By Brenda Ware Jones
Photography by Sarah Bell of Selavie Photography
Architect Carson Looney, FAIA
Interior Designer Ann Parker
A love of hunting, and an expanding three-generation family, motivated this Memphis couple to create an expansive, idyllic haven for making memories.
Sonia and Rudy Watkins of Memphis had been enjoying many a fruitful Mississippi Delta hunts over the prior decade or so, when they finally looked at each other and said, “We really need a place of our own down here!” With a blended family of five grown children, ages twenty-one to thirty-three (Hallie, Rudy IV, Reagan, Colton, and Riley) plus two little grandgirls, they wanted a retreat that could house them all, and any future additions that might happen along. And so, the happy adventure began.
Fortuitously, an attorney of their acquaintance was selling a prime 400-plus acre hunting habitat near Glendora, and they knew at once that it could be the place to make their dreams come true. The plan and decision came together when retired farmer and friend Ray Hausner agreed to work with them on managing and developing the property. With the farm’s existing waterfowl and wildlife habitat, and rich timberland, the property only needed a house to make it complete. As for a name, that was easy for the couple to decide. “The firm that I own is called the Harvest Group,” says Rudy, “So we were keeping it simple!”
He continues, “It makes people ask, ‘why did you name your farm Harvest Plantation, and not something like Mallard Brake, Sandy Bayou Hunt Club?’ Well, the reason is, it provides the opportunity for my family to create a narrative to share our faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone who asks the question.” Rudy illustrates his point with a favorite scripture which says, “The harvest is plenty, but the laborers are few,” found in Matthew 9:36- 38. Also, he notes that Tallahatchie Country is almost exclusively an agrarian economy, and the people who live there are dependent on the success of their harvest.
They engaged the professional services of architect Carson Looney, FAIA, a principal with the firm of Looney Ricks Kiss, to draw the plans for what was to ultimately comprise some six thousand square feet of living area. Looney’s vision was a farmhouse vernacular style, clad in white-painted red cypress, with a tin roof, to blend effortlessly into the existing rural landscape. The garage outbuilding, with a full guest suite above, was designed to resemble a stable, that perhaps could have pre-dated the main house. Swindoll Construction, LLC, brought the vision to life and Good Winds Landscape of Memphis completed the project with lush plantings, aided by Professional Lawn Care of Drew. As a crowning touch for the sweeping property, they had a three-acre lake designed and dug beside the house site, which provides a serene view from the many windows of the dwelling.
Indoors, the same vintage-farmhouse-casual charm prevails, with many modern touches thrown in to create an eclectic ambience. Through the front door, a huge space combines the great room, dining area, and kitchen, for maximum togetherness when some or all of the family is in residence for a holiday or a hunt. The soaring cathedral ceiling of the great room is a glowing, polished pecky cypress anchored with massive darker beams that echo the warmth of the hardwood floors below. At the far end of the massive room, which calls to mind ancient medieval banqueting halls, is a huge fieldstone fireplace. Flanking the weighty chimneypiece are two windows fitted with old Gothic-arched mullions, an antique-store find.
Interior designer Ann Parker of Parker Design Studio was the natural choice to help the Watkinses furnish and accessorize their new getaway; she had worked with them previously on their Memphis home, and they knew that she was intimately familiar with their tastes and preferences. Her gift for blending old and new, to create the illusion of an interior that evolved over generations, is evident in each detail. The great room lighting is a prime example of her gift for contrast; illuminating the space is a combination of ultra-contemporary suspended cylinders and a vintage chandelier of two graduated wrought-iron circles. Additionally, as part of the design team, Parker also worked directly with Carson on designing the interior architecture of the home.
Art by native Mississippians is hung throughout the house, adding bursts of color and interest to the home’s ethereal white-painted backdrop. Helping select these pieces, including works by Walter Anderson and Clarksdale artist Hayden Hall, was art consultant Anna Wunderlich of Memphis.
Family meals are enjoyed around a weighty Jacobean- style refectory table, situated between the grand living area and the spacious kitchen. A charming bay-windowed nook houses a round table seating four. Additional contemporary stools at the island bar face the work space, clad with blue subway tiles and white-painted Shaker-style cabinetry. The sleek look is complemented by a large enameled black glass- front cabinet, selected to look like an old family piece for holding crockery.
The master bedroom is on the main floor of the “big house,” and here as elsewhere, a sense of elegantly rustic calm prevails. Whitewashed shiplap siding walls in both the sleeping quarters and the master bath provide a clean, crisp backdrop for the neutral textiles and simple, stylish appointments.
Upstairs in the main house, two spacious bedrooms with cottage-style angled knee walls provide cozy comfort to visitors, whether they are family members, or friends invited to spend a long weekend at Harvest. Sonia, who is in charge of the Women’s Ministry at their church, occasionally hosts retreats for small groups of parishioners, and Rudy’s consulting clients are often asked to come and enjoy the plentiful hunting in deer, dove, or duck seasons. Ann’s keen eye for apposite detail yielded up some charming antique- shop finds with a hunting theme, including a varied collection of old plates, which is artfully arranged on the hallway off the kitchen.
Above the garage wing, there is more space for guests of all ages. In one bedroom, delightful double built-in bunks each hold full-size mattresses, accommodating a total of eight—perfect for kids who want to stay up late. The expansive, central living area at the top of the stairs is furnished with comfortable nappa-leather sectional seating, as well as a ping-pong table and shuffleboard court. A compact “half kitchen,” with farmhouse sink, fridge, and microwave, is convenient for simple meals or snacks.
“We probably spend at least one hundred days out of the year down here,” says Sonia. “Honestly, this is a place where Rudy and I go to enjoy down time. We love spending time with our family—especially the grandchildren, and we hope there’ll be more of those! Hopefully, the next generations will use it, as we do, to get away from their busy everyday lives.”
One thing is certain: Harvest Plantation can handle whatever the future may bring, and will only mellow and improve with age.