At Home in the Bay - April 2016
A Cottage For Creatives
A small historic cottage on Carroll Avenue provides both home and studio for an active young family of artists. Meet the Maddens!
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson, family portrait by Katy Tuttle
It’s clear that creativity rules in this home. Ann is an award-winning photographer and designer, as well as co-owner of the Bay’s diminutive powerhouse gallery, Smith & Lens, at 106 South Second Street. Ed’s artistic sensibilities have made him one of the most sought-after contractors in the area. He specializes in historic home renovations and additions, where his knowledge of traditional craftsmanship techniques proves invaluable.
Their two children cut their teeth on art. Ava is already an accomplished writer, while Gigi leans more toward visual art — coloring being her specialty at the moment. Ann has been imparting art knowledge to the girls from the cradle. There’s plenty to share. She holds a degree in art history from the University of Arizona, as well as a Master in Digital Art from the prestigious Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA).
Ann grew up in New Orleans, but her father’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm Dinwiddie, Sr., had a summer house in Pass Christian. Starting at Easter, Ann’s family would spend every weekend in the Pass, moving over full time during the summers, when her dad could commute from the city to the coast for the weekends. Her parents became full time Pass residents after she entered college.
When she’d completed her studies, Ann moved to Washington, D.C., encouraged by a friend. Since art-related jobs were hard to come by, she supplemented her income by working in restaurants, mostly on Capitol Hill. As a newly hired hostess at one establishment, her personality clashed at first with a veteran bartender. His name was Ed. They each claimed the other was a snob. Eighteen months later, the couple began dating.
Then Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, and its reverberations were felt even Washington D.C. The original Dinwiddie family home in the Pass was entirely destroyed, leaving Ann’s parents, Malcolm and Claudia, with only a historic guesthouse — one that was in critical condition.
Ed came down to assess the damage and discovered that the building had been shifted 8 feet off its foundations by the record-breaking tidal surge. Seeing already how unscrupulous contractors were taking advantage of desperate homeowners, Ed and Ann agreed that he needed to shift his work to the coast to help the family. Later, when it became clear that Ed was needed in the Pass over the long term, Ann and Ava moved down to join him.
By the time the work on the Dinwiddie house was finished, the two had shifted the trajectory of their lives. In D.C., the couple had been set on buying “something,” yet found the prices out of sight.
“Small crack houses were half a million and you’d have to spend another half-million to bring it up to code,” says Ann. “But community has always been very important to us. That’s why we loved Capitol Hill. Even though it was in a big city, there was a village feel.
“We discovered that same vibe in Bay St. Louis, except it was affordable and safe. Although I spent time here as a kid, I feel like my eyes have been opened as a parent and an adult. There’s so much more here than I ever realized. People are great, the town’s painfully adorable and our kids love it. Besides, taking risks is much less scary in a small place.”
The couple proved the point by taking several major risks right out of the box. Ed quickly established himself as a reliable, historically sensitive contractor. Ann began a design business, later branching out into photography. And the couple signed a contract to buy a small Old Town cottage.
After seeing the cottage for the first time, Ed “sold” the house to Ann that night over dinner. It needed lots of work, but Ed drew out possibilities on napkins, swaying Ann, who was soon expecting the birth of Gigi. After they signed the contract, she panicked.
“I was gigantically pregnant and woke up at two in the morning,” Ann remembers. “I woke up Ed. I said, ‘I don’t remember seeing any closets!’”
Ed consoled her momentarily with talk of armoires, before a friend pointed out: “Ann, your life will never fit in an armoire.”
And it hasn’t. Although Ed built two large closets in the master bedroom, shelving and cupboards carry the lion’s share of organizational duty in the house. A third bedroom serves as Ann’s office, a dedicated work space for her business. In recent years, she’s developed a regional reputation as a stellar photographer, after studying under well-known New Orleans photographer Sandra Russell Clark. Ann specializes in portraiture of graduates, models and families and is also in demand as a wedding photographer.
Ann recounts another huge risk that paid off - for all involved. In 2010, Bay St. Louis artist Sandra Bagley, who recognized talent in Ann’s early work, hired the photographer to shoot her daughter’s wedding. Ann protested, since she’d never taken on a wedding before. Yet her long experience in design, composition and lighting came to the fore in the project. The photographs exceeded all expectations. The new career was launched.
Two years ago, interior designer Nora Wikoff introduced Ann to silversmith Sandy Maggio. The two friends teamed up last year to open Smith & Lens gallery on Second Street.
The gallery is tiny, but Smith & Lens dream big. In their first year they hosted shows with some of the South’s top artists, and two highly popular Old Town events — Dolly Should (celebrating Dolly Parton’s birthday in January) and Frida Fest (honoring iconic artist Frida Kahlo) — were their very successful brainchildren.
Ed is creatively fired up too, having recently completed several ambitious projects for historic homeowners in the Bay and beyond.
“There isn’t much craftsmanship in new housing any more,” he says. “So I enjoy preserving someone else’s work and putting my own touch on it. I also like learning from older craftsmen. Some of these skill sets are becoming lost arts.
“The steps to restoring a home aren’t the same as building one from scratch. It’s almost like putting a puzzle back together sometimes. It’s great to salvage what someone thought was lost or should have been torn down. I really do enjoy seeing the homeowners’ faces when it’s finished, especially when they didn’t have a clear vision of the project.”
The large detached outbuilding/garage at 318 gives Ed plenty of room to spread out. It was one of the home’s initial appeals. Another attraction was the fact that the cottage was previously owned by well-known artist and woodworker, Alex Brown.
“This house had solid bones, but sometimes people do too much. Alex didn’t add anything that had to be torn out. Things hadn’t been removed, either, and that was wonderful because once they’re gone, they’re gone forever."
The couple admits that the biggest challenge for the family has been learning how to be organized in a small house.
“I live with three Tasmanian Devils,” Ann says, laughing. “But we all like being surrounded by art and letting the outside come in.
“Maybe everyone feels this attached to the house and the town where they live,” Ann says. “I don’t know. But Bay St. Louis is like a little oasis. It’s got art, it’s got edge, it’s got a happy vibe. I wouldn’t want to live anywhere else on the coast.”
Al Lawson - On Design
One of my favorite names for a Chinese restaurant is Five Happiness. There are usually several in any big city. A little investigation reveals that the Chinese are very interested in luck and the objects, behaviors and environment that produce luck. The concept is very simple really. Surround yourself with lucky objects and good fortune will come to you.
As a designer, I totally agree with that idea. Why not surround yourself with lucky objects, beautiful objects, inspiring objects, sentimental objects and objects that inspire us and make us happy? I say load up on the positive colors, textures, shapes and types of furniture that make you smile when you walk in the door. Hang bright, fun, provocative art on your walls. Support local artist and artisans. Explore being original instead of imitative. Go where you have never go before with your furniture plan or ideas.
The Chinese may call it luck when good things come our way but I believe we ultimately influence how we want to live by the environment we create around ourselves. Create your own happiness! Today is a great time to change the space you live in. And it’s a great time to bring happiness into your life. Surround yourself with objects that intentionally make a difference for you.
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