By Ginna Parsons/NEMS Daily Journal
When it comes to houses, Frankie and Roger McMillin are gluttons for punishment.
“We’ve always bought old houses and remodeled them,” said Frankie McMillin, 55. “They have character and they’re bigger and we have a large family. But they can be money pits.”
In January 2008, the couple bought a century-old home on Bankhead Street, a block from the downtown business district in New Albany.
“It was in the middle of being restored by the Repaskys, a couple of engineers,” she said. “They were living in the house next door and doing the work.”
The house was originally built as a wedding gift for a Nesbit girl, McMillin said, and it stayed a single-family home for a long time. In the 1960s, it was turned into three apartments.
“The Repaskys were restoring it for themselves,” she said. “They were meticulous. They took up every piece of flooring and put it back. Underneath the house is a work of art. But they got jobs in China, so we bought the house from them. We undertook finishing it.”
McMillin calls much of what they did cosmetic.
“There were little windows on the front of the house and we put in French doors. We painted and hung wallpaper, put granite countertops in the kitchen and changed out all the light fixtures,” she said.
They also added a large screen porch across the back of the house and a pool in the backyard for the youngest of their five children, 16-year-old Madison, and their five grandchildren.
“Porches and swimming pools are two of my favorite things,” she said.
McMillin quickly admits she has no formal experience in interior design.
“It’s just something I’ve always liked to do,” she said. “I like living in old houses and doing it. Of course, you live in Sheetrock dust for a year and you tend to get grouchy.”
The outside of the home was much more of a challenge than the inside. While the Repaskys had done much to renovate the home itself – new wiring and plumbing – the outside was neglected.
“The yard was a nightmare,” McMillin said. “I had nothing but mud forever.”
Quickly, the McMillins enlisted the help of Robert Ballard, whom McMillin calls “the best landscape architect in New Albany.”
Soon, her yard was filled with old-fashioned hydrangeas, hostas, peonies, wygelia, azaleas, daylilies, oakleaf hydrangeas, boxwoods, cedars, spirea, knockout roses and camellias.
“I love to work in my yard,” she said. “The one thing I miss when I’m living in an apartment in L.A. is I never get to go outside and do anything.”
The couple’s daughter, Madison, is a model in Los Angeles and because she’s a minor, McMillin lives with her in an apartment about 10 months out of the year.
In fact, because she’s gone so much, the couple had put the home on the market for a while.
“But we love it so much here,” McMillin said. “Now we’re kind of iffy about leaving.”
It’s easy to see why the couple, both New Albany natives, is so attached to the home, which is situated on six acres with a white picket fence enclosing the large front yard.
The rooms are spacious with good lighting, and just about every piece of furniture in the house is an antique. There are five fireplaces in the home, which is filled with hardwood floors, and the staircase is original.
“We have a lot of interesting pieces in this house,” McMillin said. “We have a glass-front bookcase that belonged to Margaret Mitchell (who wrote ‘Gone with the Wind’). We have a floor tile from Saddam Hussein’s palace. Roger was in Iraq when they bombed it. Most of the rugs in the house came from Asia – Roger spent five summers tracing Marco Polo’s route through Asia, and he brought a lot of rugs home. And we have a piece of the Great Wall of China somewhere. I guess we get around a lot for people who live in New Albany, Mississippi.”