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By Nancy Peevy | Photos by Chadwick Turner

Healthy Living

This Fayetteville couple created an artful space that’s healthy as well as a relaxing place to come home to

Fran Free and her husband, Dennis Nelms, believe that good food, good sleep, low stress and plenty of movement are the keys to a healthy lifestyle. They’re teaching that philosophy to their three kids, ages 15, 14 and 11. “What they do with it is up to them, but they’re getting a good head start,” Fran said.


With a healthy lifestyle in mind, the couple designed their 4,500-square-foot Fayetteville home on four acres so the family would “be able to grow food, process food and eat food,” Fran said. For three of the four seasons, they grow a variety of crops, including herbs, peppers, cabbage, chard, greens, lettuce and tomatoes in a 1,500-square-foot garden supported by a compost area and rainwater collection system.


“I do quite a bit of canning to preserve those foods,” Fran said. “I think I put up 80 pints of various pickled veggies last year. Sometimes I make fruit jams, sometimes Napoletana sauce, chow-chow, relish or sauerkraut. It’s rejuvenating to open a jar of bright summer day in the midst of the winter doldrums.”

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Thirteen free-ranging chickens — 10 hens and three roosters — provide eggs as well as entertainment. There’s also a firepit and a creek that runs diagonally across the property.


The house, built in the 1970s by an architecture professor in the shed style, was eco-friendly for that time. In 2012, Dennis and Fran began renting the house before buying it in 2015. Two years later and ready to renovate, their longtime family friend, Audy Lack, principal at Miller Boskus Lack Architects, designed a house plan Dennis and Fran fell in love with. “He’s brilliant,” Fran said. “And he designed our house as a gift to us.”

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Keeping the original footprint and rooms in the same locations as in the original house, Lack transformed the home into a brand-new dwelling.

After finding structural issues during the project, the original house was taken down to a 10-by-20-foot concrete slab, and construction took a while. “Through thick and thin, through the whole timeline of three years, Audy was really helpful,” Fran said. “He was very insightful and just a friend. He really held my hand through this process.”


The family moved back into the three-story house in 2020, where healthy living is literally built into the home. This includes no carpet because of the glue needed for installation, low-volatile organic compounds paint and locally produced hickory wood floors with resin paper as a base instead of asphalt. Solar panels provide 80% of monthly electrical needs and power the couple’s two electric cars. With naturalized plants — those that are established and have reproduced in their environment — for landscaping, “our number one priority was to have food for wildlife, then after that is beauty,” Fran said.

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Passionate about the land and food, Fran grew up in a farming family. The fourth generation of her family still works the farm in Lincoln County in southeastern Arkansas. Nods to her heritage include antique hay rakes and a handcarved 18th century shovel hanging on the wall. A large art wall includes paintings by local artists, Fran’s sister, and Dennis’ great-grandmother. Fran and Dennis made the trio of wood pieces in the middle of the wall. “We get crafty often,” she said. “The wooden bases are from a cedar tree that fell here in the yard. The cotton is from my family’s farm, and the turkey feathers are from Dennis’ first hunt.”

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An adjunct professor at the University of Arkansas, Fran’s undergraduate degree is in environmental soil and water science, and her master’s degree is in agricultural economics. Knowledgeable about regenerative and organic agriculture, she’s interested in gut health’s connection to healthy food. “The science is there, so if I can provide my kids with healthy foods and avoid some of these Western medical issues, I want to give them a leg up. My kids have been known to have to watch diabetes documentaries on a Friday night,” she said, laughing. “Guilty!”


Fran cooks from her own garden or with locally sourced produce. “I think that’s so important, not only for taste and nutrition but for supporting our local economy,” she said.


Fran loves to share her home and cook for others. “We have ten chairs at the table, and for a while, we were inviting eight people to come over monthly and eat with me and Dennis. The kids all ate downstairs. I’d come up with a menu of something that was in season and prepare things for three days and make it beautiful and fun and delicious.”

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Fran pointed out a photo of her grandmother, Bernice, whom she was named after. “I never got to meet her because she died when my dad was young, but she left an impression on the community because she taught Home Ec,” Fran said. “She taught a whole generation of kids how to cook and work in their home. She was from a family of four sisters, and their mother cooked for 50 people every Sunday. I really love entertaining. I definitely got that family gene!”


Fran also hosts her kids’ school classes with themes such as outdoor movies, camping and piñatas, and she’s always eco-friendly with three trash cans for the landfill, recycling and compost.


Along with healthy eating, the couple emphasizes exercise. Fran is currently training for a half marathon, and Dennis is a climber.  “We all get exercise five days a week,” she said.


With a goal of a calm, stress-free home, every bedroom has its own deck, so the kids can go outside and have space. And no-tech Sunday means no one is allowed to use technology. “We wanted everyone to unplug and get bored,” Fran said, “Kids don’t get bored these days. So, my hope is when they get into college, they’re the cool kids who want to take their friends hiking on Sundays or on an adventure instead of being on screens.”

Together, the family has created a beautiful, artful, healthy space that is a nice place to come home to.

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Home Pros Used: 


Appliances: Metro Appliances & More; Miele


Architect: Miller Boskus Lack Architects


Cabinets: Timber Mill Wood Products


Concrete Foundation/Driveways: Advanced Concrete Services Inc.


Decks: Hernandez Peña Remodeling; Bison Innovative Products


Doors/Windows: Meek’s


Engineering: Jorgensen + Associates 


Flooring: The Wood Floor Gallery, Inc.


Furniture: Lacuna Modern 


Garage Doors: Overhead Door Company of Springdale


Landscape Architect: Landform Designs


Landscaping: Professional Landscaping Company


Lighting/Fixtures: Lighting Emporium  


Plumbing Fixtures: Ferguson 


Plumbing Installation/HVAC: Fayetteville Mechanical Contractors


Roofing: Stearman Roofing & Sheet Metal 


Siding: Hernandez Peña Remodeling; öko skin


Smart Home Features/Alarm System: Custom Electronics Inc.


Stone Walkways/Fire Pit: Hammer & Chisel, Inc.


Tile: Miller Commercial Flooring, Inc.; Porcelanosa


Trim Work: Dean Hunt Trimworks


Wiring/Electrician: Able Electric, Inc.


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