A Marriage of Old and New

Mississippi Magazine
July/August 2011

An antebellum home just a stone’s throw away from the historic downtown square of Oxford is what attracted a semi-retired Minnesota couple to this Italianate-style home located in one of Oxford’s historic districts. While the location and charm of the home were perfect, several additions built throughout the last century created a few hazards.

“It was all rather willie-nillie,” says designer and architect Julie Spears. “Because the house had many additions over the years, the shape of the roof had become complicated. Parts of the addition in the back of the house had water damage from leaks around the fireplace, termite damage, a low ceiling, and a flat roof that helped contribute to leaks. ”

Despite the sporadic layout, the house still held exciting possibilities. The design of the original structure – which included the master bedroom, foyer, parlor, guest room, and long center hall – provided the perfect foundation for a home remodel that combined the homeowner’s love for antiques with mid-century modern America. As the design process began, the couple expressed their desire to preserve the old character of the original design while still reflecting modern living.

As guests enter through the front door into the foyer, their gaze follows the lines of the long center hall and gallery that pull them through to the back of the house. The floor transitions from original pine floors to modern maple hardwood used throughout the new addition. The hall not only provides an area for the homeowners to display their art and antique collections, but also serves as a visual timeline, allowing visitors to become a part of the progression and evolution of the home.

The flat ceiling from the center hall extends into the dining area at the back of the house. Guests can share a meal or engage in friendly conversation while enjoying views of the landscaped backyard through a large picture window. On the exterior of the house, just above the picture window, a custom copper gutter transforms into a water feature during a heavy Mississippi rainstorm. Runoff from the roof is directed through downward spouts, creating visual interest as water cascades into a small coy pond below.

The dining area is flanked on either side by the kitchen and living areas, which were constructed to match the moderate proportions of the home. However, vaulted ceilings, coupled with a large wall of windows, give the space an open and airy feeling. Custom walnut cabinetry and stainless gas appliances accent the kitchen. A small breakfast nook is outfitted with a built-in leather banquette. A modern custom walnut screen separates the breakfast nook from another alcove utilized as a home office.

A vestibule just off the kitchen transitions into the master suite, which includes the bedroom, sitting area, and master bathroom. The bedroom is original to the house while the sitting area was added to the space in the 1960’s. Unique connecting double doors – constructed from both Golden Oak and Fir – and the antique fireplace mantle were both items the homeowners salvaged from an 1800’s Iowa farmhouse. Combined with red brick floors and muted moss green walls, the sitting area provides a cozy spot to curl up and read a book on a cold winter’s night. The master bathroom includes open, handicap-accessible roll-in showers and modern fixtures. Finally, a small, private screened-in porch provides respite for the couple during warmer months.

On the other end of the house, another larger screened-in porch connects the main home to the guest house nestled just behind the garage. The porch provides the perfect place to relax or get in a morning swim in the small indoor pool. The guest house was designed as a secondary space, complete with kitchen, living area, and private porch. The design is open and airy with several visual elements such as exposed beams and stained concrete floors. Formica countertops and a funky, bright backsplash in the kitchen tie in with with the geometric design of the windows, giving the space a metropolitan vibe.

“The design of this house is meant to celebrate history and beauty,” adds Spears. “It was transformed into a clean, interesting space with good light and also a comfortable back drop for the collections of the owner’s life that animate the house.”