This month's home is located in the middle of Old Town's Historic District and owner Martha Wilson is beginning to wonder if there's not something a little angelic about her new neighbors.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Maybe Miss Moseley Was Right
Click on photos in gallery below to enlarge
“People just go the extra mile here,” Martha says. “I’ve been in some lovely places, but this one just takes the cake. Whenever you have any kind of problem, they do what they can to help.”
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.
Martha’s lush southern accent is punctuated with genuine smiles that light up her eyes. She grew up in Greenville, Mississippi and has lived most of her life in Memphis. Yet one can guess at the steel that runs beneath the magnolia: this genteel woman spent most of her career as an owner of a container shipping business, dealing with cargo arriving from the world over.
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
Even when the grandchildren aren’t visiting, their presence is strong. Glowing portraits by Ann Madden (another one of those neighbors who might be hiding wings) have captured the bright energy of these children and various pieces of their artwork are prominently displayed.
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