- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Maybe Miss Moseley Was Right
In the bedroom of Martha Wilson’s house on Carroll Avenue, an Alice Moseley print hangs on the wall. Like many of the folk artist’s paintings of Bay St. Louis, this one includes angels overseeing matters down below. Martha Wilson thinks the artist was on to something.
“I’ve met those angels and they’re here,” she says.
And according to Martha, many of them actually reside in her neighborhood, disguised as regular folks living undercover as contractors, designers, photographers, shop owners.
At Home in the Bay
Martha names a veritable choir of them. An angel named Jeanne Baxter helped her find the cottage at 314 Carroll Avenue. An artist she met at Gallery 220, Jo Slay, bolstered Martha’s hopes of finding a home in the Bay. Interior designers Al and Cathy Lawson offered fresh ideas to make the house live up to its potential as her dream home.
Liz Seal, who had originally designed the striking patio landscaping, offered her new neighbor advice for making the most of the maturing plantings and adding new beds. Contractor Kenny Monti has competently solved Martha’s small construction dilemmas. There are lots of gardeners and shop owners and painters she names. As well as the neighborhood children who take a break from play to rest on her front porch.
It’s clear that Martha has found her own slice of heaven on Carroll Avenue.
After retiring, she devoted her energies to full-time care of her aging mother, who recently passed. Soon after, she began to feel tugs toward the coast. Martha had spent time there as a child, but when she, her mother, and her sister returned on a road trip in 2007, she was heartbroken to see that the damage from Katrina was much worse than they’d imagined. The haunting images remained with her, but so did a love of the landscape and the people she'd met. Finally, in 2014, she found the opportunity to return - this time with the resolve to buy a house.
At the suggestion of her sister, she began searching in Ocean Springs, but found it didn’t “feel quite like home.” She traveled to Bay St. Louis, where she met Jeanne Baxter (John McDonald Realty), “whose love for the place came out." Then a stay at the Bay Town Inn and a visit with owner Nikki Moon, left her certain that she’d found her true coast home.
She made the offer on the Carroll house cottage before she left town.
“What a wonderful place for family and friends," says Martha. “I looked at other homes with great charm and character, but this one really spoke to me.”
The house is a Biloxi cottage, a rare design in Bay St. Louis. Economy was important in the early 1900s, so four adjacent rooms had corner fireplaces - all served by the same chimney. In the past century, all the fireplaces in the Carroll cottage have been removed. However, the previous owners, Benjamin Golding and Elizabeth Bartasius, exposed the remaining brick chimneys when they renovated post-Katrina – one of the many small touches that make the house anything but ordinary.
Architecturally, the floor plan of the house flows like a lazy river. The front door opens onto a large living room area on the left with the dining room straight ahead. The compact – but exquisitely functional kitchen – merges with the left side of the dining room.
French doors at the end of the dining table tempt one to step out into an astonishing Asian/Southern deck area. Liz Seal’s vision as a landscape designer comes to the fore in this serene place. Stalks of rust-colored bamboo provide privacy and a fantastic visual backdrop for the clumps of river birch trees growing up through the deck. The textural bark of the lithe trees sings against the bamboo backdrop. Comfortable and durable furnishings complete this retreat. Any activity would feel perfect here – meditating, reading or grilling out with family and friends.
The house originally contained two bedrooms and a small office. Martha’s master bedroom opens into the second bath and and a private door leads directly to the patio. Since her children and grandchildren are frequent guests, she needed “as many beds as I could fit.” The former office now contains two twin beds. Four full-sized bunk beds fill the guest room, but they were designed with the comfort of adults in mind.
Family portraits by Ann Madden
Work by other local artists can be found almost everywhere the eye lands. The furnishings range from beach casual to antique, but with the help of designer Al Lawson’s genius with juxtaposition, everything works beautifully.
The main conversation piece in the house came about because Al mentioned that the living area lacked a real focal point. He brought in a mass of huge paper lanterns and hung them over the dining room table. Their light - and light-hearted - impact woke up the entire living area and set the tone for the house.
Martha believes Al understood exactly what she was going for. “I didn’t want it to be stuffy. I didn’t necessarily want it to be beachy though - just a fun place for the family and friends to come."
“More people have already have stayed in it than I would have imagined in my lifetime… my friends, my children, my grandchildren. It’s a happy magnet.”
And one guesses that the house at 321 Carroll is attracting a few angelic visitors as well.
Al Lawson - On Design
The eyes have it! Absolutely! There is a need for one “bright spot” in a room where your eyes can focus… and find a place to be engaged. The bright spot can be achieved through several different design methods. One approach can be to use an architectural element that you would visually organize the room around. That architectural element can be a something as simple as a window or fireplace. Just remember – a television is not an architectural element. Another focus idea is to use a monochromatic color scheme and then introduce a small amount of its complementary color... for example, a green appointed room with a small amount of red will invite the eye to focus in that direction. And one more recommendation would be to exaggerate the scale of pieces. Pianos are often used in large spaces to give a room scale. I particularly turn to large sculptures or paintings to add drama and draw attention to an area. The eye is fascinating to direct and influence! Enjoy playing with this design idea!