Marti and Kirk Leone bought 112 acres of land south of downtown Raleigh in 2001. Kirk and Marti worked alongside each other, Kirk as a developer and Marti as a real estate agent. The Leones purchased the land intending to develop it, but instead fell in love with the wooded scenery, rolling hills and glittering pond. They built their dream home and began to raise a family. They later used the vast property and barn to start a business boarding horses. Marti left real estate after the market crash and began overseeing the business full-time as well as raising two children. Everything was going well in life.
Until 2011, when Kirk started feeling ill. That December, he was diagnosed with a rare inflammatory disease called dermatomyositis. The disease behaves like an auto-immune disease and affects a person’s skin, muscles, and lungs — in some cases fatally. Doctors prescribed chemotherapy in an effort to suppress Kirk’s immune system. He began treatments right after Christmas and continued them for five months. The treatments took their toll.
“He seemed to get worse and worse,” Marti said. “He had to sleep at night with an oxygen tank. And then by May he had to use the tank 24 hours a day. He was either in bed or in a recliner. He had to walk with a walker.”
Soon, Marti was dressing her husband, bandaging his sores, all the while managing their business and raising two children. Then Kirk’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“Sometimes it was all I could do but take one hour at a time,” Marti said.
A Ray of Hope
Although Kirk’s chemotherapy treatments stopped in April, by June he was still getting worse. Doctors put Kirk on the lung transplant list. Meanwhile, they were going to try one final treatment, an infusion of two drugs. If that didn’t work, they expected Kirk to die within a few months. While Kirk was struggling to live, his mother passed away.
Finally, a ray of hope emerged: Kirk seemed to be getting better. His health worsened near Christmas, prompting doctors to try one more treatment. Finally, in February 2013, his condition began to improve. He was taken off oxygen in May 2013.
“At some point in your life something could cause [an autoimmune disease] to surface, whether it’s the flu or whatever,” Marti explained. “One of the biggest triggers is stress. That was obviously the cause for Kirk.”
Kirk had built his whole business and earned everything he got by working. Kirk’s dad left when he was 2 years old, and Kirk dropped out of school in 10th grade. At 18, he started an inside trim business. When building fell off in the early 80s, he opened an automotive business in North Raleigh. His dream was to be a general contractor, so when the housing market started taking off again, he got his general contractor’s license in 1994. He sold his automotive business and started building houses and then developing land.
“The downturn in the housing market hit him hard,” Marti said. “He felt like he was going to lose everything he worked so hard for.”
While they did lose some things, the couple’s journey sparked a new idea: a wedding venue. The scenery seemed the perfect place to launch other love stories, hopefully with the happy ending Marti and Kirk had finally found.
“There were times people would drive up the driveway and ask if we did weddings,” Marti said. “So we had a nudge and of course God’s hands are in all of this.”
On Sept. 20, 2014, the Leone’s held the first wedding at Carriage Farm. In 2017, they opened a new, 10,000-square-foot pavilion. The Pavilion features a grand stone fireplace, four chandeliers hanging from the 30-foot ceiling, and an enclosed space with bride and groom retreats, restrooms, and a caterer’s kitchen.
When Marti and Kirk said their vows 24 years ago, neither had any idea how much of the sickness or “for worse” they might experience.
“Everything happens for a reason,” Marti said. “We’re so glad to help couples start their own love stories. What better way to turn a difficult life experience into something wonderful?”