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Good bones, simple pleasures

By Ellis Anderson //

When a friend called Wayne Gouguet with the news that a side-hall cottage was for sale in Old Town Bay St. Louis, he grabbed his crutches and made the drive from Picayune on the spot. Although he was hobbling because of an injury, Wayne had worked in real estate for years and knew procrastination is an enemy.

He and his wife, Marilyn, had been looking for a small historic home to remodel, and his friend’s enthusiastic description — “it’s a beautiful cottage!” — provided all the motivation needed. The cottage was not beautiful. In fact, it was a mess. So was the town.

Only two years had passed since Katrina’s unprecedented destruction. The city’s entire infrastructure was undergoing a messy overhaul, and in 2007, it seemed that every street in Bay St. Louis was made of mud. Many streets were lined with empty lots, abandoned buildings and FEMA trailers. St. George, a narrow lane running through the heart of Old Town, had its own share of sad scenery. The little side-hall cottage was one among many of the sad scenes.

But 303 St. George possessed something many others did not: good bones. The original house, built in 1890, is one of the few side-hall cottages in Bay St. Louis. Wayne and Marilyn recognized what it could become with time and vision and work.

The couple has lots of practice with restoration. Soon after they married in 1980, they tackled the makeover of a 1920s bungalow in Picayune. Although they eventually sold it and moved into a contemporary home they built, the passion for historic housing never faded.

So they purchased the gutted cottage on St. George and spent the next two years working on its restoration. Since the couple live full time in Picayune where Wayne is a city councilman (in addition to working as a contractor) and Marilyn is a private-practice therapist, they commuted weekends to work on the house. Wayne handled the construction end of the renovation, while Marilyn oversaw the interior design.

Just months after the purchase, the Gouguets were thrilled to learn that their cottage was included in the boundaries of the newly formed Bay St. Louis Historic District. It was created by the city council in April 2007 after an overwhelming number of property owners voted to establish one.

“Some people don’t realize what a positive impact being in a historic district has on property values,” says Wayne. “We knew that Bay St. Louis was going to come back with a vengeance.” Mississippi Department of Archives and History (MDAH) had a hand in the restoration too, helping out with grant funding and architectural oversight.

Working with MDAH, the Gouguets replastered the front rooms and sanded and restored original floors. In the quest for historic accuracy, Marilyn and Wayne also embarked on a historic scavenger hunt of grand proportions, seeking out everything from period door hardware and shutters to trim and mouldings.

Wayne even went so far as to find and install antique ceiling fans, while Marilyn chose a kicky contemporary lighting fixture for the dining room. She also opted for bright wall colors and contemporary artwork. Fortunately, her sister is the well-known artist Joyce Livingston King, who paints bold, strikingly rendered images of fish, crabs and landscapes. The juxtaposition of the antique, the vintage and the modern in the house seamlessly work to create a comfortable, timeless atmosphere. “I even love the detail of a historic transom window,” says

Wayne. “Seeing that wavy glass and knowing that it’s 110 years old makes you think of all the families and people who came before you.”

The Gouguets have met some of the people who came before them. The first time Wayne went to obtain building permits, he met Charlene Black, the city’s zoning official. When Charlene saw the address on the form, she smiled and revealed that she’d grown up in 303 St. George.

The Gouguets spend most weekends in the Bay and have friends lined up to reserve the two bedroom/one bath cottage on weekends when they can’t. One couple loved visiting so much, they ended up buying their own house in the Bay. Other frequent guests are still shopping.

And maybe, just maybe, they’ll be fortunate enough to find a house with bones as fine as the one at 303 St. George.