- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
A trio of palmetto palms growing on the beach announce that you’ve arrived in front of the Riviere’s Bay St. Louis home.
On the other side of the narrow road, the stately white house faces the Gulf and the wide expanse of sky. Out in front, you’re likely to see multiple flags flying from a pole that resembles a mast. If a good breeze is blowing, the pennants snap from their lines with colorful applause, as if to say, Welcome! Welcome to Three Palms!
The house that’s named after a tropical ideal is the home of George and Robin Riviere. Like the name implies, it’s an oasis of sorts, with as many comfortable living areas outside as in.
At Home in the Bay
On the ground level, tables offer inviting places to dine or play cards. A dart board, an outdoor shower and comfortable rockers furnish the west corner. Early on, the Rivieres discovered even on the hottest days, a fresh breeze always seems to course through that particular spot. They dubbed it Martini Point and it’s their favorite place to watch the dusk settle over the Sound.
A white staircase in the front leads upstairs to the house proper. The elevator is irresistible however, not just because it saves steps; its show-stopping wooden door - complete with a brass porthole - was salvaged from an antique freighter.
The décor flings convention to the wind, creating a comfortable hybrid of contemporary and antique. Burnished wood of heirloom pieces mix it up with lighter coastal furnishings. Shell covered table lamps co-exist easily with a crystal chandelier that belonged to George’s great-aunt.
The bar is actually more than a visual centerpiece. It connects five generations of families from New Orleans, including Robin’s family – her grandparents, the Merics - and the grandparents of Jimmy Crane - a close family friend, and the contractor who built Three Palms.
Robin explains plans had been finalized for Three Palms when her father’s estate was being settled. She suddenly found herself in possession of the 1818 bar.
“I called Jimmy and said, ‘we have the bar!’” she remembers. “It’s not a fine piece of furniture, but it’s got so much meaning. Jimmy actually rearranged the floor plan to accommodate it.”
Yet the coast kept calling. Both Robin and George had spent idyllic times on the Mississippi coast while growing up. The Rivieres had a family home at 102 South Drive in Waveland.
In 2006, Robin’s father had Jimmy Crane build a small house on the back part of the beachfront property. By 2007, the Riveres often used the comfortable 1,200-square-foot cottage built from steel, while maintaining their Covington house as their main residence. The cottage fit their needs while their son was attending St. Stanislaus, but the couple continued pondering the possibility of building their dream home in the front.
Robin’s family frequented the coast too, renting a house in the summer. Then when she was an adult, her father, a widower, married Millie Brodtman, who lived on Ramaneda Street in Bay St. Louis. The Rivieres drove over from Covington as frequently as possible, and as they grew older, began to plan for retirement in the Bay.
In 2000, Robin’s father purchased a house close to his, on the beach, where his growing family of grandchildren could visit. The Rivieres planned to purchase part of the property and build a permanent home in the Bay. Jimmy Crane worked with them to draw up plans. Construction was about to begin when Hurricane Katrina roared ashore.
In the wake of the storm, Robin’s father’s house on Ramaneda was gone. The house on the beach was gone. The property where the Rivieres planned to build was swept clean.
Although their daughter was no longer living at home, just a few weeks before, the Riviere’s son, George, had begun 8th grade classes at St. Stanislaus. The family powered through, first by driving back and forth from Covington each day, then camping in a trailer on school nights. Despite the heartache that surrounded them, the Rivieres became even more bonded to the coast community.
“We moved in July 4th,” he said, laughing.
Robin said, “You hear all these horror stories about how people get divorced after building a house, but this was so much fun! And it was great living on-site in the cottage during the process. We got to see the progress every day.”
The Cranes may be generational family friends, but the Riviere’s enthusiasm for the contractors work focused on craftsmanship and detailing instead of social ties. They list the customized features that evolved during the building process:
Jimmy designed a built-in glass cabinet in the hallway for Robin’s astonishing teacup collection. Jackye designed another special cabinet in the laundry room to showcase and store Robin’s antique linens. Built-in electronics allow the Rivieres to adjust the volume of wall speakers throughout the house or the thermostat from another state. Fireplace hearths high enough to sit on were another idea of Jackye’s. So were the floor-to-ceiling windows in the living room, which makes the coast landscape part of the house.
The Cranes also finagled a cunning office for George – it’s off the master bedroom and features built-in shelves and a stunning view of the waterfront. The refrigerator/freezer that Robin wanted was over-sized, but the Cranes “came up with exactly the right solution.”
“They were over here over single day when this house was under construction,” said George.
“It wouldn’t be the house it is without their input, holding our hands every step of the way,” said Robin. “I can’t say enough great things about them.”
“If friends are visiting from Canada, we fly the Canadian flag to welcome them,” he said. “If you’re coming from Maryland, that flag’s going to be flying when you arrive.” *
The conviviality of past generations is still firmly entrenched. George points out that half the house is entertainment area. Friends and family visit frequently and the original steel house – which now serves as the guest cottage - affords them privacy and space to spread out. Between the two houses, there are five bedrooms and four baths.
“But to me, the good partying is always in the kitchen,” George said, gesturing to the 1818 bar.
“We keep saying we’re going to get as many of the descendants of the couples together for a reunion here and take a photos. How much fun would that be?”
“We pinch ourselves sometimes,” said Robin. “How did we get so lucky?”
*As of press time, a Texas flag is flying in front of Three Palms, to show support of Hurricane Harvey survivors.