Building a house in a historic neighborhood sounds dreamy and daring. See the magic happen in Mississippi.
New Roots with Old Soul
Oxford, Mississippi, was love at first sight for lawyer turned interior designer Virginia Mary Brown. When she and her now-husband, Ray, began dating, he would take her to visit the old college town, where his family has deep roots. She was instantly charmed by the picturesque square and the shady streets, which inspired the setting in many Faulkner novels. Although the couple ultimately settled in Houston, Texas, Oxford would always remain their special getaway.
Fast-forward two decades: Their oldest son, Ray Brown, III, enrolled at the University of Mississippi, providing them the perfect opportunity to build a second home in Oxford. After scoring a downtown property, they selected a 2,600-square-foot Southern Living House Plan (Turnball Park, plan 1124, by Moser Design Group, Inc.). Brown knew that the exterior's classic front columns and two-story porch would immediately connect their new home with Oxford's older buildings. Though she decided to construct from the ground up, the last thing she wanted was a home that felt, well, new. A few architectural details, such as tongue-and-groove paneling and wide-plank floors milled from reclaimed pine beams, contributed to the mature look. "Textured materials add age to a new house," says Brown. "They help make everything feel softer and more relaxed." Next, she juxtaposed those building elements with a black, white, and blue color scheme that gave the place a fresh, graphic vibe. Here, the designer shares her best techniques for transforming a new house into a warm and comfortable home.
Pick a Classic Palette
"Because the house sits in a historic-preservation district, going with a white exterior was a no-brainer," says Brown, who picked out Benjamin Moore's White Dove (OC-17) to coat the Southern vernacular house. Other touches like the black window sashes (Benjamin Moore's Phelps Black, DC-22) and "haint blue" porch ceiling (Sherwin-Williams' Bravo Blue, SW 6784) were inspired by neighboring properties. Brown opted for a classic Outdoor Original fan by Hunter to cool the porch, and she covered the chain on the Ballard Designs Sunday Porch Swing with rope.
Harmonize High and Low
One secret to Brown's sophisticated but unpretentious home is how she seamlessly blends one-of-a-kind finds with discount-store purchases. In the living room, for example, luxe details like custom upholstery and antique-auction furnishings mingle well with bargain buys such as a modern flower chandelier from Ikea.
Believe it or not, this modern color palette of black, brown, and white is rooted in the great outdoors. "When I think of Oxford, I immediately envision its towering trees," says Brown, who sought to create a woodsy vibe to run throughout the home. Her starting point: the tree-adorned Arbre de Matisse Reverse Brown on Tint fabric by China Seas (quadrillefabrics.com), which she used on two bold club chairs in the living room. Other nature-inspired accent pieces in the space include the oversize rattan hurricane and the landscape painting over the fireplace. To ensure the room's look didn't skew too rustic, Brown layered in sleek pieces like the lacquer-and-acrylic plastic coffee table to balance out the earthy finds.
The living room's marble-topped chest was an auction find. "I like for every room to have one genuine antique," says Brown.
Embrace Old Treasures
Brown was drawn to the home's large 16- by 17-foot dining room floor plan and searched to find a well-proportioned table for the area. The winner was an antique pine piece that easily seats 10 and came with its imperfections. "It's elegant, but it can also take a beating," says Brown. She mixed it with gray wicker chairs and a sky blue lantern to complete the look.
Every ceiling in the house is painted Benjamin Moore's Lavender Wash (CSP-515). "It brings freshness," says Brown.
High contrast reigns in the kitchen: ebony cabinetry topped with marble counters, white subway tile set in charcoal grout, and a Randolph Morris Fireclay Farmhouse Sink with a Bridge Style Kitchen Faucet in Polished Nickel. Brown accessorized with quirky pieces like a lamp constructed from wooden craft sticks and a bust of Thomas Jefferson. Brown boosted efficiency by moving the KitchenAid appliances to the perimeter and saving the island for prep work.
Make One Bold Move
"Powder rooms are where I really like to go all-in with a pattern," notes Brown. She covered this barely 3 ½-foot-wide space with Fireworks by Albert Hadley (donghia.com). "I've been eyeing this wallpaper for years," she adds. Classic black-and-white selections, including an American Standard pedestal sink, a Louis Philippe mirror, and a series of framed cartoon sketches, round out the small space.
Explore Unused Territory
Keen on utilizing every square inch of the floor plan, Brown managed to fit in an office at the top of the steps. "It's made the house for us," she says. "Ray and I both get so much work done there." Passed down from her grandmother (also named Virginia Mary), the mahogany desk anchoring the area is so pretty that it almost outshines the expansive gilded mirror hanging above it.
Settle on a Restful Shade
Brown's favorite color, lavender, appears throughout the home, and it makes an especially prominent statement in the master bedroom. She stitched together two different curtain panels—Seraphine in French Gray by Les Indiennes on the outside and Ballard Designs' premade solid panels on the inside—and hung them from a Reid Classics bed that was handcrafted in Dothan, Alabama
A Fresh Spin
Spatterware-inspired linens by Biscuit Home (Austin Shams and Duvet in Blue) ease the canopy bed's formality.
Go Big in Small Spaces
Some might shy away from large-scale artwork in a compact bedroom (in the home's original floor plan, the one shown above was just a storage area), but not Brown. In fact, she finds oversize artwork has more impact in a small space. Case in point: the bird prints hung on either side of the black spindle bed. Combined with a subtly patterned wallpaper and a seagrass floor covering, the large prints help the room feel comfortably snug.
Stick with Old Standbys
"Some things are timeless for a reason," says Brown. She used tried-and-true (and affordable!) materials like botanical prints and subway and hex tiles to pull together the finishing touches for the guest bath. Little extras such as sets of plush monogrammed towels and a small brass table lamp provide posh accents in the space.
Create an Outdoor Hangout
The back porch presents a foolproof formula for coziness: Start with gray-painted floorboards and a large brick fireplace, add a foursome of woven chairs and a wrought-iron coffee table, and then finish with interior-worthy niceties like a jute rug and hanging mirror. (See also: the ever-popular flat-screen television.) The four La Jolla Lounge Chairs from Restoration Hardware are constructed from a durable all-weather wicker material. Brown chose multiple chairs in lieu of a sofa, thanks to their versatility (she says they're easier to rearrange). In the fall, everyone watches football out here.
Buy the Plan
The Browns built their Oxford classic from the Turnball Park plan (1124). Although they hired architect Dillon Kyle to tweak their plan to include a fourth bedroom, Southern Living House Plans offer modification services as well. To find the details for this house and hundreds more, visit houseplans.southernliving.com.