At Home in the Bay - Jan/Feb 2018
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
When Vicki Hughes decided to move to Bay St. Louis, she knew she’d have frequent visitors. Lots of them. Members of her tight-knit family who would travel from Shreveport and beyond. Big city friends from Dallas and New Orleans and Houston would come to soak in the beauty and peace of the coast before heading back to high-pressure corporate jobs.
That’s how Vicki had discovered the Bay herself. After becoming the youngest female nursing home administrator in Louisana in the mid-80s, she bore a heavy load of responsibility, being on call 24 hours a day. So on weekends, she’d head over from New Orleans, check into the Waveland Holiday Inn and spend the day on the beach, reading and gazing out across the Mississippi Sound.
This is the life, she thought. One day, I’m going to move here.
One day took a while.
At Home in the Bay
For four years, she juggled both work and school. There weren’t many beach days. But the dream of a coast home helped sustain her. It was a mirage she could see up the road, encouraging her onward.
After shopping carefully, she purchased a lot in the Chapel Hill development on Highway 90 and Beach Boulevard, right at the foot of the Bay bridge. The neighborhood’s central location made it easy to hit the road to New Orleans or points east, while the commercial district of Old Town was an easy walk away.
At the time, the development offered four or five approved house designs to choose from, but none suited Vicki’s fancy. Since her father and cousin both worked in the contracting business (Vicki’s father was the head of Shreveport’s building department for many years), she turned to them for suggestions.
Vicki’s cousin referred her to an architect he’d worked with before, Benny Montgomery. Montgomery took note of Vicki’s wish list: a wheelchair-accessible bed and bath on the first level so her parents would be comfortable staying, no matter their age. An outdoor living space with a view for both upstairs bedroom suites.
The architect’s job was an especially challenging one because the lot was small and pie-shaped. And the setback in the front was 20 feet, according to the no-wiggle-room Chapel Hill covenants. Montgomery used angled walls and roofs, eventually coming up with a plan that fulfilled Vicki’s checklist and gave her nearly 2,500 square feet of heated and cooled space.
“I guess you’d call the style eclectic,” Vicki says. “A little bit of this, a little bit of that. I just get what I like for the house.” She gestures around the living room and grins. “And as you can see, I like a lot.”
Vicki quickly became established in the community, known as the“Pink Lady,” since she’d chosen the cheerful color to represent her hospice business. Her Maltese dog, Precious, became a local celebrity too. The small therapy dog went to work with Vicki, its coat dyed a soft shade of pink.
She arrived shortly after the storm to find that while beds upstairs were still made, the ground floor had been scoured by the storm’s unprecedented tidal surge. Furniture and belongings had been pulled out to sea or hurled through walls.
“It never crossed by mind not to rebuild,” says Vicki. “I loved the area and hadn’t had a chance to really enjoy it yet. Leaving just wasn’t an option.”
“I’m real good at building this house,” quips Vicki, smiling. “I did it in 2004 and then again in 2006.”
Since the home was one of the first in the area to be reconstructed, it became a refuge for other residents seeking respite. These were tough days for everyone, but Vicki recalls a lot of laughter.
“Say what you want to about the storm, it was a great leveler. I got to meet people I never would have met. There was a lot of bonding and some wonderful times.”
So when an in-ground pool came up for auction at a charity event a few years later in 2010, Vicki saw it as the icing on the cake for her “home entertainment center.” She placed a bid and won.
“Of course, I had no place to put it at the time,” she says, laughing. “So I called up my friend who owned the lot next door to me and explained the fix I was in.”
The friend sold her the lot. Vicki’s next call was to architect Bennie Montgomery.
The new addition would be focused on the pool area. It’d have an outdoor kitchen, a fireplace, and of course, another entertainment area. The addition wouldn’t add any interior rooms, but would include a two-car garage. An outdoor shower and bathroom – Vicki’s “favorite part” - would allow guests to rinse off sand from the beach before entering the house.
Which is Vicki’s new plan.
“I was traveling so much for work, I was never home anymore,” she said, after four years as a nationally recognized hospice consultant. The changing health care system, where “it’s just not all about the patient anymore,” also made her consider a career switch. In 2016, she earned her real estate license and is now an agent with Powermark Properties.
She contributes in other ways as well. Her community involvement led to her being named one of Hancock County’s ten Outstanding Citizens in 2010. She has served on the board of Friends of the Animal Shelter and is an active part of the Hancock Women’s Leadership program that she created years ago.
While Vicki still loves to travel, she’s enjoying being home now, savoring each day in her vacation house that’s not.
“A friend once asked me why I’d ever want to leave this place. He said I lived in Paradise,” Vicki says. “And I agree completely.”