxedos. He reports on fashion for CNN with Brooke Baldwin, and covered the Royal Wedding for TLC in 2011. He frequently visits his family in West Virginia, where he plans to open a hairdressing school outside Charleston in the fall.
Durham and Evans, a retired government worker, married in October 2013 when the ban on same-sex unions was lifted in DC (their wedding festivities made the newspapers). The couple shares their home with Nellie Belle, a cossetted 12-year-old Welsh terrier who can be found asleep on any of their plush, overstuffed sofas.
“We are lucky we all live in a time when we can do this,” Durham says, referring to their life together. “I’ve had a very interesting journey. I’ve been blessed.”
Photographer Bob Narod is based in Herndon, Virginia.