This month - Dividing time between Old Town Bay St. Louis and New Orleans French Quarter, the McRaneys enjoy "the best of both worlds."
217 Keller Street - the McRaney family
story and photography by Ellis Anderson
The McRaney’s story is a tale of two cities:New Orleans and Bay St. Louis.Like generations of other families over the past two hundred years, this couple has found a happy balance by living between the two places and calling each of them “home.”
The primary home of Samantha and Bob McRaney is an elegant townhouse on Royal Street, smack dab in the middle of the French Quarter, one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world. It’s not unusual to see a ten-piece marching band parade by the house, with second liners prancing behind.Hundreds of top-drawer entertainment, dining and shopping options are located within blocks of their front door.
Just fifty-six miles away, Bob and “Sam” McRaney’s rambling three-story “get-away” house is tucked into Old Town’s Depot District.It’s juxtaposed perfectly between the beach and the grounds of the historic depot. There’s more activity in Bay St. Louis than in most small towns – frequent festivals, the monthly Second Saturday Artwalk, and play openings at the Little Theatre.But for the most part, the McRaneys neighborhood is peaceful and they often sit outside over morning coffee savoring the serene surroundings.
“We have the best of both worlds,” says Bob.
story continued below...
Ready to welcome the Thanksgiving guests
Bob grew up in Columbus, Mississippi, so in early 2005 when the couple started shopping for a second house on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, it represented a home-coming of sorts. They stayed ten nights in the Bay Town Inn and spent the days house-hunting, ranging between Ocean Springs and Kiln.Bay St. Louis won the McRaneys over with its scenery, historic district and beachside lifestyle.The house they found on Keller Street needed work , but according to Sam, “it had great bones,” since the original structure dated back to the mid-1800’s.
They purchased the house just months before Katrina savaged the Mississippi coast.The roof blew off causing the third floor to collapse onto the second floor.The storm surge buckled the ground floors beyond redemption. The McRaneys briefly considered abandoning the house, then rolled up their shirtsleeves and began the restoration, appreciating the one gift the storm had left behind: when the ceilings collapsed, the original cypress beams were revealed.
Local carpenter/designer Scott McDonald worked closely with the McRaneys during the back-to-the-bone restoration.During construction, they discovered several previously unused or hidden spaces that became creative opportunities. What had been a rough hidden attic became a chic third floor living space. An awkwardly placed closet became a clever bar.This time around beams became room highlights instead of being covered.
Now an old town showpiece, the home’s wide front porch offers two doors into the house.Each leads into a comfortable, yet uniquely styled living area.The main entrance opens into a room with stuffed sofas, wood floors and an attention-grabbing chandelier that preens before a huge wall mirror.Interior designer Al Lawson (just up the street at Lawson Studios) was enlisted to work his magic on this room and set the tone for the entire house.He pulled it off masterfully by mixing vintage floral upholstery and fine antiques with punchy attention-grabbers like a fur throw and a Remmington bronze sculpture. Like the rest of the house, there’s a definite European flavor, yet there’s not a whiff of pretension anywhere.
An open brick fireplace divides the two living areas so both rooms can share the warmth.The second living room features a cream l-shaped sofa wrapping the wall.In one corner, a large screen TV is mounted on an antique chest.Both sunlit rooms seem to call to people passing through:curl up here and read a good novel.Or, you’ll never find a better place to watch a football game.
If there’s a single stylistic approach that has guided the McRaneys, it might be summed up as: anything goes – as long as it’s useful, comfortable and tasteful. Bob claims that all of the furnishings and objects in the house have some sort of sentimental value.
“These are basically the things we have acquired over a lifetime that have significant, personal meaning,” he says.“And we have long, boring stories about every one of them.”
But most of the stories the McRaneys have to tell aren’t boring by a long shot.Sam grew up in New York City and New Jersey as a member of the Gimbel’s Department Store family.By the time she met Bob 29 years ago, she’d owned two hotels in Aspen, Colorado and had founded her own national company of children’s clothing and accessories (taking it public on the stock exchange).Also a vocalist, she sometimes worked on commercials with the likes of Barry Manilow and Bette Midler.
Bob McRaney’s been in broadcasting his entire life – his father built one of the first TV stations in Mississippi and a network of radio stations that made up McRaney broadcasting. Over the course of his career, he worked as station manager for three NBC affiliate stations, including Richmond, Jackson and New Orleans (WDSU).His first cousin, Gerald McRaney, spent his life on the other side of the camera, became a well-known actor and married actress Delta Burke. The two actors owned the Royal Street house before Bob and Sam purchased it.Carriage drivers still point it out to tourists, something the McRaneys take in good humor.
“Recently, I even heard someone here say that Delta Burke lived in our Keller Street house,” says Bob, laughing. “How the rumors do fly.”
“Camp McRaney” is a six bedroom house, which is a good thing.Most weekends, some – if not all – of the bedrooms are filled with incoming grandchildren or friends from New Orleans spending the weekend.During football season, Saints and Mississippi State fans gather for the entire weekend to cook, explore the town and to watch the games.
Sam says that the heart of every house they’ve owned is the kitchen and the Keller Street house is no exception. The entire back of the house on the ground floor is dedicated to cooking, eating and socializing.There are windows all around, a dining area that can accommodate dozens for a sit-down dinner, conversation nooks, bar stools and French doors leading to a patio in back - where there’s yet another table (this Scott McDonald massive cypress creation is made with no nails, and can seat twenty four).
The sleek kitchen features an island the size of Australia and it’s not just for show.Social Hour at the McRaneys is also Cooking Hour, when friends gather to cook with conversation.“It’s part of our lifestyle,” says Bob.A few favorites that come out of the McRaney kitchen are homemade candies, kumquat marmalade (probably the best ever made!), lasagnas, canned pears and a host of other preserves.
“Our friends don’t want to go back,” says Sam. “They feel it - the pace and the ambiance.They’re as captivated as we are.”
Then Sam echoes the sentiments of thousands of other second home owners, a long line of them stretching back hundreds of years.
“We can relax and recharge our batteries here.We wake up happy and we go to sleep happy.We have a love affair with Bay St. Louis.”
This drawing was a Thanksgiving gift from Ocean Springs artist Glenn Miller, who is Sam's cousin.
We love the holidays! It’s a great time to embrace nature and bring it into our home. In Mississippi we are particularly blessed to have so many available greens to mix-up and decorate with. Go outside and grab a basket full of magnolia leaves and cedar branches or holly….then layer them around a candle for a quick centerpiece or spray paint them silver for a little extra holiday sparkle. We particularly like to involve oranges and lemons with these green pieces to create a delightful visual and fragrance combination. You can’t make a mistake! It’s always going to look and smell wonderful!
Lawson Studio Open House Saturday, December 6 4 until 7 pm 406 Blaize Ave. BSL Depot District 228.344.3178 Jingle on Over!
Congrats to Cleaver Sponsor Al Lawson!
The Interior Design Advisory Committee (IDAC), under the Mississippi State Board of Architecture, is pleased to announce the election of Al Lawson as their new committee chairman. Lawson was appointed by Governor Phil Bryant to serve on the newly legislated and inaugural Interior Design Advisory Committee in 2012.A Mississippi native and now a resident of Bay St. Louis, Lawson owns the Lawson Studio, LLC, an interior design studio and furnishings showroom.
Mr. Lawson received his architecture degree from Mississippi State University in 1985 and received his NCIDQ license as an interior designer in 1991.
Lawson has worked as a commercial and residential interior designer for 25 years with a portfolio of projects in Mississippi, Connecticut, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Florida and Louisiana.
The Lawson Studio is located at 406 Blaize Avenue, Bay St. Louis and is open to the public on weekdays from 9 until 6, or by appointment.www.thelawsonstudio.com