At Home In the Bay - July 2015
The "Country" Home on Miteer
Geoff and Moli Kergosien entertain easily and often in their "country" home, one that reaches out to embrace and include the natural beauty that surrounds it.
- story and photography by Ellis Anderson
But thanks to Horace’s grandson Geoff, and his wife, Moli McDonald Kergosien, excursions “to the country” now are anything but primitive. The couple built their Miteer Drive home to take full advantage of the surrounding natural beauty - and to share that splendid bounty with friends and family.
The home sits on property a few lots down from the one Geoff’s grandfather owned. Geoff, a physical therapist, purchased it twenty-five years ago, just a few months after he started dating Moli. They both worked at Hancock Medical, where Moli was an x-ray tech.
The McDonald family has been in the Bay since the mid-1800s, while the first Kergosien arrived in the 1880s. The families knew each other. In fact, Moli’s aunt (Eve McDonald) introduced Geoff’s parents. But although Bay St. Louis is a “small town,” because of a seven-year age difference, the two had never formally met before.
“She graduated high school when I was playing little league,” Geoff quips, and they both laugh.
Geoff, who’d been a woodworker from an early age, was a regular customer of McDonald’s Hardware, but didn’t realize Moli’s connection until he rang the bell of the family home on their first date. Mr. Jim answered the door and the young suitor momentarily was taken aback. But he remained undeterred in his courtship. The two married in 1990.
Later, after a year-long stint living and working in Tuscaloosa, the pair joyously returned to the coast. They still remember the drive south and the intoxicating scent of marsh grasses that seemed to welcome them back.
When their son Caleb was a toddler, Geoff and Moli begain building their house on Miteer. They moved in a year later on the first birthday of their daughter, Camille. Geoff - who is “biologically programmed to be an architect” - had been fascinated by building and design since his youth, completing a sailboat when he was only fifteen.
He came up with a floor plan and his “adoptive grandfather,” William Boudreaux, finessed the plan and drew up blueprints – even gifting the young couple with a 3-D model of the home – complete with a removable roof. Contractor Rodney Corr then constructed the framework of the house, leaving much of the finish work for Geoff. Raising young children and working fifty-hour weeks left him little time to give the detailing the attention he would have liked.
Yet the Kergoisiens' life on Miteer was idyllic. The young family missed no opportunity to appreciate the lively social scene offered in the town itself and the super-saturated natural beauty that surrounded their home.
Eight years later after moving into their home, Geoff and Moli cruised the Bay in their classic convertible Bonneville. It was a memorable evening, because Old Town was “rocking.” The splendid landscape of the coast wrapped them with peace.
“That night at Dan B’s, we thought, ‘this is utopia,’” says Geoff. “We could entertain ourselves in this tiny town, while everything was so vibrant and lush and green. It was almost too good to be true.”
Two weeks later, Hurricane Katrina turned that utopia on its head. The losses – both personal and community-wide - seemed insurmountable. The unprecedented flood waters tore through the living area of their home on Miteer. They were able to save only three pieces of furniture - one of them being the bed Geoff had built when they were still newlyweds.
Moli admits that the first time she stepped into the house afterward, it seemed so far beyond redemption she suggested they burn it to the ground.
But Geoff couldn’t suppress an odd sense of elation. Hurricane Katrina had given him another opportunity to rebuild the house – this time, according to his vision.
“I lost every tool I owned, and there’s nothing that will make a man happier than to tell him he must go out and buy new ones. Within a month, I had a game plan.”
The plan involved rebuilding the woodshop first and then beginning work on the house. The couple chose mahogany to finish off the interior the second time around. The rich red tones of the wood set the theme for the entire house. Over a period of two years, Geoff crafted the kitchen cabinets, all the window and door casings, and every piece of trim. Moli and the children pitched in on the rebuilding efforts as well. In their scant spare time, the Kergosiens also helped friends and family members reconstruct their own lives.
There were surprises along the way. One night Moli came home from work to find a large hole in the bedroom wall. Only a bed sheet separated them from the yard. During the day, Geoff had taken a chainsaw to the exterior of the house and cut out a huge section. He'd been visualizing a sun room off the master bedroom and decided it was time to begin.
Now the space Geoff designed and built has become the couple's favorite retreat.
Another day, Moli arrived home and marveled at a new and enormous crater behind the house.
“I’d never put a pool in before,” says Geoff. “But I figured it couldn’t be that complicated. Besides, by this point, Moli knows my projects are probably not going to end badly.”
Moli’s faith was justified. The pool is now the centerpiece of an extraordinary outdoor living space on the ground level. It encompasses the entire footprint of the house and flows effortlessly out toward the canal that wraps three sides of the property.
Down by the docks, a classic wood Chris Craft and a sleek skiff beckon. Beneath the house, an enormous screen for watching televised games is visible from almost every vantage point within 100 yards. An outdoor fireplace, two bars (one in progress), multiple grills and three large dining areas tell the story of frequent family feasts.
The couple love to cook. Moli is the "family caterer" and in recent years, Geoff has focused his creative drive on the kitchen. He compares slicing and dicing to woodworking. “You can take the ingredients and create anything you want. There’s nothing better.”
The two often entertain and now that the children are both in college, the focus has expanded. Immediate family members who live in the area comprise a ready-made dinner party of twenty. Add friends and acquaintances, and the numbers easily rise to a hundred. Yet the Kergosiens have developed a system that’s “efficient and easy.” They can prepare for a major party in just two days and clean up in a few hours.
The relaxed approach to entertaining extends to the couple’s taste in décor. Both downstairs and upstairs, eye-catching artwork, photographs and collectibles make up simple tableaus. Room-makers like Elizabeth Veglia’s mosaic table and glass panel provide unforgettable focal points.
Yet nothing seems fussy or overworked. Moli jokes that Geoff can tell the story behind every item in the house. But it’s a joke based in truth. It’s clear that each belonging is infused with meaning, intertwining the family’s life with that of the community's and the landscape they love so well.
“We live this life to its fullest and it makes us spoiled rotten,” says Geoff. “I suppose we could have a home anywhere in the world. But why would we want to live anywhere besides Bay St. Louis?”
Al Lawson - On Design
Joie de vivre! Il dolce vita! When you see it – you know it. People who have that special joy of the sweet life! They are the ones who are always finding an excuse for a party… seizing every opportunity to make a meal a feast… making sure everyone is connected and given meaning.
I can’t remember when I began to see hospitality because it has always been a part of my conscious world. My mother and father were inveterate entertainers. Every week had a bridge party. Every weekend had a wedding or baby shower. Every holiday had a cookout or large assembly of family for dinner. What I learned from these events is the powerful opportunity they have to share love. It is a labor of cooking and decorating to share hospitality – but what it communicates is love and inclusiveness.
A special tablecloth and arranged flowers on the table tell you that I care you encounter beauty. Food prepared with special processes and spices say I want you to feast on the savory and sweet things of this world because you are important. Music involved in these celebrations is the sensory gift that elevates your heart, soul and mind - because I care you enjoy that experience. I have been a grateful recipient of many generous people who shared friendship, family and festive living with me. I am grateful.
Cheers to the sweet life full of joy!
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