Building Memories That Make A Home
The Home of Stacey and Whitney Pickering - Laurel, Mississippi
In the summer of 2005, Whitney and Stacey Pickering purchased a home in Laurel with plans for an unhurried, thoughtful renovation. Stacey, a Jones County native, had inherited a house in Hebron where the couple’s family of six lived and that would serve as home base until the renovation in Laurel was complete. They had plenty of time to turn it into their dream home. Or did they?
On the morning of August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast and disturbed the plans and homes of many others in Laurel, including the Pickerings. The winds and storm surge left a two-day path of destruction, affecting more than one million people in the state of Mississippi. Jones County alone suffered 12 deaths, and seven of those were in Laurel. The Pickerings not only had major damage to their newly-purchased home, but the house in Hebron they had planned to live in while renovating also suffered damage. The family had a decision to make, so they moved into their Laurel home before any renovations had been started.
“I certainly didn’t dream of living under a blue tarp for six months,” said Whitney Pickering. “Coincidentally—and thankfully, Mississippi was in the middle of a drought, and after Katrina, it only rained twice between August and February, when our new roof was finished.” With damage from the hurricane, the renovation budget had to be adjusted to accommodate making the house livable again.
About the House
Sitting in the middle of Laurel’s historic district, one might be surprised to find that, unlike many homes resting along the famous oak-lined avenues downtown, this one is actually not on the historical register of homes. On the lot where the home sits now was a “twin” to the house next door, currently occupied by the Stinson family. The house on the Pickering lot was demolished, and the one we see today was finished in 1950, the only one in the district to be built in the Federal Revival Style.
Whitney describes several interior finishings that make the home unique. “The wood for the wall panels and book shelves in the library was harvested from the commissary of the old saw mill here in Laurel,” she said. “We are convinced it must have been used as fire safe room because we cannot get Wi-Fi in it today.” The house also came with several receipts and extensive garden plans that demonstrate the investment of its first owners, including custom drapes from Chicago. “A script from the year the house was on the tour of homes makes note of its Italian marble fire place and Venetian crystal chandelier,” she adds.
As the fifth owners of the house, the Pickerings have inherited some heirlooms along the way. One of the most special is a painting of the home given to them by its previous owners, Helen and Tony Groh. “Helen was a Laurel native. She and Tony purchased the home while living in London to enjoy in retirement. As a parting gift, an artist friend painted their new home in the U.S. from photographs.” The paintings—one of the front and one of the back of the house—were gifted to the Pickerings when they purchased the home, and it has become a family treasure.
Highs, Lows and Everything in Between
Along with what makes the home unique also have come memories that transform it into so much more than four walls and a new roof. The Pickerings have experienced their highest highs and lowest lows in this house. As for the highs, as a state-elected official, Stacey’s election night parties have been held in their home rather than in Jackson. “We’ve always wanted to celebrate with our closest friends and family right here in Laurel,” said Whitney.
Another favorite memory is their ongoing holiday tradition of hosting friends and family for soup and sandwiches after the candlelight Christmas Eve service at First Baptist Church. “Stacey has a big family, and we have friends here in Laurel that we consider family, so having a home filled with so many people we love on Christmas Eve is something I look forward to all year,” she said. “We also make our daily family breakfasts a priority,” she adds.“Both of us get in the kitchen to cook a big breakfast at home for our children before the day gets busy, and I treasure that time with all of us really present.”
As for the lows, Whitney was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, which resulted in her spending a lot of time at home. “Most doctors expect you to dread the thought of staying confined in your house,” Whitney said. “My first thought was, there are far worse places to be.” She added, “You really don’t understand how important your home is until you’ve dealt with an illness.” Whitney spent seven months in treatment with nearly three months of radiation. “I had a favorite chair in our bedroom that overlooked our back yard,” Whitney shared. “It became my window to the world. I kept it open even in the cold winter months to hear the traffic or the hammering of a nearby home being renovated.”
Getting Her Dream Kitchen
Today, Whitney is preparing the kitchen that she’s been planning for since 2005. First, the money set aside for the kitchen renovation funded the roof after Katrina. Then, along with cancer, came medical bills that had to be paid. Laughingly she shares, “I’m a little nervous to start the remodel for fear of what may happen, but I believe I’m really on my way to replacing my old blue countertops and creating my dream kitchen.” All along, she has kept a collection of pictures and plans, and she looks forward to working with the team at City Home Center and Rubies Home Furnishings to help make it a reality.
When you purchase a house, you never truly know how much it will mean to you until it becomes the place where the pages of your life unfold— for better and for worse. Whitney believes the kitchen remodel will be icing on the cake for a home that has served their family well for the last 13 years. We look forward to sharing the remodel details on the blog when the time comes.