By Ginna Parsons
SHANNON – Brit Harris and Billy Humphries knew they wouldn’t always be apartment dwellers. But they thought their first house would be ultra-modern, maybe a pre-fab LVL home with lots of glass, sleek lines and modular rooms.
“That’s where we were style-wise,” said Harris, 37. “And we ended up with the exact opposite of what we were looking for.”
What they ended up with was a big old Southern home complete with gables, columns and a big L-shaped front porch in downtown Shannon.
“We were told that the house was built in 1865 and that it’s one of the oldest in Shannon, but we don’t have any documentation,” said Harris. “We’ve done research, but nothing has turned up yet.”
“We would really love an old photograph of it,” said Humphries, 38.
When the couple bought the home in October 2010, the previous owners had put a new roof and siding on the home and replaced all the old windows.
“I wish they had left the chimneys, though,” Humphries said. “They chopped them off at the roofline and covered them with the new roof.”
But the two had bigger problems to worry about. There were holes in the ceilings, layers of linoleum on the floors, rotten floorboards in the kitchen and bathrooms and cracks in the walls.
“We told people, ‘It’s not going to take years, it will take months to get it in order,’ but it does take years if you do it yourself and have full-time jobs,” Humphries said.
Today, the house is a showplace in downtown Shannon and a place the guys are proud to call home.
Original floor plan
For a year, Harris and Humphries lived off-site and worked on the house after work and on weekends. When they got the kitchen and bathrooms in working order, they moved in to complete the rest of the work.
They replaced all the floor joists in the kitchen and bathrooms, and Humphries’ father spent weeks patching and repairing walls.
“We spent three months doing nothing but hand-scraping old paint off of every piece of wood in the house,” Humphries said.
“We didn’t know anything about the work we were doing,” Harris said. “We just jumped in.”
They refinished all the original oak floors in the home that were salvageable and marble covers the ones in the mudroom, kitchen, laundry room and butler’s pantry. White Carrara marble is in the bathrooms.
They hired workers to replace all the plumbing and wiring and the central heat and air unit.
“In everything we did, we wanted to keep the house as original as possible,” Harris said. “We didn’t mess with the floor plan. We did make some single doors into double doors to create some wider spaces.”
That moved turned up a pleasant surprise.
“We were expecting to see something neat hidden somewhere,” Harris said. “What we found was a Civil War soldier’s coat button. It had a nail driven through it and it was in the edge of a baseboard next to a door we widened.”
The home, with 2,400 square feet, has 12-foot ceilings throughout and a dogtrot-like hall runs through the middle of the home. On one side are the kitchen, laundry room, butler’s pantry and dining room, and on the other are two bedrooms, a sunroom off the master, and two bathrooms. The living room runs across the entire front of the house and a mudroom anchors the back.
“It’s essentially one story with an unfinished attic,” Humphries said. “The attic adds another 1,000 square feet.”
Warm colors, antiques
It’s what the couple did with the house that makes it so special.
For one thing, they painted the whole thing in soothing shades of whites, grays and blues.
“Every room in the house has been painted at least twice,” Humphries said.
“We tried color but we determined we’re neutral people,” Harris said.
In the dining room, the top half of the walls are painted Oyster White and the bottom half are Mindful Gray, all colors from Sherwin-Williams, where Harris works as an assistant manager. The fireplace and ceiling are a darker gray called Anonymous and the trim, windows and elaborate crown molding are all white.
“Typically, we have three colors in a room – the trim, the walls and the ceiling – but we wanted to be more dramatic in the dining room, so we have the dark gray ceiling,” Harris said. “All the other ceilings are pale shades of blue and all the doors in the house are painted Black Fox.”
For another, they have filled the home with antiques, from beds and chests to desks, tables and lamps.
“Slowly, over time, we have been collecting antiques,” Harris said. “We make weekly trips to antiques stores in the area. Our style is kind of rustic formal. We don’t just stick to one area. We just buy what’s appealing to us. We kind of want it to look like it’s always been here.”
The kitchen is breathtaking with its marble floors and stainless steel appliances. The upper cabinets are original and the new cabinets built below were meant to complement them. Exposed cupboards show off white dishes and a kitchen chandelier from Pottery Barn features what look like old milk bottles in a tin carrier.
“The kitchen island was an old office bureau that we got at Building Blocks in Tupelo,” said Humphries, a bookstore manager. “We raised it up to counter height and reworked the doors and topped it with a piece of marble. Because the bureau was so cheap, we could splurge on the top.”
Still more to do
The guys are hardly through with the home, which is hard to believe because everything in it seems so purposeful and perfect. But it’s largely the outside they plan to tackle next.
“In the very far future, we want to take the vinyl siding off the house and see the condition of what’s underneath,” Harris said.
They also want to put a circular drive in front of the house (they currently have no real parking) and a formal garden in the back.
They already have a start with 10 large arborvitae planted along one garden wall and smaller arborvitae interspersed with boxwoods planted along another. A fountain situated closer to the back porch was a spring break project.
“My dad walks through here and says, ‘You know you need to … you know you need to …’ and I say, ‘Yes, I know, Dad,’” Humphries said. “’It’s on the list. It’s just a very long list.’”