Holiday in the Oaks

At the large two-story house on the southwest corner of Sixth Avenue and Adeline, all the holiday décor has been chosen and handled with care. The home will once again don its finery this holiday season with fresh garland swags, wreaths and ribbons.

The 97-year-old treasure is the home of Charles Dawe and William Waller, who will celebrate the holidays – both Christmas and Hanukkah – in the house with family, friends and co-workers. Having purchased the house at the end of 2015, and not in time to decorate for the holidays, this will be their second year in the house.

The men have made their home in the Historic Oaks District a showplace and never more so than at Christmas. With the help of designer and decorator Brandon Chase Welborn of Hattiesburg, the goal is always to have the house ready for the holidays by Dec. 1.

Built in 1920, the house is rich in history and while it’s had a handful of owners, it has been lovingly preserved and protected. Constructed by Louis Major III, the timbers were hewn in his sawmill, the Majors-Sower Sawmill in Tallahala. The sawmill also supplied the “best heart pitch pine,” which saved the USS Constitution, also known as Old Ironsides, from its demise.

The 32-year-old ship was considered too broken down and battered for use and ordered destroyed, but schoolchildren across the state saved their pennies to help save the floating vessel. The ship was also remembered in a poem penned by a then-21-year-old Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Repair specifications indicated that 6-inch thick, 12-inch wide and 40-foot long pine was needed to repair the decking. Majors was said to have hand selected every board, probably much the same as for his own home.

It’s some of this same pine that makes the house such a fortress – that and the steel construction under the house. “It’s built like a fortress,” said Dawe.

Renovations and upgrades made throughout the years by various owners, who had pampered and given it love, meant all that was needed was “giving it their own special touch.”

There has always been someone living in the house. It never sat vacant and left to survive the elements of weather and passage of time.

 “It’s changed hands quite a few times,” said Dawe, “and was renovated throughout the years.” Majors sold the house to the Conn family, who in turn sold it to the Burgess family, who sold it to Melinda Best before being sold yet again to Susan Thomson. Waller and Dawe became the next lucky homeowners.

In addition to the full two stories, the house also has a basement. There’s also an escape hatch from the basement through doors out into the backyard that Dawe feels like was also used to shuttle coal into the house for the many fireplaces. The fireplaces were not functional, but the men made sure to change that, feeling like the warmth and glow of a fireplace makes the house a home.

An attic, that is the same footprint as the first two floors of the home, is fully floored and with heighth clearance, provides ample storage, in addition to housing the home’s motorized system for the working antique elevator that comes in handy for moving furniture.

A detached garage provides ample parking for three vehicles with room upstairs for storage space or even a small apartment or office.

The downstairs of the house is made for entertaining with a flow from sunporch to living room, den and either around to the kitchen or out to the deck/patio area.

Because the house had been tended to, the two needed only make some cosmetic updates. “It was a blank canvas,” said Waller. “It was move-in ready and didn’t require any work, which was definitely a benefit.”

Wanting to preserve the look and feel of the home, Dawe and Waller painted, added wallpaper and added a back door out into the backyard to help with the flow of the house. The custom work done by Scott Pipkins of Hub City Construction mimics that of the doors on the back of the sunporch, with a transom and sidelights, which open to the backyard on the opposite end of the house.

“It was custom built to match and you would never know it had not always been there,” said Dawe.

New fixtures, which are more modern and contemporary, replaced the more traditional fixtures. They also added new window treatments and put their own touch throughout the house.

Large wine coolers in the butler’s pantry were also installed, as the couple likes to enjoy wines paired with a nice meal, many times prepared by Dawe, who loves to cook.

Much of the primary work on the house involved creating outside work, like creating a whole new landscape for the corner lot. “It’s something the previous owner(s) had planned to do, but never got around to,” said Waller. “It seemed like it had been that way for a while. That’s why the house spoke to us, because we felt it had so much potential with the exterior. There was already a nice front façade, but the back could be so much more.”


Worthwhile Investment
Waller and Dawe had previously purchased a house on Walnut Street, again in one of the historic neighborhoods.

“A friend told Charles about the house and that the owner wanted to sell,” Waller said.

“Being a Realtor, I needed to look and list the house,” Dawe added. “I put it under contract right after it was listed, but the buyers changed their minds.”

“When he listed the house, we had just bought our house on Walnut and we were happy and settled there,” Waller said. “But he loved this house from the first time he saw it.”

“It was the nicest home in Hattiesburg that I’d ever been in and identified with,” added Dawe, who explained that the house then sat for awhile before the owner decided to take it off the market and stay.

 “I would show this house, which I’d had listed for about a year, and time after time, while it was stunning, people realized all the bedrooms were upstairs and at the end of the day it was basically a three bedroom two-and-a-half bath (with half bath downstairs), so it didn’t fit a lot of people’s needs. There was also the detached garage with no dedicated path from the house to the garage, which was awkward, since the whole backyard separated the two.”

When showing the home to prospective buyers, Dawe would present scenarios to fit that particular buyer’s needs in an effort to dissolve their concerns in ways such as adding a master suite off the back of the house or a pool paired with an outdoor kitchen.

Through all of those efforts, Dawe gradually had built up a few drafts of plans. That said, once the seller decided not to sell, all thinking came to a stop. That is until about a year later when Dawe started reminiscing of his dreams and plans for the property with Waller. They decided it was time they took a look at the home for themselves.

Dawe and Waller approached the owner at that time and were able to work out the purchase and sale. All parties felt, “It was meant to be.”

That’s when they realized they wanted the house they had dreamed about for more than a year. The house was purchased and the work began.

Through the help of Tom Eaves and landscape installation by Patrick McCarthy, the partners envisioned a covered walkway to connect the house and garage. And with the walkway there was an opportunity to put in an outdoor kitchen, a larger deck, fireplace and pool with hot tub, which they knew they wanted. “It grew and grew,” said Waller. It was also important to preserve the look and feel of the home.

The wooden fence, which surrounded the backyard, was in bad shape, so what became a minor fence repair-and-fix project, became a leveling of the fence and backyard to start with a blank canvas.

“I spent four years in residency in Tulane, so brick walls and brick in general has an appeal to me,” said Waller, a dermatologist with Hattiesburg Clinic at Dermatology South. “It has a real New Orleans, Southern appeal.”

In the end, the fence turned into a full brick wall, which surrounds the backyard.

To the east of the sunroom, they also added an enclosed courtyard area with a gurgling fountain.


Entertain, entertain, ENTERTAIN
Because the men love to entertain and the house begged for holiday finery, the two have turned Welborn loose to work his magic turning the house into a holiday showcase.

While the actual decorating usually begins the week after Thanksgiving with a goal of being done by Dec. 1, they’ve actually met with him months in advance so Welborn can plan the design out, where it’s going to go and the quantity he needs before heading to market to make the purchases.

Last year for the holidays, the decorating was done while the couple was in Italy on a Robert St. John trip and following the filming at the house of the Historia Films movie, Demons, which was released in Hattiesburg in early October. The film stars local actors Miles Doleac and his wife, Lindsey Anne Williams, along with John Schneider, Andrew Divoff and Steven Brand.

Dawe explained that the house was featured as a bed and breakfast in the movie. “Only the happy parts were shot here,” he said.

Last year the home featured colors of deep blue and gold, while this year, red and gold are to be highlighted. There will also be plenty of fresh garland throughout the interior and exterior of the house, as well as with the trees.

“He really does a remarkable job, from the flowers to the garland,” said Waller.

The house needs to be in tip-top shape for Dawe’s work party, which involved probably 200 people, Waller’s office party and other get-togethers with friends. Last year they even hosted The Oaks District Christmas party for their neighbors, which they say have been very accepting and inclusive of their move into the neighborhood. “They have really embraced us,” said Dawe. “We have great neighbors all around. They are fantastic. People had not come into this house for several years, so they enjoyed seeing what we had done.”

 “The house is perfect for entertaining and the flow is perfect,” said Waller. “It also makes it nice that the entire downstairs is entertaining space and there are no rooms we have to close off.”

Now that they have one year of decorating behind them, they know how many feet of garland is required and may actually use a combination of fresh paired with some artificial, which would allow them to reuse at least part of it. “The fresh is such a mess and trying to keep it looking good is difficult, especially if the weather is hot, which means it dies even quicker,” said Waller.

The iron fence between the pool and garage area is even complimented with swags and ribbon.


Festival of Lights
In addition to Christmas, Hanukkah (the Festival of Lights) is also celebrated.

Dawe, who hails from Athens, Ga., was raised Jewish, having been bar mitzvahed and confirmed. “My mom is Jewish and my dad is Catholic, so we always had a Christmas tree, presents and ornaments,” Dawe said. “But we also had a menorah (the nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day festival, with one candle being lit each night), which Dawe describes as a “unique and powerful little vessel.”

He has one that his mother gave him and another gifted by Waller.

 “The holidays were a mixture, so we always celebrated both. It’s kind of what we do here, celebrate both.”

 Last year’s decorations included both a Menorah and dreidel, which was used to teach Jewish children the Hebrew alphabet.

A product of Jackson, Waller grew up in a house where Christmas was a big event. “The house was decorated from ground to roof and it was a family affair,” he remembers. “We had a night where we decorated the tree and another where we put lights out. My mom was a wreath-on-every-window type of Southerner. Some of what we do here is reminiscent of my family’s traditions.”

Throughout the house, Welborn uses banks of red poinsettias to provide both the sunporch and den with additional bursts of color.

A large tree in the great room fills the evergreen requirement, unless Welborn feels they need another. There is a smaller bare-limbed gold tree with minimal ornaments used in the den, which provides a hint of the barren winter landscape. And a small tree adds some Christmas spirit to the outdoor kitchen.

Personalized stockings are hung by the fireplace and that includes ones for the two four-legged members of the family, Topher, a sandy-colored cocker spaniel, and his lady friend, Stella, a black-and-white spaniel.

“They get lots of bones and treats,” Dawe said.

Original to the house is a very large antique mirror, which hangs in the foyer. “We dare not touch it,” said Dawe, of the mammoth piece. While some of the silver is peeling from the back, the mirror has aged well. “It’s fun to mix the more modern pieces with the historic,” Dawe said. “It really makes it pop.” The mirror gets its own holiday decor.

When decorating, Welborn takes into account the artwork the men have collected on their travels through Italy, Greece, other parts of the United States, New Orleans and even from artists right here in the Hub City. They also try to mix up the types of art they display making sure all their artwork in not just oil and canvas. An example is a beautiful and colorful Murano glass bowl vase placed on a table in the dining room. “It’s a unique and really special piece,” said Dawe.

“We like the simplicity of Chase’s arrangements,” said Waller. “We like some of the monotones, because we didn’t want anything too busy that would compete. We feel our décor is more of a minimal/contemporary style,” added Dawe. Chase also ties things in with the drapes, which are a blue and is also a color used in the Jewish faith.

Last year’s color scheme included white roses and the bright green of Belles of Ireland.

The lighting fixtures also featured swags of fresh garland. Other décor touches included a Moravian star, which adds a touch of holiday glitz.

While fresh garland flanks the front-door surround, wreaths with red ribbon gave a festive touch to the windows on the downstairs façade. This year small wreaths will also be placed on the upstairs windows to provide continuity.

A bit of holiday décor finds its way upstairs along the wrapped banisters. “It can get a little overwhelming and it’s nice to be able to escape up there,” said Waller.

While a new decorating color scheme is being used this year, all the previous decorations, which is quite massive, are stored away and will eventually be rotated back through, providing a legacy for years to come.