Building Outside the Box: Brian Burkley

Stages Magazine
March / April 2011

Click here to view PDF.

You could say building houses is in Brian Burkley’s blood. After all, he was inspired by his grandfather who was also a builder. Six years ago, as Burkley began drawing up plans for the new house that he and his wife Natalie planned to build, he had no idea his endeavor would wind up leading him right in his grandfather’s footsteps. At the time, Burkley had an eight-to-five job in the banking industry, but had been building houses on the side for almost two years. As construction began on the Burkley’s new home, the couple was surprised when people began approaching them with offers to buy the house before it was even complete.

“I have always wanted my homes to be different architecturally,” says the thirty-two year old Natchez native and father of two. “At the time I noticed a lot of new homes were looking a little ‘cookie-cutter.’ They were all starting to look the same. I wanted to build a house that would stand out.”

It was Burkley’s attention to detail that got him noticed by other prospective clients. He continued to build houses on the side, but as business picked up he realized he wasn’t giving his day job the commitment it deserved. With his wife’s support, Burkley made the decision to pursue home building full-time. He quickly learned the ropes of the home building business with the help of both a mentor and a business partner. Burkley and his former partner built eight houses together before he decided to strike out on his own. Today Deep South Custom Homes builds around 25 houses per year in the Jackson metro area.

“My previous job in banking gave me the finance background and customer service skills I needed to form relationships with my clients,” Burkley adds. “I enjoy meeting with clients and drawing up the plans. I am a very hands-on builder. I like to be creative and this means going beyond my customers expectations to build a one-of-a-kind product they can call their dream home.”

Because of the success his business has seen over the last five years, Burkley felt the need to give back to the community that has given him so much. Three years ago, Deep South Custom Homes was selected to participate in the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway. Local builders across the country are chosen to build a home valued between $300,000 – $600,000, which is raffled off to one lucky winner.

“Building the house for St. Jude was something I always wanted to do,” reveals Burkley. “As a relatively new builder, I felt honored to be chosen.”

The dream home giveaway, which is currently held in over thirty cities across the United States, serves as the largest single-event fundraiser for the Memphis-based children’s research hospital. Since the program began in 1991, it has raised more than $155 million dollars to fund research and find cures to save children around the world. This year marks the third year Deep South Custom Homes has built the dream home in the Jackson market. They have committed to continue participating in the giveaway for the next five years.

“Designing the house poses somewhat of a challenge in that I have to be creative architecturally and make the house aesthetically pleasing while sticking to a tight budget,” Burkley says. “Deep South doesn’t profit from the home; it’s all donated and I have been fortunate to work with vendors and sub-contractors that support my efforts. Building the St. Jude house has become a huge part of Deep South Custom Homes and we are passionate about this organization and what it stands for. It helps raise money for a wonderful cause and allows me to give back to the community for all the many blessings I have received. It has been such a positive and rewarding experience and it gets better every year.”

Groundbreaking for the house took place last November. The 3200-square-foot home will be located on a corner lot in The Townsip at Colony Crossing off Highland Colony Parkway in Ridgeland. A two-story French Acadian style home, the house boasts an open great room and keeping room with 22-foot ceilings and balconies overlooking the front and the sides of the house. The interior will feature top of the line amenities including granite countertops, wood flooring, stainless commercial-style appliances, custom-crafted wood beams and cabinetry, old brick, exquisite lighting fixtures and much more. National dream home sponsor, Brizo, will supply plumbing fixtures that incorporate state-of-the-art technology. Tickets for this year’s dream home will be available to purchase at various locations throughout the Jackson Metro area. Upon completion of construction, tickets will also go on sale at the home’s site during the open house tours. Giveaway for the 2011 dream home is scheduled for this June.

Just as no two people are alike, Burkley believes each house he builds should be as unique as the family that will call it their home. “Not every house I build will fit the needs of every family,” he says. “I go into each project with the belief that there is a family for each house. It’s my job to meet their goals and give them timeless details for the times of their lives. Most importantly, I hope that joy, happiness, and lasting memories will resonate the walls of every home built.” It is this unique approach and meticulous desire to exceed his customer’s expectations that Burkley hopes will lead to his continued success.

Deep South Custom Homes
Brian Burkley
P.O. Box 5825
Brandon, MS 39047
(601) 720-1978


From Hobby to Household Name: Gail Pittman

Portico Magazine
February 2011

If you ask Gail Pittman what the hardest job in the world is, she will reply, “Being a school teacher.” The artist and business entrepreneur worked as a school teacher for five years with the Jackson Public School System before embarking on a career move that would launch her successful line of home décor. She began at her kitchen table, inspired by a colorful bowl she found in a gift shop.

“At first, I really didn’t like ceramics,” Pittman recalls. “However, I later realized that I really enjoyed painting. So one day I sat at my kitchen table, used a Rubbermaid spice rack as my wheel, and taught myself how to make a bowl. It became my creative outlet. ”

Pittman’s goal was to create pieces that were not only decorative, but also functional. Eventually her pottery caught the eye of friends and family and she began getting requests for orders. When she landed a booth at the Canton Flea Market, Pittman thought, “I have arrived! This is it!” Shortly after, her friend Carol Puckett Daily, founder of The Everyday Gourmet, approached her about selling pieces in her retail store. Pittman soon became a house hold name and her wares are now sold nationwide.

After thirty years in the business, rumors began to circulate late last year that Pittman was retiring. “I knew I wasn’t retiring,” she says, “but there was so much in the works and so many facets that needed to come together before I could reveal what was going on.” Pittman was interested in exploring new techniques, but needed to make some major changes to the logistics side of her business. She closed down her Ridgeland plant and joined into a licensing agreement with Sidco Worldwide in Nashville. The company has production facilities both nationally and abroad and is now responsible for manufacturing and distribution. This frees Pittman up for what she really loves – designing.

“I particularly enjoy this arrangement one, because the owner of Sidco – Tom Kelly – is formerly from Greenville and he shares my belief that our mission should not only be to design products of exceptional quality for the home that inspire hospitality, love, and the creative spirit, but also to make a positive influence on all the lives we touch,” Pittman says.

In May, Pittman opened the Gail Pittman Design Store in Old Towne Center in Ridgeland. The full service retail store features a bridal registry, corporate gifts and showroom that offers not only several new designs but updated versions of some of her best loved patterns and new pieces never before offered.

“This new direction is very exciting,” she says. “I have the opportunity to move into so many different directions and I am having a great time with it. And I love spending time in the store with my customers.” As she reflects back on where the last thirty years have led, she adds, “Everything that happens in life prepares you for what you are supposed do.”

Gail Pittman Official Store

It All Began With Bacon

The Northside Sun
December 2010

Click here for PDF of original article.

Laurel Schooler doesn’t consider herself to be a cook. In fact, she hasn’t always been a baker. “My husband is a fabulous cook, but I have never been interested,” remarks the high school English teacher about her husband. “Our friends love to get together and have themed dinner parties. One particular party everyone was required to bring a dish with bacon in it. I didn’t want to be left out, so I thought since I don’t cook maybe I could bring dessert.”

Schooler did her research and found a recipe for dark chocolate and bacon cupcakes. “I didn’t even own any equipment. I mixed everything by hand,” she recalls. “As odd as the combination sounds, they were a success.”

Schooler, who is in her eighth year of teaching at Madison Central, shares her Meadowbrook Road home with her husband Josh, Associate Creative Director with the Ramey Agency; eleven-year-old son Blake; and two dachshunds – Ollie and Buster. They both attended the University of Southern Mississippi; however, they did not meet until years later when introduced by a mutual friend. The couple married eight years ago. On the outside, their home is an unassuming 1950’s ranch-style house. On the inside, the modern décor reflects the couple’s creative roots. The Schooler’s kitchen matches the contemporary look of the rest of the home. The previous owner lined the backsplash with galvanized steel, which the Schoolers use to display snippets of recipes and Blake’s artwork. This particular afternoon, all the ingredients for Bread Pudding Cupcakes are measured out on the kitchen counter. After combining cubed bread and dried cranberries with a little heavy whipping cream, melted butter, and spices, Schooler heads out to the dining room to give the bread time to soak. She sits down at a long wooden table outfitted with funky neon orange chairs and shares a story about the time the couple tried to mix meringue by hand with a whisk.

“Have you ever tried mixing meringue by hand? It was awful!” she laughs. “One of us would mix and when our arms got tired we’d pass it off to other person, ‘Here you mix for while.’” Soon after, Josh bought Schooler her lime green Kitchenaid stand mixer. “It is by far my favorite piece of equipment! This thing does everything!”

Inspired by the triumph of her first batch of cupcakes, Schooler began experimenting with other recipes. “My students became my guinea pigs,” she says. “They love it when I bring baked goods to class.” One student raved to his mother about Schooler’s cupcakes. His mother later approached her about baking a batch of cupcakes for an upcoming party she was having. “I was so excited! Finally, I had the opportunity to make cupcakes for someone else!” In between juggling a full-time career and her family, Schooler squeezes in the time to cater for family and friends. “I was recently asked to bake cupcakes for a wedding. Thursday night after work, I came home and spent the whole evening baking!”

Schooler has also expanded her hobby into retail. When Jim and Linda Burwell opened Mimi’s Family and Friends restaurant in Fondren this past spring, the Burwell’s daughter Heather– who also happens to be Schooler’s best friend from high school – suggested they carry her friend’s tasty creations. “The flavor changes from day-to-day. Sometimes they’ll ask for a certain theme, or a seasonal creation, or just whatever I’m in the mood for.”

By now, the cupcakes are in the oven and the house is beginning to smell like nutmeg. Schooler melts a stick of butter over the stove and stirs in an egg, sugar and a couple tablespoons of whiskey. She then fires up her lime green mixer and begins whipping a cup of heavy cream. The festive cupcakes remind her of one of her most ambitious baking projects – a seven layer coconut cake she made one year for Christmas dinner. “It was so tall that when I put it on the pedestal I couldn’t even fit the top over it!”

Once the whiskey sauce has cooled, she is able to fold it into the whipped cream. Schooler then spoons the mixture into an icing gun and pipes it onto her cooled cupcakes. As you bite into one of her individual treats, still slightly warm from the oven, the taste of cinnamon elicits holiday cheer.

Bread Pudding Cupcakes

Makes 18 cupcakes


  • 5 cups stale bread ripped into finger-length pieces (Bunny is my brand of choice)
  • ½ cup (1 stick) butter, melted
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 1 ½ cups heavy whipping cream
  • ½ teaspoon Nutmeg
  • ½ teaspoon Cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup dried cranberries
  • 5 large eggs

Place bread in large bowl and stir in melted butter. Add all other ingredients and stir again. Let stand at room temperature for 25-30 minutes. Use an ice cream scoop and divide the mixture evenly among cupcake liners. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes. Cupcakes are down when the tops are lightly browned and are springy to the touch.

Whiskey sauce:

  • ¼ cup butter (1/2 stick)
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons of your favorite whiskey

Heat the butter, sugar, and egg in a small saucepan. Stir until fully integrated. Remove from stovetop and stir in vanilla and whiskey.

Whiskey Whipped Cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 8 tablespoons whiskey sauce

Place whipping cream and sugar in stand-up mixer with whisk attachment. Beat on low to combine, then increase to medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Stir in whiskey sauce by hand until fully integrated. Top cooled cupcakes with the whipped cream.

Are you a clever cook or a brilliant baker and would like to be featured in the Northside Sun? Send an email to

Matchmaker, Matchmaker

Mississippi Magazine
January/February 2011

Looking back on their lives together, Fay and Francis Reid had a lot to be thankful for.  The couple lived through a World War, raised two children, and were later blessed with four grandchildren.  In 2002, with the approach of the couple’s 60th wedding anniversary, the Reid’s decided to put an announcement in the wedding edition of Mississippi Magazine.  

A few months later, that very magazine was delivered to the mailbox of Mary Nell Kemp Kuhlo.  Mary Nell, a native of Corinth, lived in Germany at the time and enjoyed receiving her little reminder of home in the mail.  As she flipped through the glossy pages, her eyes landed on the Reid’s anniversary announcement.  Mary Nell, the Reid’s son Marvin, and Mary Nell’s best friend Jane Dees Cozart – also a native of Corinth – had all been best friends during their time at Northeast Community College in Booneville.  Jane’s husband had passed away twelve years earlier and upon reading the Reid’s article, Mary Nell discovered that Marvin Reid was also a widower.  That’s when the wheels of fate and romance began to turn.

Mary Nell called Jane from Germany, told her about the article, and encouraged her friend to give Marvin a call.  “I told her ‘No!  I have never called a man before and I am not going to start now!’” recalls Jane.  She quickly put the conversation out of her mind until Mary Nell came home for a month-long visit to America later that summer.  Mary Nell, Jane, and several of their lifelong friends got together for brunch in Memphis.  Mary Nell shared the Reid’s story from Mississippi Magazine   with the group of ladies and her plan to get Marvin and Jane together.  “They all ganged up on me,” laughs Jane.  “I still refused to call him.  After that brunch, I thought the conversation was over -again.”

However, Jane’s former college roommate, Linda Wicker Kindrick, a native of New Albany, would not take no for an answer.  Linda called Mrs. Reid a few months later and asked how she could get in touch with her son.  Turns out, Marvin was sitting right next to his mother.  Linda convinced Marvin to give Jane a call, which he did ten minutes later.

“It had been 38 years since I last talked with Marvin,” Jane said.  “He had gone to Delta State and I went to Mississippi University for Women and we lost touch with each other.  But when we talked on the phone, it was like no time had passed since we last talked.  We picked up right where we left off.”  Jane and Marvin met for their first date six weeks later.  Forty two days after that, the couple married in Paris, Tenn.

The wedding took place at First United Methodist Church in Paris, Tenn., on December 7, 2002.  The couple’s children and grandchildren stood at the altar with them, including Marvin’s identical  twin daughters Allison (Jeff) Fracchia and their two sons Reid and Owen Fracchia,  daughter Amy(Charlie) Knighton and their daughters Abbie and Celeste Knighton, Jane’s son John (Angie) Cozart and their son Will Cozart, and Jane’s daughter Amy Cozart.  A wedding luncheon followed at the bride’s home for 100 family members and friends. The couple’s “ole gang” from their college days at Northeast Community College were present as well as many of the couple’s close friends.

Looking back on the chain of events that lead to their nuptials, Jane and Marvin are now thankful for the tenacity of her friends.  “This all happened because Mrs. Frances Reid put an article in Mississippi Magazine,” she adds.  “Mary Nell Kemp Kuhlo read her copy and remembered Marvin. Linda Wicker Kindrick never stopped trying to contact Marvin.  Marvin and I have so much in common and have had a beautiful life together.  This was all fate that ended so well all because of Mississippi Magazine.”

Working Girl: Upton-Neal Interiors

Stages Magazine
January/February 2011

Over the last twenty years, America has seen an increase in the number of eager women becoming business owners.  Susan Upton has been a familiar face in interior design for nearly two decades.  As co-owner of Upton-Neal Carpet One Floor & Home in Pearl, Susan has a knack for transforming homes while still finding time to play the ever important role of wife and mother.  Stages Magazine sat down with Susan to discuss the experiences she faces as a successful female business owner.

 LB:  Tell me about your business.

SU:  We are Upton-Neal Carpet One Floor & Home.  We are locally owned and operated so that means our customers are “buying local”.  This year we became a member of the world’s largest floor covering buying group – Carpet One.  This enables us to buy the best brands for less to sell for less.  It also allows us to offer the “Beautiful Guarantee” which means if you don’t love the floor you choose, we’ll replace it for free. We also offer “Healthier Living Installation” which is exclusive to Carpet One stores.  We are a full service floor covering and interior design store. We sell and install all types of floor covering, wall covering, countertops, blinds, and draperies.  We handle residential, commercial, builder, and property management. This year we became a premier service provider for several insurance companies. It is a great honor to be qualified to provide this service.      

LB:  What was your background prior to joining Upton-Neal?

SU:  I graduated from Mississippi State University with a degree in interior design and worked as an interior designer for two other companies prior to joining Upton-Neal.

LB:  What events led to you becoming co-owner of the business?

SU:  I had worked at Upton-Neal for 17 years. I was to the point that I needed to either become a partner at Upton’s or go out on my own. One of the owners at the time decided to move out of the state. God just answered a prayer and opened that door for me. 

LB:  How involved are you in the day-to-day operations of Upton-Neal?

SU:  VERY. Harold Neal -my partner- and I still sell and maintain our client’s accounts that we have built up over the years. We are very hands-on in every part of the daily operation of the business. I have actually been told that I have a little bit of a control problem.

LB:  How do you balance work and family?

SU:  I pray a lot. It’s a daily struggle to achieve that balance. If I am not careful, the store will consume your every thought before and after hours.  My husband and sons have always been so very supportive.   It would have been impossible without their support.

LB:  How do you fight the stereotypes some people may have of female business owners?

SU:  I co-own a business typically owned by men. So I do get the usual “So you and your husband own this together?”  Or “So Harold is your dad?” because there is 19 yrs difference in our age.  I am usually assumed to be the sister, wife, or daughter-in-law or something!   It does frustrate me to hear these comments because I have worked very hard all my life to achieve where I am in this business and I find it very demeaning when people “assume” a woman couldn’t co-own a multi-million dollar business without being related or married to a man in the business.  But I usually just laugh it off and just go on.         

LB:  What is your motivation?

SU:  I absolutely love what I do.  When a customer says “Susan, I absolutely LOVE my new house” or “Thank you for transforming my existing space into something beautiful and functional – and within budget” it makes the long hours worth it.

LB:  What tips do you have for other women who are business owners or are looking to launch their own business?

SU:  Most women are more detail-oriented and make great business owners and managers.  The hardest job in the world is to raise small children and manage a household.  If you have done that well, owning your own business will be easy!  You may want to start small and when you are ready, then expand.   Do not second guess yourself.  If you think you are ready to own a business then you probably are! 

Upton-Neal Carpet One Floor & Home
322 Airport Road South
Pearl, MS