- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
242 St. Charles
Owners of historic houses all say the same thing while showing first-time guests through their home. “It’s a work in progress,” they’ll declare, shrugging their shoulders and smiling at slanting floors or cracked walls or doors that are stuck on their hinges.
It doesn’t matter if the home is a recent purchase and the owners are just beginning work, or if they’ve owned it for decades and the house has reached the Southern Living centerfold stage. It’s still the eternal equation: Historic House = Perpetual Projects.
A few time-tested key points help savvy historic homeowners derive maximum enjoyment from their Work In Progress along the way: set the priorities, tackle one thing at a time, laugh at the imperfections, and showcase the quirks.
Like the bowling balls in the yard.
At Home in the Bay
And there were, of course, more bowling balls.
The Dumoulins appreciate a good mystery. They also know a good conversation starter when they see one. The bowling balls are staying, at least for now. But the house on St. Charles is still in the early stages of Work In Progress.
It's a house built for entertaining and easy family living. The door to the main house opens to a wide center hall, with four rooms on either side. In the back part of the house, the kitchen, another bedroom and a glassed-in porch give plenty of spread-out space.
The décor of the house reflects John and Rosie’s love of antiques, treasured family memorabilia, and fun Americana collectibles. While the style of the house and the furnishings differ in both period and region, the Dumoulins have pulled the juxtaposition off with flair. Even their primitive antiques fit seamlessly in the elegant and airy rooms.
Of course, it helps that both Dumoulins have artistic inclinations and careers. John holds bachelor’s degrees in art and advertising. While working in public affairs for the Air Force, he obtained a masters degree in public relations and communications. He’s spent most of his working life in Air Force and NASA communications (including one stint working directly for the Secretary of the Air Force).
Over the past decade, John has specialized in producing educational museum exhibits and programs for NASA and for the past two years at INFINITY Science Center. He’s also the author of four books, including the Flatcreek Tales series.
Rosie holds degrees in art education and crafts design. Her thirty-year career as an art teacher has left her proficient at jewelry design, photography and pottery. She’s already showing work locally at Gallery 220 (220 Main Street in Old Town) and at Bay-Tique (125 Main Street). She’s commandeered a room in the house for her workshop and another glassed-in area beneath the guest cottage is slated to become a pottery studio.
So, the Dumoulins see their St. Charles house as another art project, albeit, a large one (the house is 2300 square feet, plus two out-buildings). And like most artists, they’ll take just as much pleasure in the planning and the doing of a project as they will in the ultimate outcome.
Of course, they’ve had plenty of practice. Their last home, a cabin outside of Huntsville, was built of 100-year-old logs. For twenty years, they tackled project after project, shaping the house with their vision and labor. They built studios, barns, decks, patios and gardens on the 12-acre farm. John established a small working vineyard and made wine as a hobby.
Their last major project at the cabin had been on the backburner for years – Rosie’s dream kitchen. But Rosie had only cooked a few meals in that new kitchen. INFINITY Science Center offered John the job of museum manager after he retired from NASA. He couldn’t resist. But the couple needed to move immediately.
“You need to come see this,” he said. “This feels right.”
Rosie joined John on the coast and the two drove around the town. They’d both grown up on Florida’s panhandle and the Bay still possessed the “Old Florida” charm that’s now extinct. They liked the fact that the core of town wasn’t made up of subdivisions. They loved the front porches, and the picket fences, and the people waving from their yards.
“I grew up in a small town, so for me, it was like coming home again,” says John. “I can bike everywhere. It’s like being ten years old again.”
They looked at several houses, but the one on St. Charles called their names. Loudly. Insistently. It was built in 1890 - or 1895 - since records disagree. According to the National Trust (and it’s one of only two individual houses in Bay St. Louis to be listed on the National Trust), it was the first Colonial Revival house built in Bay St. Louis – and perhaps in Mississippi.
Since it was built on high ground, flood insurance premiums wouldn’t be an issue, yet the Dumoulins could see the beach from the mailbox. High ceilings, transoms, floor to ceiling windows, and a big yard for gardening all beckoned. Their new next door neighbors told them that they would be buying the most photographed house in Bay St. Louis (in fact, it's featured in Ken Murphy's book, My South Coast Home).
Afterward, the Dumoulin’s tackled the heavy structural tasks first – replacing the broken “spine” of the house underneath and leveling. That was just the beginning.
“We painted the entire interior,” says Rosie, “and put wood floors in two bedrooms, floored the attic and added insulation. In the guest cottage, we added a bathroom and redid the floors and insulation. Coming up are re-dos of both main house bathrooms and the kitchen.”
Rosie, a master gardener, has approached the yard carefully over the past two years.
“I know Zone 7 plants, not Zone 9. I was afraid to pull things up at first. So we grew a lot of weeds that first year," she says, laughing.
John’s even experimenting with growing grapevines in the yard. He planted his first muscadine vine. It’ll take three years to see if it produces grapes. If it does well however, John is nurturing a retirement dream.
“What about vineyards and a winery here in Bay St. Louis?” he asks. “It could be great for locals and be a lovely visitor attraction too. Wouldn’t that be amazing?”
Most people would agree. Of course, it’d be another Work In Progress. But with visionaries like the Dumoulins, it’s likely to succeed.
Al Lawson - On Design
Living is an art form. Maybe more like a dance - or an opera. It depends on how you live it. Or how you look at it. I have always enjoyed entering homes and lives that seemed natural and comfortable because of their unique ethos - their unspoken belief for living.
The lifestyle designer India Hicks reminds me of how we can incorporate our family treasures along with the crusty jewels of the seaside landscape to express a casual, peaceful vernacular. Her way of living is convivial and alive, involving friends, family and business to all thrive on her island oasis. Her life communicates that it is OK to always be on a journey and not just focus on the destination. Just make sure to bring great food, great books, great friends and flowers along!
May we all grow where we are planted and incorporate beauty, peace and joy around us! Cheers to a beautiful life! La bella vita!