The butter-colored house in the Chapel Hill neighborhood is sunny through and through with the warm and welcoming energy of owner Vicki Hughes.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
After twenty-one years heading up nursing homes in New Orleans, Vicki made a lateral move into hospice work. While she already held degrees in both Management and Marketing, she entered a Master’s program in Health Care Administration at Tulane University.
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.
In 2003, Vicki became part owner and vice president of Hospice Care of Louisiana and Mississippi. Even though she was traveling around the country almost weekly on business, she was determined to at least start establishing a Bay St. Louis home.
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.
There were other pluses. Chapel Hill’s flavor reminded Vicki of one of her favorite beach towns, Seaside, Florida. Rigid architectural standards – similar to those in an official historic district, but much more stringent – protected the value of her property. The small lots made upkeep easy, especially important to someone who traveled a lot.
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.
And an entertainment area. Louisiana style. Living, dining and kitchen areas were to be open, yet delineated from each other to provide lots of conversation pockets. The kitchen was not to be large, but cunningly designed to save steps for cooks, while giving them plenty of elbow-room. Windows and doors would make up most of the living area’s back wall, so the rooms would meld with the tropical gardens outside.
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.
Construction on the house began in 2003 and it took a year to complete. Vicki pulled on her marketing background to “brand” the house with little touches along the way. Balcony railings have an “H” worked into them. The entryway sports a subtle “V” design etched into the floor, greeting visitors coming and going. Interior walls sing with color – there are eight different shades in the house, all of them chosen from a tropical palette. No white ceilings here - instead, she used a shade of paint 20% lighter than the wall color.
Furnishing the house, Vicki kept the comfort of her family and friends in mind. Books and games tempt guests to put aside the cellphone. Furniture doesn’t vie for attention with the people in the room: it’s there to serve instead of scream. Artwork and décor ranges from whimsical to tranquil, often bringing a smile.
“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.”
The guests at Chez Vicki began arriving almost immediately on the home’s completion. Most weekends, as soon as Vicki unpacked her traveling bags, she called some friends, opened the doors, cooked a meal and the party began.
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.
Fast forward to 2005. Eleven months after Vicki had moved in, Hurricane Katrina demolished much of the town. Many homes in the Chapel Hill development were destroyed, but Vicki’s still stood.
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.”
Vicki’s dad came down from Shreveport and supervised the gutting of the ground floor, while friend/contractor Julie Rosson handled the rebuilding. The house was completed the second time in 2006.
“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.
“I told him the situation and sent my little sketches,” she says. “He understood that I didn’t want it to look like an add-on either, it should look like it’d been part of the original house.”
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.
Montgomery listened and when he sent back plans just a few weeks later, Vicki declared it perfect. Completed in 2011, the indoor and outdoor rooms now mesh seamlessly. One could have a fulfilling vacation and never leave the premises.
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.
“I love helping people – it’s the reason I went into health care to begin with,” Vicki explains. “With real estate I can help people meet their goals, achieve their dreams. I think I can make a difference there too.”
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.”