Home is Where the Heart Is
A Southern curbside charmer puts out the welcome mat
She’s a real southern lady, clad in white, the perfect amalgam of tradition and modernity. If a house could speak, she’d offer you an iced tea and invitation to come in and sit a while.
“I wanted my house to feel like an old-fashioned home, but with a twist. Like an updated version of the old southern house,” says builder Mary Ross of her home in The Woodlands East Shore. The 6,000 square-foot-dwelling is a new generation of southern traditional, imbued with unfussy elegance and charm.
Ross of Mary Ross Custom Homes is the master of this template – spacious dwellings that feel remarkably cozy, warm and welcoming. Her home is open and airy with crisp white, big-block paneling and muted bleached oak floors that visually maximize space.
Current, fresh and homey. Full of natural light. And her favorite place to be.
“I feel like I’m on vacation when I’m in this house,” says Ross, who has a knack for interior design. A mix of textures and a largely neutral palette punctuated with soothing pops of color are her trademark. It’s a home of modern convenience, great flow and comfort, the perfect place for work, play and family.
You feel that vibe the minute you enter the front door, which, by the way, is smartly located at the end of the front exterior, giving one the opportunity to walk past a lush garden. Beautiful flowering beds, brick patios and verandas add to the home’s visual appeal.
“I always think the entrance to a home should be interesting,” says Ross, whose inventive entry hall has something most do not — a fireplace. It’s a great anchor for the space in old southern traditional style, punctuated with medallions.
“I think if you’re going to have an entry hall, it should be special,” Ross says. “You shouldn’t feel like you’re walking into a closet. You should feel like you’re walking into something really interesting, unique.”
Her entry hall is perhaps best described as a sitting area, not a hallway. So imagine a cold night. You enter to find a warm fire, comfy chairs and perhaps her Shih Tzu-mix dog, Happy, greeting you just inside the door. The entry hall is so inviting you might be inclined to go no further. “Happy loves it in there, especially when I’m not here. He curls up in a chair beside the front door and just waits for me to come home.”
The dual fireplace shares space with a large study immediately behind the entry hall, making its placement not only unique, but also functional for those cold days spent working.
An inspiration board in the study tells the tale of Mary’s work ethic. It’s peppered with page upon page of magazine pictures, ideas that get her creative juices flowing. “But truth be known, the real place I do work is the sunroom,” she says of an adorable cozy nook off the kitchen, replete with brick wall and herringbone brick floor.
This space, one of many in the house with views, looks out over the garden, with vistas of Lake Woodlands and birds flitting about her yard. It’s her favorite place to work.
“If I’m home working, 90 percent of the time I’m in here, sitting in this chair,” she says of a comfy number in the corner of the sunroom. “I practically live there.”
Occasionally, if she’s lucky, she’ll spot eagles that fly over from their lakeside nest.
“That’s really something to see,” says Ross. “Last October, I had 16 family members here and we all stayed in this house for a week, and it was the most fun. We sat outside at night and watched the stars, had breakfast outside, and two eagles came and flew over us, did their figure-8 thing and then flew back.”
Family and friends mean the world to this homeowner and it’s reflected in the many mementoes around the house – a vintage banjo that belonged to her father, a handcarved wooden mirror from a dear friend who was like a second mother, a pencil sketch of relatives drawn by one of her mother’s aunts, so perfect that it looks for all the world like a photograph.
“I have a lot of sentimental things in this house,” Ross says, pointing to a large wooden bowl full of gourds atop a buffet in the den. She purchased it from an elderly woman whose husband had just passed away. “She’d been in the antique business all her life and had broken her leg just after he passed away. She was just back to work and realizing that she could no longer do this all by herself, and she’d brought this bowl from home,” she recalls. As the woman told Ross her story, both started tearing up.
“She loved this bowl and gourds and she was so afraid to sell it because she was worried someone might not appreciate it and resell it or not take good care of it. So, of course, I’m in tears by then and I’m buying the whole thing, gourds and the bowl. I don’t even know the woman’s name, but I think of her sweet face every time I look at this. It’s one of my favorite things in this house. It’s precious to me because it was so precious to her.”
Also precious to Ross is a collection of lime green pottery her mother used as everyday dishes. “Those were my mom’s good dishes. We didn’t have any money so she would get them one at a time,” she said of her mother, who passed away last year. “Those are the plates we used for Easter, Christmas, all the time. My childhood memories are in those plates.”
The collection is in astounding shape for all its use. “My mom treated them like they were gold. They meant a lot to her.” Ross displays them in a dining room cabinet, the lime green contrasting with the room’s Sherwin Williams Needlepoint Navy walls. Bowls and plates from the collection look right at home in her autumn dining table setting.
“I love being surrounded by her things,” she says.
The upstairs of the home is just as enchanting, with a long, expansive hallway connecting it all. The master bedroom is a vision with a sitting area that overlooks the grounds, and a balcony off this space offers perhaps the best vantage point of the garden.
“I love to come in here and read,” says Ross of the sitting area, outfitted with comfy white couches from Ethan Allen. A fun candelabra-style chandelier hangs overhead.
Three guestrooms, a gameroom and a large utility room round out the upstairs, plenty of room for company to have total privacy if they wish. But in this house, chances are they’ll be gathering together for a hearty meal, stargazing or whatever else strikes their fancy.
“That’s what it’s about, family,” says Ross, mother to three sons, grandmother to two boys and two girls. “I love coming home to this house and I love when family is here too,” she says. “There’s nothing better.”
Text by Cathy Gordon | Photos by Susan Friday Photography | Builder: Mary Ross Custom Homesteve Hood
TOP IMAGE: Neutrals punctuated by blue make for a calm, elegant living room. Furniture by Laurie’s Antiques.
Home is Where the Heart Is