At Home in the Bay - April 2017
Whimsea on Ballentine
A couple with a passion for renovating historic houses take a turn at building a new one. Take a tour of the magical Whimsea, a world away from normal.
- story and photographs by Ellis Anderson
“When we finished building Whimsea, we swore we wouldn’t take on another project,” said Phillip. “But then we started the Waveland house. And it’s not finished yet, but we’re already considering building another one as a rental.”
“Really, there should be some program for people like us,” said Connie, laughing.
Connie, who handles all the interior design, researches extensively before tackling any home project, whether it’s a renovation or a new one. She collects ideas on a Pinterest board and often comes up with a theme. For instance, her goal for Whimsea was to create a “Rustic Beach” look.
Her often-daring decorator approaches sometimes unnerve Phillip, who compares the process to a roller coaster.
“She’s like the friend you had when you were a kid, pulling you along to take the ride. At first, you don’t want to go. Then you end up loving it.”
Connie grins. “After nine houses, he’s finally starting to trust me.”
Case in point: the brilliant sunflower color of the house’s exterior was Connie’s idea. Phillip voted for a more conservative shade. But the olive stain Connie chose for the shutters toned down the overall effect. Phillip was sold.
But Phillip didn’t need much persuasion to vote for rustic wood paneling throughout the interior of Whimsea. The couple both dislike sheetrock and wanted the cottage to have an authentic warmth. So they cut and hung boards horizontally in each room. The final effect brings to mind historic bargeboard walls found in many historic New Orleans cottages.
Phillip says the cost was comparable to sheetrock since the couple paneled the rooms themselves, cutting each board to fit.
Connie’s decorating flair is a rebellion against the suburban box-style houses that she grew up in.
“I was raised in white-walled drab, square rooms, so when I became an adult, I reveled in being able to do anything I wanted. Color! Yay! And I’ve always loved old houses, they have so much character.”
Connie grew up in Shreveport and went to ULM, paying her way through school working as choreographer and captain of the dance team. After graduating with a degree in special education, she worked as an investigator for child abuse.
Phillip grew up in Monroe, Louisiana and also attended ULM, where he discovered a love for literature and creative writing. While completing work on his BA in English, he pursued graduate level courses, which cemented his dream of becoming a writer.
“I first discovered I had a little talent for writing in 7th grade, when I edited a friends’ love letter,” Phillip said. The friend had been rejected with the original note. He got the girl with Phillip’s revised version.
Phillip co-wrote his first novel with best friend and creative writing professor Kevin Eldridge. The manuscript hasn’t yet been published, but Phillip isn’t discouraged. He’s written his entire adult life and is currently close to completion on a historical-fantasy novel.
Phillip says the most satisfying — and fun — part of working on his latest book was what’s called “world-building.” That requires creating a new culture that engrosses readers, causing them to suspend their ideas of reality and believe in magic.
It’s clear he and Connie applied the same principles when building Whimsea. While walking through the rooms, a visitor feels as if they’ve been transported back in time to a place where everyday magic is to be expected. Touches like a driftwood branch railing for the stairs, asymmetrical light fixtures they’ve built and nautical rope door pulls all work to impart a sense of, well, whimsy.
One of the most striking features is rope wall and ceiling molding throughout the house. A visitor can almost believe this is the seaside abode of an ancient mariner.
According to the Paces, the rope was easy to install. As far as maintenance, the couple said the untreated line is easy to clean and simply requires an occasional dusting.
While they were completing the interior of Whimsea, Connie did much of the painting herself. Since Phillip’s 30-year career in the insurance industry requires his deployment around the country several times a year, if he was out of town she would text him paint colors she’d selected. Often Phillip would express doubts, but he was always pleased with the final results when he arrived home.
Connie, who has worked as certified life coach for many years, says that although she loves her work, painting provides a counterpoint to her career.
“Painting a room or a wall provides an instant gratification,” she said. “When you deal with people, they don’t change quite that fast.
“And painting lets my inner child go to work. If you don’t like something, well, you can always paint over it.”
The couple first discovered the Bay-Waveland area on their honeymoon in 1998. They fell in love with the area and talked of it often.
Years later, when they were considering relocating, several cities were on their list, including Dallas/Fort Worth. But the coast kept calling.
The Paces came to Bay St. Louis for a one-week visit, staying in the Alice Moseley cottage. Kismet was already at work: Connie’s maiden name is Moseley, and she may actually be a distant relation to the iconic Mississippi folk artist.
Before the week was out, the couple made their final decision. They found Bay St. Louis to be “artsy, progressive and open-minded.” The natural beauty of the landscape and beach enchanted them both. And it met their criteria of being within a five-hour drive from all of their adult children. They made the move in 2012 and began work on Whimsea in 2014.
While Phillip’s work allows him to live anywhere, he’s looking forward to retirement eventually, so he can devote all his time to writing. Connie divides her time working as a life coach, and more recently as a bookkeeper for Antiques Maison. She’s also the choreographer for the popular Raw Oyster Marching Club. But she’s also looking forward to more time for creative endeavors.
Like designing more houses.
As of publication time, the Paces have sold Whimsea and are preparing to move to the new Waveland home — number twelve.
“Twelve homes and five kids in twenty years,” said Connie, laughing.
And the Pinterest board for number 13 is already in the works.
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