Lofty Aspirations

Mississippi Magazine
Home & Garden 2010

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Ten years ago, when Mike McRee made arrangements to take over the Old Elks Club Building in downtown Jackson, he had big plans for the unassuming, three-story Neoclassical Revival brick building.  Located at 119 South President Street, the structure was originally built in 1912 and served as Jackson Lodge 416 for the Benevolent Protective Order of Elks (B.P.O.E.).  The founder of Investek Timber Management quickly moved his office into the second story and opened Highlands Gallery of Art (now Gallery 119) – a contemporary fine art gallery specializing in the works of Mississippi and Southern artists – on the first floor.

In 2008, McRee decided to convert the third story into a luxury apartment.  The third floor of the building originally housed the Elk’s grand ballroom and provided a wide open space for architect Ann Somers of the Jackson-based firm Cooke Douglass Farr Lemons.

“The building possesses a lot of historical elements,” explains Somers.  “As we were laying out the plans, we wanted to create a livable space but also keep the characteristics of the existing building.”

Early in the process, Somers opted to keep with the wide open, loft-like feel while creating separate vignettes for the living areas and private spaces towards the back of the apartment.  When deciding how all the elements would tie together, Somers decided to keep the original plaster walls, exposed ductwork, and tongue-and-groove beadboard wainscoting that runs along the outside perimeter of the space.  Two adjacent dividers were constructed to create a living area, grand foyer, and dining area.  The walls stop just a few feet short of the twelve-foot tin ceilings.  Somers kept the two dividing walls open and utilized multi-colored stained glass panels in an effort to keep the separate-but-open effect.

To help tie the new layout together, McRee also enlisted the help of Sarah Nelson of Sarah Jones Interiors.  Nelson drew her inspiration from an antique cream-colored Oushak rug she used in the living room.  The trim, moulding, and wainscoting were painted vibrant white to directly contrast with the cream color of the walls that were selected to coordinate with the rug.  Matching tuxedo-style couches from Edward Ferrell flank either side of the living room while two reclining chairs, upholstered in Calvin fabric, provide a relaxing sitting area.  Granite counter tops allow McRee to showcase his unique collection of antique oil cans and fire hose nozzles.  Floor-to-ceiling Zoffany drapes accent large glass windows and a wooden door- also original to the building- which opens onto a tiled balcony with views of President Street below.  A small office just off the living room provides a quiet and comfortable reading area and space for a small studio for McRee, who is an avid art lover and collector.

Behind the living area is the formal dining room and raised galley kitchen featuring a large open island where McRee can keep an eye on guests while he entertains.  A Wolf range, contemporary stainless steel appliances, steel-grey glass mosaic wall tiles, and cream-colored granite countertops round out this gourmet kitchen.  Dark cabinetry was utilized throughout the apartment and richly colored cork flooring was selected for the kitchen to coordinate with the beautiful heart of pine wood floors already featured in the apartment.  Because McRee enjoys entertaining, Nelson selected a large 10-foot wooden dining table from Englishman’s Fine Furnishings. “The table is actually made from an old piece of wood that was redesigned to create a new table,” adds Nelson.  Nineteen-thirties inspired Baker art-deco chairs with Barbara Barry upholstery from Kravet seat up to twelve dinner guests comfortably.  A bar area allows for additional seating.

Just off the kitchen, a small breakfast nook provides the perfect spot for entertaining a smaller, more intimate group of friends.  Guests can sip a beverage from the loft’s fully stocked wet bar or a glass of wine from the large stainless steel wine cooler.  Music lovers will enjoy a tune from the black K. Kawai baby grand piano.

“The apartment also serves as an extension of the art gallery,” Nelson explains.  Mike often splits his time between the loft and his home in Flora and enjoys volunteering the space for use by many local charity organizations and non-profit events.  Paintings from the art gallery below are rotated out on a regular basis and feature work by artists such as Melissa Neville, William Dunlap, and Patterson/Barnes.  Mike also enjoys showcasing his own personal collection by some of his favorite artists including Ginger Williams and Mississippi native Derek Blanks.

A long rear hall leads to the apartment’s two bedrooms.  The master bedroom features an eclectic mixture of old and new furniture styles.  The smoky blue wall color stays true to the masculine theme in addition to the modern wall sconces and contemporary custom made iron four poster bed from Old Biscayne Designs.  These elements are paired with French antique nightstands and dresser.  Directly behind the bed, a raised dressing area and large master bath were added.  The chic master bath features a glass enclosed steam room and white porcelain vessel sinks.  Sandy-hued tile floors and earth-toned glass mosaic tiles on the wall help to create an air of serenity in the room.

A comfortable second bedroom at the rear of the apartment provides a private area for guests.  The structure’s original bathroom was redesigned with a modern twist, featuring a large garden tub and vessel sink vanity.

Renovations to the loft were completed in 2009.  “Redesigning this space ended up being a really fun project that posed several good challenges to myself and the other designers,” adds Somers.  “We had to figure out how to touch the space as lightly as possible while creating something that would make sense in the existing area.  I think we ended up with something the owner would really enjoy.”

“I really enjoy the location of the apartment the most,” comments McRee, who recently opened Underground 119, a restaurant/club featuring live blues, jazz, and bluegrass music, in the building’s basement area.  “However, the open floor plan and the spaciousness make it great for entertaining and when the weather is warm, I enjoy having my morning coffee on the balcony.”

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