For the Love of Art

By TERRI GLAZER    Photography by ABE DRAPER

Once a college-town duplex, this comfortable cottage was radically transformed into an art-filled haven

After two major renovation projects, this former duplex is now a comfortable family home for the Kourys and their two children.

     When an artist and an art lover get married, it’s only natural that they start to collect beautiful things. So goes the story of Mary Madeleine and Michael Koury. 

     “My wedding gift was two Andrew Bucci paintings,” says Mary Madeleine. Those works by one of the state’s most prolific painters, along with a large and varied collection of mostly Mississippi art, now hang in the Kourys’ charming Oxford home.

     The couple continued the tradition of purchasing art each year for their anniversary and other special occasions. Michael explains, “Rather than getting each other something silly that wouldn’t be used or appreciated after a year or two, we decided to do that for anniversaries. We didn’t have kids, and we were renting a place through school at the time. We didn’t have a lot of overhead, so we would go in together and buy a piece of art for each major anniversary or holiday. Then, we could take it with us wherever we ended up. We knew that it could move with us through the years.”

A wall of floor-to-ceiling shelves in the dining room provides space for Michael’s extensive book collection. Mary Madeleine’s grandmother’s sofa is right at home in the space, freshened up with cheerful new upholstery.

     Chances are, their treasured pieces won’t be making another move any time soon. After completing two major renovations on a house near Oxford’s historic square, the Kourys say they have no intention of leaving their “forever” home. The place has come a long way since they bought it in 2013. The original post-war cottage had been modified over the years and served as student housing at the time. “A college student lived upstairs, and a college student lived downstairs,” recalls Mary Madeleine, “and there was no staircase in the house. You had to go outside and around the house to get to the lower floor.”

The couple remedied that situation during the first renovation project, which was completed before moving in. By cutting through the upstairs floor to create a stairwell that would connect both levels of the house, they were also able to construct a wall to better define the home’s entryway.

“We collect mostly Mississippi artists. Andrew Bucci has since passed away, but we were fortunate to meet him a couple of times through the years. Richard Kelso was our neighbor in Jackson; that’s how we got to know him and appreciate his work.” MICHAEL KOURY

        That new foyer area now sets the tone for the entire home. Filled with vintage and antique furniture, art, and books, this space is an homage to all the things the homeowners love. Handmade wallpaper sourced through Jackson interior designer Kathryn Koury, who happens to be Michael’s mother, sets an artful backdrop without upstaging other elements. Although the subject of the striking Jere Allen portrait is the artist’s mother, it spoke to the Kourys in a familiar way. Says Michael, “It looks like [Mary Madeleine’s] great-grandmother. We have a photo of her, and it just reminded us so much of it, it could almost have been a portrait of her.” The secretary desk, and several other pieces throughout the home, came from St. Martin’s Gallery, a former antique shop in Jackson, Mississippi, that is now closed.

     Just off the entry is a light-filled room that was expanded via a bump-out in the front wall during the initial redo. The project also involved adding an entire wall of bookshelves. “I enjoy reading a lot and needed more space for books,” Michael explains. The spot served as the living room until the second project, and the shelves still look at home as the backdrop for an antique, oval dining table and chairs.

The study defines eclectic design. Antique lighting and seating work perfectly with Mississippi folk art, a tribal-inspired rug from Anthropologie, and, of course, books.

     Extending from the opposite side of the entry is a study that is both bold and beautiful. Asked if she had any trepidation about painting all the walls and trim the saturated shade of green, Mary Madeleine says she felt confident about it, as well as her choice of burnished gold wallpaper on the ceiling. It’s no wonder she could envision the stunning finished product in her mind’s eye. The Greenville native studied art at Delta State and now teaches at the Willie Price Lab School on the Ole Miss campus.

     The cozy study is home to more of Michael’s extensive book collection, as well as an assortment of traditional face jugs. Created by Pat Thomas of Leland, Cleveland artist Ky Johnson, and others, the clay pieces add an earthy feel to the spot filled with mostly antique furnishings, including a vintage chandelier the couple found at Russell’s Antiques in Greenwood.

Cabinetry and countertops in crisp white blend with warm wood, brick floors, Mississippi art, and books in the kitchen.

     Freshened up in the initial remodel with new cabinets, brick paver floors, and a charming ceiling treatment fashioned from wood taken off the house’s exterior, the kitchen is cheerful and efficient, yet not large by today’s standards. As part of the more recent renovation project, the Kourys transformed a laundry room just off the kitchen into a scullery to provide more storage, extra appliances, and space that comes in handy as they entertain frequently.

     Even the kitchen is filled with art. From a pair of large Carl Blackledge abstracts that add vibrant color to another Jere Allen portrait to a trio of small pieces by the Delta artist who goes by the moniker Church Goin Mule, the kitchen walls are a feast for the eye.

The primary bedroom is a relaxing haven for the homeowners. Here, saturated color gives way to a lighter palette to create a serene feel.

     By taking in a seldom-used screen porch, the couple created a comfortable family room behind the kitchen, complete with the home’s only fireplace. “We had to have somewhere for Santa to come!” says Michael in a nod to their two elementary-aged children. The room’s many windows provide great views year-round. Leafy branches lend the space a treehouse feel in summer; when the trees are bare in winter, the view is a cityscape going all the way to the holiday light display on the square.

     The second renovation, which started as the COVID pandemic took hold in 2020, included the addition of a large grilling porch, providing a convenient and beautiful place for outdoor cooking, relaxing, and casual dining. The thoughtful design by architect Edye Conkerton of Taylor, draws the eye up to the vaulted ceiling and provides more of the views the family so enjoys.

Formerly a screen porch, this cozy room is now useful year round. It comes in particularly handy for Santa on Christmas Eve, as the setting of the home’s only fireplace.

     That project also involved a sizable addition on the opposite end of the home, creating new spaces on the main floor and renovating the downstairs to include a casual hangout area for the kids, a comfortable guest suite, and a light-drenched art studio for Mary Madeleine.

     Upstairs, the new living room and butler’s pantry are the stars of the show. Under the living room’s vaulted and beamed ceiling, the Kourys’ art has a place to shine. The two Bucci pieces that started it all hang above a rich red sofa, flanking an energetic floral by Carl Blackledge. A pair of Rod Moorhead Fury sculptures frame the clerestory windows, providing artistic symmetry.

The Kourys count two paintings by Richard Kelso among their favorites. The images are of his former studio, a place familiar to Michael and Mary Madeleine when they lived across the street from the artist in Jackson.

     As for the new room’s furnishings, Mary Madeleine says they were acquired slowly. She moved some pieces from other locations in the home; others came on board as the couple found things they loved. “We always had a mental list of what we were looking for,” Michael recalls. “It seems like when we were zeroed in on looking for one particular thing, we had a harder time finding that as opposed to having it happen organically. If we were shopping antique stores or consignment places and just found something, it meant more.”

Originally drawn as a hallway, the butler’s pantry is a showstopper thanks to its barrel ceiling, monochromatic paint treatment, and moody lighting. A large portrait by Jere Allen provides a dramatic focal point. Antique doors sourced from New Orleans lead to a home office/homework area for the children.

     The butler’s pantry adjacent to the living room is another spot where the resident artist’s creative vision produced a design masterpiece. Bathed in dramatic Benjamin Moore Van Dyke Brown from the barrel ceiling down and accented with glowing copper, the space is sophisticated and breathtaking. A third work by Jere Allen anchors the far end wall, while another particularly meaningful piece to both the Kourys hangs over the sink. Says Mary Madeleine, “[Artist] Bill Lester was my advisor at Delta State, and Michael loves [author] Willie Morris. I was at Russell’s Antiques in Greenwood, and I saw that hanging there, and it looked familiar. I remembered that it was hanging behind Bill’s head all those years when I met with him in his office. It’s his original book cover art for [Morris’s book] Good Old Boy. He had done three prints, and that was one of them.”

Brightly colored posters from the Highway 61 Blues Festival, some of the Koury’s earliest acquisitions, brighten the wall of their son’s bedroom.

     From the series of Highway 61 Blues Festival posters the couple bought early in their relationship on a student’s budget to the myriad of works they’ve added since, the Kourys’ love of Mississippi art in its many forms and styles shines brightly in their home—collected, curated, and designed as only an artist’s home could be.

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