Conversations with...Laura Montross

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When I got into the design business, I was happy to see how generous designers are with each other and how eager they are to help or give advice. I always thought they would be competitive, but the opposite has been true. Once in awhile you may run into a big ego here and there, but luckily it is rare. I did attend a design event recently with one of THE top designers and I was so excited to meet her because I love her work. During the party, she was answering a design question when a very wealthy person walked by our group. She literally turned on her heels and walked away in the middle of her sentence to chase down this person. Not even an "excuse me"! I was so disappointed to see her public persona was so different then her private one, as she displayed several times that evening. It is always interesting to see how people react with someone with fame or fortune and how they treat someone who is not.

I preface with this story because my blog guest this month, Laura Montross, is someone that inspires me with her humbleness and humility. I have seen her with millionaires, VIP's, and the average Joe, and she treats everyone EXACTLY the same. I can honestly say she is the most authentic and genuine person I have ever met. She is who she is with every single person she meets. We met many years ago when our sons became best friends, and we happened to be paired as co-chairs of a committee to bring an arts program to our children's school. Right before the introductory event to parents and potential sponsors, we discovered we were both terrified to speak in public and in front of large groups. We both panicked since neither one of us wanted to get up in front of the crowd and just assumed the other would do it! Luckily her husband Eric, who is a gifted speaker, got up and spoke about the program right off the cuff and saved us both! Since then, she has become one of my closest friends and confidantes. She is calm, full of common sense, and thoughtful. Laura is the person I read my email to when I am fired up about something and she gently tells me to wait 24 hours before sending it.  She is the first person I call when I have wonderful news or need a good cry. She is, as my dad used to say, "good people".

She does so much for her community and very few people know about all the good work she does because she is so private and really does it from her heart with no expectations. She is a native Southern girl with a soft Southern accent born in Lexington, North Carolina. She graduated from UNC in 1993 where she met her equally down-to-earth husband,  Eric Montross, who is a hometown hero, voice of the Tarheels, and former NBA player. Due to Eric's job, Laura has lived in Boston, Dallas, New Jersey, Philadelphia, Detroit, and Toronto. Moving that much can be trying, but Laura cherishes that time to experience new cities and meet new friends. She is a proud mom of two of the kindest kids I know, a job she is devoted to with all her heart. Laura and Eric founded the Eric Montross Father's Day Basketball Camp that has raised millions of dollars for UNC Children's Hospital.  She is a founding Co-Chair of the Arts in Action program at Frank Porter Graham Elementary, as well as Co-founder of Raise a Racquet, an annual tennis fundraiser for UNC Children's Hospital held at The FARM (UNC Faculty-Staff Recreation Association). She currently serves on the Board of Visitors for UNC Children's Hospital and the Board of Directors for Be Loud! Sophie. As you can see, Laura is a passionate advocate for children and for the UNC Children's Hospital. I am truly blessed to call her my friend because she is pure goodness! Enjoy getting to know her more and see how she takes joy in the simplest of pleasures.

You are the most down to earth and genuine person I know and your children are too! What life lessons did your parents teach you that you continue to instill in your own family?  I grew up in a rural North Carolina town near Lexington. Tyro has one flashing stoplight and the community was close knit. My grandparents lived two miles away and my parents, brother and I ate a home-cooked meal with them every weeknight and after church on Sundays. From an early age, I was taught the importance of family, staying humble and doing for others. My hope is that my children learn these lessons through my actions more than my words.

It was a sad day when my kids aged out of the Eric Montross Father's Day Basketball Camp. I think it is also a bittersweet moment for the dads because they have as much fun as the kids! It was a real bonding experience for the families and was a reunion every Father's Day when people returned year after year and made life-long friendships. Tell us about the camp you started 23 years ago.  My husband and I started a basketball camp in 1995 in memory of Jason Clark, a Durham native that battled cancer at UNC Children's. Jason was inspiring in so many ways. Shortly after his passing, he was asked what the new children's hospital should look like to make it more "child-friendly". Jason wrote  three pages.  As a tribute,  Eric and I, along with his family, use the camp to raise funds to carry out his wishes and honor his memory. Held on Father's Day weekend, the Eric Montross Father's Day Basketball Camp provides a unique opportunity for dads and their children to share quality time together while working as a team. They practice, play, and compete in contests.  This special weekend incorporates time on the court with teaching the importance of helping others. 100% of the proceeds benefit UNC Children's, with well over a million dollars raised to date.



What are some of the projects the funds have been used for? Camp funds have been used for many projects, including the Jason Clark Teen Room, murals, a pediatric short stay unit, an outdoor space (The Lookout Terrace), a pediatric dialysis center, simulation mannequins for training on infants and teens, and equipment including a high performance liquid chromatographer, video laryngoscopes, and a high resolution ultrasound machine. 

The camp is so organized and runs like a fine-tuned machine. How do you keep such a large event with multiple activities so well-organized?  In conjunction with UNC Children's, I enjoy working throughout the year to plan camp, using a detailed timeline to accomplish tasks each month. We are grateful to have the support of  many local businesses including The Root Cellar, Nantucket, Domino's Pizza in Carrboro, Mediterranean Deli, Maple View Farm, Chik-fil-A at University Place, Whole Foods, Great Harvest Bread Company, UNC Hospital Catering, Granville Towers, and The Angus Barn in Raleigh. I am the behind-the-scenes organizer, and Eric handles everything on the court. We enjoy our distinct roles and working as a team to make this camp a success every June.


You are so busy planning this event every year.  Have you recently finished any personal projects?  I recently wrote a short "book" that I gave my children for Valentine's Day. It is a series of letters to them about life lessons that I think are important.  I've also just completed a lap quilt for my son using his favorite pajamas from childhood.

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What is your favorite space in your home? My favorite space in my home is in the kitchen by the fireplace. I love to read books in my rocking chair, or cuddle on the couch with our golden retrievers, Murphy and Molly. 

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What was your goal in designing your home? Our goal was to make it warm, comfortable and inviting.

What do you collect? Our family has collected shark teeth during summer trips to the beaches of North Carolina. Our favorite places to find big teeth is Topsail Island. I also collect smooth and heart shaped rocks.

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What is something you look forward to everyday? Although it doesn't happen seven days a week, one of the things I look forward to most is sitting down and having dinner with my family.

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What is the one thing you can talk about all day if given the chance? I grew up watching sports with my dad and learning the intricacies of the games. I watch ESPN's SportCenter most days, listen to the Carolina Insider Podcast on Tuesdays and Fridays, and arrange my schedule around college and professional games. Sports are definitely something I enjoy talking about given the chance. 

What is something most people would be shocked to learn about you?  In 2003, I drove a Nascar at Charlotte Motor Speedway...and loved it!

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Do you have a hobby that you enjoy in your spare time? I have absolutely no formal training, but I love taking photos. I own a Canon Rebel with a zoom lens and basically use it as a "point and shoot". I really enjoy taking flower and nature photographs. My computer now holds the almost 75,000 photos I've taken over the years.

Photography by Laura Montross

Who inspires you? The Steiner family in Chapel Hill inspires me. Niklaus, Lucy, Elsa and Annabel created the Be Loud! Sophie Foundation to honor their daughter's/sister's wish to help teens and young adults who might be going through  the same thing she did. The foundation's name is taken from a poem Sophie wrote on her blog when she was thirteen, just a few months before her diagnosis. 

...Be Loud

And move with grace

Explode with light

Have no fear...

Sophie lost her battle in 2013,  and the Steiner's have turned their greatest tragedy into a lasting legacy.  They did extensive research and pushed to start  a ground-breaking program that is one of the first of its kind in the nation.  The foundation has funded age appropriate programming and the salary for an adolescent and young adult program director at UNC. The goal of the director is to get to know the patient and give them a sense of independence, dignity and identity. I was so moved by their efforts, I am now on their Board of Directors.



What is a secret talent that you have that not many people know about? I became interested in quilting when my children were young as a way of having some time to myself and enjoying a new hobby.  I signed up for a hand-quilt class and fell in love with picking out the fabrics, piecing the squares, and then quilting it together.  That was my first and last quilt I made by hand. I bought a sewing machine shortly after completing the class. Initially, I made many quilts for family and friends. As my children got older and our lives got busier, I didn't have the time to devote to the process.  I am just now getting back into quilting and look forward to creating more pieces when I become an empty nester in a few short months.

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What is something you love to do for other people?  I enjoy taking the time to pick out the prefect card for someone that is celebrating a special occasion or is in need of a little encouragement.  I have found that friends appreciate a hand-written note over emails and texts. 

Favorite Traditions? I love traditions! They keep us connected to family and create so many fun memories. 

Birthdays at our house include making homemade Spice Cake with brown sugar icing.

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Christmas involves a trip to Greensboro to pick out the tree (and a stop at Krispy Kreme doughnuts), keeping up with the "elf on the shelf",  making gingerbread cookies, hanging stockings on fireplace after reading "Twas The Night Before Christmas" under the tree, leaving cookies and milk for Santa, finding  a message in the ashes the next morning, eating stuffed turkey and making sweet potatoes with golden brown marshmallows on top for Christmas dinner.

Photography by Laura Montross

Every summer at my in-laws lake house in Michigan, we make homemade marshmallows (Barefoot Contessa's recipe) and use them for s'mores.


Each May, my husband and I visit McAdams Farm in Efland to buy 36 quarts of  fresh strawberries to make 75 pints of jam. I order custom labels for the tops and we enjoy giving them to family and friends throughout the year.

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Are there any lessons from childhood that you still carry with you today?  A good lesson  I learned from childhood is the only thing I can control is me.  You can't make people behave or react the way you want them to. You can't control  situations or the outcome.  But you can always control your attitude and the way you react to it. 

Favorite family get-aways? Our favorite family get-aways are to Ocean Isle Beach and my in-laws lake house in Michigan.

Photography by Laura Montross


Do you have a daily routine?  A daily routine I look forward to is walking to the barn with my golden retrievers.

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Laura's Favorite Things


Hostess Gift: My homemade strawberry jam.

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My Favorite Meal: My favorite meal is the same today as it was when I was  a child. I love spaghetti with meatballs, salad, and garlic bread. 

Favorite Place To Eat In Chapel Hill/Carrboro: ACME


Favorite Gift Given To You: My favorite gift given to me was a surprise for my 40th birthday.  My parents, who had been married for 43 years at the time, gave me their engagement ring stone in a newly designed setting. I wear it everyday.

Favorite Go-To Palette To Use In Your Home: Blues and Browns

Favorite TV/Netflix Obsession:  I am obsessed with watching This Is Us every week. The last show I binged-watched was Big Little Lies.


Favorite Travel Destination: My family's favorite travel destination was the Galapagos Islands. We saw tortoises, iguanas, fur seals, finches, blue footed-boobies, hawks, lava lizards, and frigate birds. We even snorkeled with black tip reef sharks.

Photography by Laura Montross


Favorite Drink: Milk!  My family and I consume almost five gallons a week.

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Something You Crave Daily: Chocolate

Favorite Indulgence: Chocolate  ice cream with strawberries, bananas, caramel sauce, and chocolate sauce. 

Favorite Local Shop: I visit Great Harvest Bread Company in Chapel Hill on a weekly basis. The owners, Jeff and Cathy Bailey, know my order when I walk through the door. I consistently buy Honey Whole Wheat Bread, Challah Bread (Fridays only), and I can never resist the Brownie Bread/Tea Cakes/Muffins when they are available. 

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In My Purse I Always Carry: Bert's Bees Lip Shimmer (Rhubarb).

My Favorite Perfume: "belle nuit" by Fragonard.

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Favorite Flower: Stargazer lilies are my sentimental favorite flower because they remind me of my wedding (courtesy of Purple Puddle), but I also love hydrangeas.

My Golden Rule Is:  Treat others with kindness and respect.

Best Advice I Have Received: Some of the best advice I received is happiness is a choice. It's not something you search for. Be optimistic, live with joy and try to envision a glass as half full rather than half empty.


Laura has graciously offered to give away one of her delicious jars of strawberry jam as a give-away! The bad will be hard to eat the store-bought jam when you run out!  It is that good!  Sign up to receive the blog and one lucky person will get to enjoy Laura's favorite hostess gift.





UncategorizedDebra Zinn