At Home in the Bay
This month - A family with global ties finds their "Dream Home" in this contemporary gem by local architects.
208 Citizen Street - the Kroger family
story and photography by Ellis Anderson
“Where do you want to raise the boys?”
That was the primary question Lisa and Robbie Kroger considered when they started looking for a new home. Robbie’s job was bringing the couple from Starkville, Mississippi to the coast. But they had to choose a community before they started shopping for a house.
The couple checked off every box on their wish list when they visited Bay St. Louis. Good educational options available when their two sons reached school age. Abundant outdoor recreation opportunities. After living in the country for years, the couple now wanted a community with walkability. Other list-toppers were friendly people and a year-round roster of activities.
Once that decision had been made, the search for their dream home began. The main factors would be livability and design.
“We don’t like stock-standard houses,” says Robbie. “And this is definitely not a cookie-cutter home.”
He gestures around him in the expansive living area of their home at 208 Citizen Street, one of the most contemporary homes in Old Town’s Historic District.
The house was built by architects John and Allison Anderson in 2005 to serve as an environmental demonstration house and to be their own family home. Designed to reference local historic influences, energy efficiency and sustainability were important factors. For instance, they used bamboo and cork flooring upstairs and reclaimed wood beams from a historic school for the open staircase. All fifty-five windows were high-quality insulated types.
“Sustainability” took on a new meaning after Hurricane Katrina, when the Anderson’s house was only one of a few still standing in the neighborhood. Even though seven feet of surge flushed through the house, it survived structurally intact. The 2”X6” wood studs that had been used for insulation purposes, turned out to be one of the reasons the house withstood the force of the surge when so many others were destroyed.
The Anderson’s rebuilt their house and it doubled as their office as well for several years after the storm. With all three children off to college, the couple downsized into a Main Street cottage they refurbished. 208 went on the market.
When Lisa and Robbie Kroger saw the house, they were impressed with the its stand-out style, and the fact that it felt solid, substantial. It had been tested by the worst of storms and came through intact. And every detail seemed
“They designed and built it themselves for their family,” says Robbie. “You could tell they loved this house.”
The Krogers also appreciated the open design slate the house offered. “It could conform to anyone’s taste,” says Robbie. “We knew we could add our own touches and make it our own.”
Downstairs at 208, the front door opens into a long living/dining/kitchen area. On entering, one can see all the way through the expansive space to the glass wall at the back of the kitchen. An inviting open wood staircase to one side leads to the second floor. One the second level, three large bedrooms and a bath area flank one side of the hallway. The glass wall of the master suite bedroom seems to capture part of the sky, making it a peaceful refuge filled with books and light. The suite's chic bathroom opens up to a private balcony garden with a grass yard. This unique feature was built on the roof of the garage below, which was designed to bear the weight of the sod.
Back on the first level, the staircase acts as a divider, so on the opposite side of the main living area is a spacious office that opens onto a back patio. Connected to the office is another huge open room where Robbie has created his “Man Cave.”
The furnishings throughout the house hint at Africa and Australia, but this room is a place where Ernest Hemingway would feel at home. In fact, amid the mounted stag horns and spears and arrows and carvings, there is a portrait of Robbie’s grandfather, an explorer who roamed the world and spent much of his life in Africa.
The room reflects a man who's a global citizen. Robbie was born in South Africa and grew up there. His mother is Australian, so much of his family live there (including his parents currently). He came to the states in pursuit of a doctoral degree in environmental science. When researching schools, he discovered that one of the scientists he most admired in the field was teaching at Ole Miss. The fact that the school was half-way across the world seemed irrelevant. Once in the program, Robbie excelled and by the time he obtained his Ph.D, he was on his way to being one of this country’s experts in water quality and ecosystem restoration.
Lisa had graduated almost simultaneously from Ole Miss with a PhD in English (with an emphasis on 18th and 19th century Gothic literature). While the two had known about each other and shared mutual friends at Old Miss, they didn't actually meet until they were completing their educations. Two years later, they married, and Robbie accepted a professorship at State two days after the honeymoon. The couple spent five years in Starkville, with Robbie working in the Wildlife, Fisheries, Aquaculture department. His main focus there was ecosystem restoration for improving water quality.
The 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill brought Robbie (in 2013) to the Mississippi Gulf Coast where he worked as the Science Coordinator for the Gulf Coast Ecosystem Restoration Council. For months, he commuted to the coast from Starkville, visiting Lisa and the boys on the weekends. He now works as Chief Scientific Officer for Covington Civil and Environmental, providing science strategy for sustainable coastal restoration. Eventually, the couple sold their house in Starkville and moved their family to the coast full-time.
A former lecturer at State, Lisa is staying at home with sons Leo and Eli for now, but she’s completed one novel and is working on a second, as well as taking on freelance work. She confesses to loving horror stories since she was a child, so she’s drawn to writing “dark thrillers,” as well as contributing to “Encyclopedia of the Vampire.”
But their house is hardly the gloomy Victorian manor one would expect to be home to the author of thrillers. Filled with buttery colored wood and light streaming in from all directions, it rings with children's laughter and dog romps. The walls seem to radiate a contentment any visitor can feel.
Outside, a sign in the driveway in Australian Aboriginal reads “Nanga-Mai.” It used to stand in front of a home that Robbie’s parents once owned in South Africa. In English, it means “Dream Home.” The sign has traveled half-way around the world to wind up in a small town on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, where it speaks eloquently for both Robbie and Lisa Kroger. This is the place.
At Home in the Bay