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A Place Called Eden

A multitalented Mississippi native designs a midcentury modern house just outside Oxford.

When Celia and Frank Wood moved into their newly built home Dec. 15, 2019, they had stories to tell of their construction experience. During the journey, several incidents — including having to pour the foundation twice — slowed progress and sometimes fostered frustration. The end result, however, has made it all worthwhile.

The midcentury modern-style house is in Lafayette County, with an Abbeville mailing address. The Woods are both Mississippi natives: She’s from Greenville; he’s from Jackson. But after owning and operating Camp Windhover, a fine and performing arts camp for kids, from 2002 until 2014 in Copiah County, the couple made a westward move to Los Angeles, where their three grown children had migrated.

They bought a house in the Hollywood Hills in 2013, but when they decided to return to Mississippi in 2019, they rented an apartment in Oxford to call home until the new house became a reality.

If there was an unanswered question in the planning of the soon-to-built house, it was “where?.” Celia wanted to live in Oxford; her husband preferred outside of Oxford.

“Celia said as long as it was no more than 20 minutes from Oxford, she would do it,” Frank said. When he found 57 acres he loved that included 40 acres in woods, 10 in pastures/fields and seven acres in a lake, he clocked the drive to the property from the city.

“It was exactly 20 minutes,” he said.

It’s called Eden, this lake- and tree-laden green space that provides the earthen foundation for the Woods’ cypress house. (It’s also the name of a musical Frank wrote with his friend David Womack. “Eden” was the winner of the Eudora Welty New Plays Series and was produced at New Stage in 1992.)

One of the first things done was some landscaping on the property.

“We marked the trees we wanted to keep,” Frank said. “We built a floating dock on the lake, and I cut trails through the woods. There’s about a 30-minute walk on the cleared trails.”

The acreage backs up to the Holly Springs National Forest.

Let the Building Begin

The house to be built was designed by Frank, a retired lawyer who’d spent two years in medical school and one year in architecture school.

“I’m sure it’s a little presumptuous to design your own house if you’re not an architect,” Frank said. “But I knew what we wanted; I just can’t draw perspective. Thankfully, Edye Conkerton, an architect in Taylor, took my design and did what needed to be done so it could be followed by builders.”

And it wasn’t his first foray into architectural design. He’d had practice when he designed 19 buildings that made up Camp Windhover, including the lodge, which he considered a good trial run.

Frank’s affection for the work of American architect Frank Lloyd Wright proved a great influence on Wood’s design — from the contemporary lighting fixtures in the dining area and kitchen to the modern touches in furnishings.

His wife of nearly 50 years certainly had input into the design elements of the house.

“Celia said one story — one single story,” he said. “I accepted that, and that’s what I worked with. The paint colors? That’s Celia.”

The house’s interior has three bedrooms and 21/2 baths. An additional guestroom is used as an office. An extra room just to the right of the entrance was initially to be a screened porch. Instead, it’s a stone-floored den with windows that open.

To the left of the entrance, you’ll find the kitchen, dining area and living room, with built-in bookcases and a massive stone fireplace. Celia’s baby grand piano provides a lovely accompaniment to the room. The open floor plan allows you to stand in one place and take in the entire room.

“When I was designing the house, my kids told me not to dare hole their mama up in the kitchen,” Frank said. “So, the kitchen, dining and living areas are organized into rooms by rugs and furniture, not by walls.”

The cabinets and bookcases are all built-ins, and the kitchen countertops are a leathered granite.

The entire front of the house is made up of large windows, offering a beautiful view of the lake and surrounding property. When the sun begins to blind those seated in the living room, there are nearly hidden blinds for a remedy.

Off the primary bedroom’s walk-in closet is a safe room for protection from dangerous weather and other emergencies.

“Oddly, when we moved in Dec. 15, 2019, the house was not quite finished,” Celia said. “But the tornado sirens were going off, and we actually had somewhere to be safe.”

The house was 99% finished when the Woods moved in, and the builder, Jimmy Mogridge, finished the rest within six weeks, just before COVID hit hard.

Touches of history — family and otherwise — can be found around the house. In the middle of the entrance, you can look up and to the right and left to admire two leaded windows that came from the steeple of the old First Baptist Church when it was on Capitol Street in Jackson. Look straight up and a light fixture containing bits of stained glass hangs. The fixture came from Frank’s grandfather’s lighting store in Jackson, then hung on his grandparents’ porch in the Belhaven area from 1931 to 1998, before moving from place to place with Frank and Celia.

When COVID came, the Woods added a pool and spa just out back — for grandchildren and to give the couple a place to swim while the world shut down.

Frank has also made and placed signage around the acreage with names of places of significance in his life, Celia’s life and their life together.

“He did it for the grandchildren and for us,” she said. “And for him to remember his people.”

The Woods have two daughters. Katherine is a writer whose novels are published under the name Katherine St. John, and Alice is a musician who has scored films and television shows and is a writer as well. Their son Frank, an attorney who does title work in Oxford, is also a singer/songwriter. They have nine grandchildren.

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