Merry and Bright

Merry and Bright
Every December, this Vicksburg couple enjoys welcoming guests for plenty of food and fun in their sprawling lakeside home.

By Brenda Ware Jones    Photography by Greg Campbell

The expansive, traditional farmhouse enjoyed by Amy and Lane Campbell and their three young children seems, at first glance, much older than it is. The yellow-clapboard, Colonial-style dwelling, with its elegantly simple seven-bay façade, was actually built in 1989. With deep roots in tradition and plenty of room for a growing family, it is a place the Campbells enjoy every square inch of, especially when the holidays roll round.

“We had thought about building, but a house this size would have been prohibitively expensive,” says Amy, a Jackson native (nee’ Calvert). She happily adopted Vicksburg as her home town after marrying attorney Lane, who followed in his late father Frank’s footsteps and returned to the River City to serve as assistant district attorney and then eventually open his own practice. “And, too, finding a four-acre lot this close to town would have been a challenge!”

So back in 2017, when original owner Pam Powers decided to sell the dream home she had commissioned architect Paul Ingram to design for the rolling acreage on Stenson Road, the Campbells quickly jumped on it. The excellent bones were there, and space was plentiful; at 6,400 square feet there was no question it could hold them all.  “You have to understand,” laughs Amy, “that 1,400 of those square feet are the upstairs playroom.” This unusual feature sees daily use by the little ones, son Ellis and daughters Kate and Virginia.

The gracious entry hall, featuring a classic paneled stairwell with a contemporary iron railing (both added during their renovation) and warm diagonal-laid brick floors, leads left into the large formal living room and forward into a huge combined family living space with a family den, secondary dining area, and large open kitchen, all with a sweeping back porch beyond (a later addition designed by architect S.J. Tuminello). To the immediate right, off the entry hall, the master bedroom suite connects at the rear to the laundry and kitchen area and a second, private staircase. This feature, often seen in very old houses, is unusual in contemporary architecture. “What we loved instantly about this house is the floorplan,” says Amy, “with the old-fashioned amenities like this.”

“We actually didn’t do very much to the house,” she continues, then pauses, adding, “Come to think of it, we did a lot, actually! Fresh paint for every room, retiling several bathrooms, adding granite in the kitchen, and updating the look with all new lighting fixtures. But nothing structural was needed, luckily.” Amy, acting as her own interior designer, chose a bright, cool vanilla palette for the walls and incorporated many treasured family antiques in each room.  The living room furniture, including the piano, originally belonged to Amy’s grandmother. “These are some of our favorite things,” she notes, “along with a china cabinet that Lane rebuilt for me from a piece we had in our first home.” Lane inherited his love of woodworking from his dad, and another favorite feature of theirs is the old plantation shutters that conceal the large den TV, which were reclaimed and refashioned from Lane’s childhood home on Baum Street downtown. “Lane’s dad Frank built these, and they were removed during a kitchen renovation a few years ago,” she recalls. “It’s very special to have something to remind us of him on a daily basis.”

Selecting the perfect artwork for the walls was easy and certainly required no art consultant. Lane’s paternal grandmother Jane Campbell, remembered fondly by many Vicksburgers, died before Amy and the children could get to know her. She was a talented painter in oils and acrylics, and many of her colorful landscapes and still life compositions are featured throughout the house.

Upstairs, in addition to the oversized playroom, there are three bedrooms and two bathrooms and a central sitting area perfect for movie evenings for the kids and their spend-the-night company.  Older daughter Kate’s room has a charming fireplace, another feature reminiscent of houses of yesteryear.

On one night of the Yuletide season, though, the little ones are happily sent off to grandma “CiCi” (Lane’s mother Carole) so that the grown-ups can enjoy an evening of holiday festivity with their friends.  One year, merriment (and anxiety!) ran especially high when the brave Campbells hosted back-to-back parties on two December evenings. The first one went seamlessly, with many of their Warren County Bar Association friends commenting on their luck with the weather, which was snowy and freezing up in Oxford that night. The next morning, the Campbells awoke to discover that the frosty conditions had moved south overnight, and a deep snow had blanketed their world. “We went into full working mode at 7:00 a.m., securing more heaters, commercial grade plastic lining to block the wind on the back porch, and a shuttle van, since we lost all of our parking space in our yard. To top it all off, I had recently found out I was expecting our third child, just three days prior to these parties!”

Last year, Mother Nature was kinder, at least in the snow department. The occasion was a “Feliz Navidad”-themed Mexican dinner to entertain nurse practitioner Amy’s work colleagues from the River Region Pain Management Center, headed by Dr. Alan Torrey.

The house had been decorated for days; this is Amy’s favorite time of year, when her creative energy gets into gear.  Again, no fancy help or holiday stylists are called in—Amy and her family love decking the fresh-cut tree in the formal living room with ornaments acquired on vacations or from their parents’ trees from yesteryear.  In addition, “I have an artificial tree that I decorate solely with the children’s homemade things from school or church. They especially love to show off their new and old creations!”

Delicious aromas with a definite south-of-the-border aura greeted guests as they strolled in past the nearly life-sized Santa mannequin in the foyer. To feed the large group,  William Furlong, chief caterer at the antebellum Duff Green Mansion in downtown Vicksburg, was engaged to provide the spicy meal. “Mexican is a great choice on cold nights,” comments Furlong. “Also, it’s easy to serve buffet style, which is a plus when entertaining a crowd of any size.”

The large country-style kitchen, with its beautiful willow wood cabinetry is a dream workspace for any caterer; it’s oversize central island and serving bar are perfect for creating memorable events. Furlong and his assistant Cody McElwain had arrived early and set to work like happy elves, creating the savory offerings. Appetizers were placed on the bar separating the kitchen from the den, and the buffet dinner was served on a long built-in cabinet in the den area, which connects conveniently to the formal dining room. This arrangement frees up the dining room sideboard for a special dessert presentation and makes serving a crowd effortless.

Preprandial cocktails were mixed in a charming glass-walled corner room, just behind the dining room, that serves as the kids’ downstairs craft room during the week. Here, “their” special tree holds pride of place.  On party night, a chalkboard featured the recipe for the evening’s signature libation, “Mistletoe Margaritas.”  The party lasted until the last scrap of savory food was gone and beyond.

Winter evenings come and go, and soon this lively annual gathering has been filed in the Campbells’ growing archive of happy memories. Spring will come, and the three little ones will get back to their daily enjoyment of fishing down at the lake or capturing fireflies, frogs, and bugs.  “I have to remind them to release them before they bring them in the house,” smiles Amy. But one gets the feeling that, for this relaxed mama, adding a bit of native fauna to the eclectic mix would be no problem at all, even at holiday time.