Balancing Act

A blend of modern and traditional touches brings new life to a Highland Circle home.

Written by David Pannell | Photographed by Joe Worthem


When Catherine Thoms and her husband, Kirk, were house hunting in Tupelo back in 2012, they both knew there was really only one neighborhood where they wanted to live.


“We had our minds set on Highland Circle,” said the 36-year-old Catherine Thoms. “We just love that neighborhood, and my husband has family friends who live there.”


One of Tupelo’s most sought-after addresses, “The Circle” is a tasteful and well-coiffed sampling of older homes in mostly traditional architectural styles. But the house that caught Thoms’ eye was something of an outlier.


“It was a little funky,” Thoms said. “The front is traditional, and the back is super-modern.”

The “back” to which Thoms referred is the soaring, contemporary, two-story wing added in the 1990s to the rear of the original 1940s structure. Its sloping metal roof, severe angles and row of clerestory windows along the top of a wall are in decided juxtaposition to the ivy-clad vibe of Highland Circle.


Thoms, who has a degree in interior design from Mississippi State University and now makes her own jewelry, said she saw the addition not as a design liability, but as an asset.


“I immediately had a vision for the house,” she said. “My husband really didn’t see it at first, and my family thought I was crazy.”


Thoms’ vision for the house prevailed, and the result is a coherent, visually satisfying blend of old and new: a traditional home with a modern kick.


Thoms chose light, neutral colors for most of the walls and large furnishings. She said her personal taste, as well as current trends, are toward an understated, spare aesthetic.


“My taste is a little more clean and modern,” she said. “The farmhouse style was really big for a while, but I feel like it’s going away, and things are a little more modern now, less distressed.”


Thoms, whose husband works in the furniture industry, said their furnishings are a combination of old family pieces and newer finds.

“We have a lot of furniture that was passed down from family members,” she said. “We wanted to tie those pieces in and make them work. And then we have some that we’ve collected along the way and some that we bought specifically for this house.”


Thoms said using lighter, more modern materials and furnishings throughout the house helped establish continuity between the old and the new.


“We used a lot of transitional elements, like seagrass rugs and modern lighting,” she said. “And I like to add a pop of color with a bold accent pillow or a piece of art. You don’t want it to be too stark; you just want people to come in and be comfortable.”


Since moving to Tupelo, the Thoms family has expanded, and now includes their two boys, ages 6 and 4. Thoms said the renovated kitchen, open to the addition below and flanked by a screened-in porch, is a favorite family hangout.


“We completely gutted the kitchen,” she said. “We extended the breakfast area to make it feel more open and connected. We eat in here, and our little boys sit here and draw and color. We’re always in here.”


Thoms said she wanted to avoid any too-aggressive design choices that might scare away a future potential buyer, but she allowed herself one exception.


“Most of the house is pretty neutral,” she said. “I don’t think it would turn anyone away. But in the hallway bathroom, I just wanted something different. I picked a really funky wallpaper and painted the trim black, just because I like it. If it turns the next buyer away, that’s too bad.”


Reflecting on the finished project, Thoms offered a few design tips to others considering a home purchase or renovation.


“Trying to rush and get it all done at once can be a mistake,” she said. “A lot of people spend a lot of money building or renovating, and they’ll have a beautiful blank canvas. But they wind up with furnishings they didn’t put a lot of thought into. It ends up not really reflecting your style.”


Thoms said when design dollars are tight, consider budget-friendly options in some areas, and spend more on areas that have the most impact.


“There are always less-expensive options to get the look you want,” she said. “The two most important aspects of the house are bathrooms and the kitchen. I wouldn’t skimp there.”

When it comes to good design, Thoms said there’s no substitute for living in what you’ve created.


“Live in it and figure out what you want and what you love,” she said. “You’ll eventually make your house a home.”


Catherine Thoms Jewelry


Artistic by nature, Catherine Thoms spends lots of time in her sunny nursery-turned-studio handcrafting pieces for her jewelry line: Catherine Thoms Jewelry.


“I just have a need to create,” she said.


Thoms said the designs usually come to her serendipitously, while she’s in her studio listening to music or podcasts and working with the raw materials.


“I use materials sourced from all over the world,” she said. “I just love playing with them and seeing what will emerge.”


Thoms first started making jewelry as a hobby when she and her husband were newly married and living in Louisville, Kentucky. Now a busy mother of two, she sells her wares through an online store and barely has time to fill the orders for her expanding business.


Her jewelry is available through her website, catherinethoms.com.


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