ABOVE: A Queen Anne breakfast table is set for coffee with Dresden china, mother-of-pearl flatware, and a silver sugar bowl and creamer. A Victorian urn stands ready to dispense the flavorful brew, and a Victorian server, with bird perched on top, holds nuts.
By Lewis Graeber III, AIA
Photography by Hickey-Robertson
Text by Estill Curtis Pennington
Beneath the groves of trees that dot the flat and fertile farmland of the Mississippi Delta, nineteenth-century planter built their stately homes. Today, life, as it is lived here, keeps pace with the present yet manages to recall the flavor of the Old South with a genteel mix of dove shoots and dinner parties, and an endless stream of good conversation, of which southerners are always in pursuit.
Belmont Plantation, the home of Carter and Nancy Stovall, with its gracious accumulation of family furnishings and treasures brought home from trips to Memphis and abroad, exemplifies the Delta style. Located outside Clarksdale, Mississippi, the one-story house, largely re-created from an existing structure built in 1911, rambles beneath the spreading limbs of an ample grove of pecan trees.
Although the property has been in the family since antebellum times, the original plantation building burned to the ground in 1932 while a Hollywood film crew was on-site shooting footage for the classic silent movie Cabin in the Cotton. The crew rushed into the house and carried out many of the furnishings, saving the belongings of Carter Stovall's grandparents even as his parents' wedding gifts, stored in the attic, were reduced to ashes. The senior Stovalls then moved into a smaller house on the property; to this they gradually attached additional structures, creating a delightful lodge.
In August 1983, Carter and nancy Stovall, having inherited the property, decided it needed a complete renovation. They engaged architect Lewis Graeber III to smooth out the lines of compounded extensions while giving it a greater sense of spaciousness, which Graeber achieved by opening up the old house with new windows and doors. positioned at each end of the entrance hall, colonial-style doorways with large fanlights allow visitors to look though the house and into the garden beyond. In the formal parlor and in the dining room, vast windows were inserted in the walls, permitting dramatic view of the sheltering pecans and oaks that account for much of the setting's charm.
All of the new millwork exhibits a meticulous craftsmanship. Cajun carpenters moved up from New Orleans during the construction period and made the interior fittings to the architect's specifications, giving the house a distinctive sense of handcrafting. Once workers had gone, Mrs. Stovall set to work with several designers and antiques dealers. Her goal was to combine a variety of family belongings, including several outstanding Oriental rugs and a fine collection of American paintings. To these she added English furniture, one of her great passions, as well as Oriental pottery and porcelain from her own family collection.
Because Mrs. Stovall had only recently renovated a smaller house nearby, a principal objective was to incorporate into her new residence many of the same stunning patterns she had chosen for her former home. Accordingly, she worked with jack slenker of Memphis to apply the same fabric to the entrance hall and to install the same window treatments in the parlor. Throughout the house, the owners' affection for the English style predominates. An English pine mantel with a neo-classical frieze reminiscent of the brothers Adam adorns the parlor fireplace. The English pieces that Mrs. Stovall located in London with the help of Jimmy Graham, a Memphis antiques dealer and old friend, add to the elegance of the rooms.
Perhaps the most delightfully successful room in the house is the dining room. Malcolm Robson, a renowned British expert in surface treatment, marbleized the walls. With Regency bowfront window spanning the western wall and a subtle palette of yellow green, the room has proved to be an ideal setting for two floral still lifes, a monumental family portrait, and an impressive Sevres dessert Service.
Some of the best-Known names in American art are represented in the owners' paintings, which include a sensational seascape by celebrated hudson River school artist Alfred Thompson Bricher and a quiet, golden, and contemplative landscape in the mood of the American Barbizon school, by Alexander Helwig Wyant. The Wyant landscape occupies a suitable place above an English sofa in the entrance hall, recalling with paint and canvas a love of the land the Stovalls share.
While diligently preserving the house's sense of the past, the Stovalls have imbued it with their won personal style. Mrs. Stovall feels that a house should be both elegant and relaxed, a place where one can feel at home, with dogs underfoot and art overhead. Perhaps, in the final analysis, this comfortable combination of manners and taste in the key to understanding the Delta and those who live here.
ABOVE: An English brass chandelier sparkles over a Hepplewhite table and Queen Anne chairs in the dining room of Mr. and Mrs. Carter stovall's home outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. Georgian candelabras and Kirk silver service grace the English Hepplewhite side-board against the far wall. The floral still life, painted on leather, were originally decorative panels.The carpet is a Tabriz.
ABOVE: A colonial-style doorway affords an intriguing glimpse of the garden at the rear.
ABOVE: Cotton fields stretch toward the horizon behind the owners and their canines.
ABOVE: Strie wallpaper from Clarence House provides a rich hue that coordinates with fabric from Bailey & Griffin in an English bed in the guest room. A French chair, upholstered with needlepoint, is stationed on a Sarouk rug.
ABOVE: The vivid berry-colored wallpaper sets off an engaging French painting of a woman carring an umbrella and a display of famille rose ceramic wares, ivory figures, and a small Oriental tree atop the English Queen Anne highboy.