The "Country" Home on Miteer
- story and photography by Ellis Anderson
In the 1960s, they called it “going to the country.” The Kergosien family would drive a whopping three miles from their home in the heart of Bay St. Louis to the pristine wilderness that lay just the other side of Highway 90.
There, just a stone’s throw from Main Street, thick woods bordered a canal meandering down to Watts Bayou. The children would run through the huge pines, swim in the canals and generally run amok while the adults relaxed in chairs they’d brought out, glad to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday small town life.
That forested lot bordering marshlands was located on Miteer Drive, a shaded shell lane. It was owned by Horace Kergosien, then-patriarch of the family. Fifty years later, not much has changed. While the road is paved now and a few more pioneers have built houses in the neighborhood, Kergosien family members still enjoy the get-away feel of Miteer Drive.
At Home in the Bay
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“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
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.
Cheers to the sweet life full of joy!