A historic cottage in Waveland is filled with family stories of the past - and home to a couple who is generating new ones.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
A striking photo of six young women graces the wall of a raised red cottage in Waveland. It’s easy to guess they’re sisters, even if they weren’t wearing similar white dresses. The full long flounces of skirts hiding the feet of the three in front. Their long hair is arranged according to the custom of the early 1900s, back and up. The style frames their lovely faces, all with Mona Lisa smiles.
If one looks closer, they'll see that the girl in the lower right has a flash of mischief in her eyes. Like she might shuck both decorum and shoes, then run barefoot down a pier in Bay St. Louis.
Which she did. A young man, visiting the coast from New Orleans actually witnessed this lively escapade. The smile on Ada Richardson’s face and the tantalizing view of her ankles captivated the heart of Alfred Page.
But the couple have done their own share of adding to the home’s repertoire of interesting stories. Like marrying on the front porch in the tailwind of a hurricane.
LiLi met Donald in 2010, two years after her husband George passed away. They struck up a conversation in a coffeehouse line and he treated her to a cup of coffee.
“You meet quality people in Starbuck’s,” says LiLi.
“Well, I’m a big spender,” says Donald, smiling. “A cup of coffee at Starbuck’s isn’t cheap.”
Donald is a retired government contractor and petroleum reserve consultant. He had moved to Slidell from New Orleans to be closer to family. But as Donald fell in love with LiLi, he also fell for Waveland.
LiLi’s connection to Waveland went back several generations. Although she grew up in New Orleans, graduating from Magee school and then Newcomb College, she had spent a large part of her idyllic childhood at her family’s vacation home on Jeff Davis.
After retirement, she and George had moved full-time to that home, “the Green House.” In 1993, Lili and George also purchased the small red cottage next door that had belonged to one of LiLi’s aunts. It had been vacant and boarded up for years. The Stahlers renovated, put in a pool and used it as a guest house.
After George’s passing, Lili decided to downsize and move into the red cottage. However 750 square feet was too small for entertaining guests. So she went to work planning a new addition – one that would echo the character of the historic cottage. “It’s just like the original part of the house - very plain with no moldings and no fanciness,” says LiLi.
According to family history, the red cottage had been built in the countryside around Kiln. It had been moved to Waveland in 1938 – surely a feat at the time. While no one in the family recalled the exact origin of the cottage, the patchwork style of the woodwork suggested that a worker in the lumber mills had built it from scraps.
The cottage was placed up on piers at its new location, becoming the only raised house north of the tracks in Waveland. The family couldn’t have known that the elevation would keep the house from flooding 65 years later during Katrina’s unprecedented storm surge.
LiLi’s new addition doubled the square footage. It included a bedroom, a bath and closet, a laundry room and a living area. The kitchen of the original cottage – which had been an add-on – was revamped in the process.
The only entrance to the red cottage had been from the back door, so the front of the house underwent a makeover too. The front sleeping porch was mirrored on the new addition and a staircase added between the two in the middle.
When the addition was complete in 2009, George’s daughter Liz and her family moved into the larger green house. LiLi moved next door into the red raised cottage to begin her “quiet widow’s life.”
Donald changed all that.
As their relationship flourished, Donald found himself embraced by the coast community. And LiLi didn’t want to leave Waveland. She was serving her first term as an alderman, working ferociously for community recovery after Katrina. Donald, who had no emotional ties to Slidell, made plans to move.
LiLi was 72 and Donald was 78 when the couple decided to marry in 2012. During Hurricane Gustav. After a bit of investigation, the pair discovered that the president of the Hancock Board of Supervisors could perform the ceremony and contacted the current board president, Lisa Cowand.
The wedding was delayed a bit because Cowand was tied up in emergency management meetings with FEMA, but she arrived on Labor Day afternoon in a white suit, picking her way through storm debris bearing a dozen red roses. Donald and LiLi , dressed “in all our finery,” were married on the front steps of the red cottage.
Walking into the cottage, one faces the kitchen, running across the back of the house. The dining room flanks it on one side, the living room on the other. Family heirlooms mix easily with comfortable contemporary furniture. The often whimsical artwork plays off the family antiques.
There’s a story behind every item in the house. LiLi knows them all.
The bust of the Greek goddess Psyche on the mantle brings to mind the fact that as a child, LiLi and her grandmother used to wash the statue’s hair on occasion instead of just dusting it. Dining chairs from her grandparents house were built in the mid-1800s by the famous French Quarter craftsman, Francois Seignouret. Each chair has subtle differences that LiLi can point out.
There’s the stately grandfather clock by the front door that graced the dining room of LiLi’s grandparents when she was a young child.
“It was made in 1792 by the Boston clockmaker W. Cummings,” LiLi says. “He made it especially for my grandfather’s grandfather, Ephraim Marsh.”
LiLi opens a drawer in an antique secretary and pulls out memorabilia belonging to her mother, including a detailed list of wedding gifts they received so she would be able to write proper thank-you notes.
But Donald’s had a hand in shaping the house as well. The couple have continued working on the cottage together, with the help of contractor Joe Besancon. For instance, it was Donald’s idea to glass in both screened porches on the front to make two bright interior spaces that are comfortable year around. On one side is a reading room and its twin on the other is a breakfast area.
“We call them the reading porch and the eating porch. Those are our two main pursuits,” quips LiLi. “The rest of the house could blow up, because we spend most of our time there.”
The back deck was also added with Donald’s influence. The small porch off the kitchen was too small for his grill. And LiLi says her husband’s grilled chicken was one of the reasons she married him.
Both the kitchen and deck overlook an enormous screened lanai and pool, nested in a beautifully landscaped yard, that melts into woods.
The pool is active almost every morning with a group of friends who meet for water aerobics: the Swimmin’ Women. It’s a very diverse group, except in age – the youngest is 65.
Donald does his water aerobics before the women arrive.
“It’s very clear I have no business down there then,” he says. “I do make sure the pool is clean for them.”
“We call him the pool boy,” LiLi says, smiling.
“I get no respect,” Donald says.
But the Swimmin’ Women is more than an exercise group. The sisterhood that’s evolved supports each other in crisis – like when LiLi was battling cancer in 2017.
“There were a lot of challenges last year, including losing my hair – the vanity of women,” says LiLi. “But now I have hair again and it’s made us appreciate life even more.”
Walking around the house with LiLi and Donald, one can almost glimpse the future. The trees in the olive grove they planted last year will be mature and full, the boughs of the live oak will be thick and dipping toward the ground.
Perhaps a young girl will listen to family stories by the edge of the pool. She’ll laugh at the tales of the grandfather’s clock and Psyche’s shampoos and the Richardson sisters. She’ll dangle her feet into the water and ask how a man could fall in love after seeing only an ankle.
And there will follow more stories that she’ll carry forward into her own future: those of the Swimmin’ Women’s club, of the Starbuck’s romance, and the hurricane marriage on the porch of the red raised cottage in Waveland.