La Bella Vita

Formal meets casual in an eclectic union at Judith and Lex Jackson’s secluded slice of heaven

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Matt Garner

A long, graveled drive lined with sycamores leads to Lex and Judith Jackson’s “little slice of heaven” in eastern Oktibbeha County.

Surrounded on all sides by beguiling vistas, the home known colloquially as The Cedars long ago eclipsed its humble beginnings as a concrete-block guys’ getaway used by Lex and friends. Today it embraces a distinctive style, one thoughtfully created by the couple during their 24 years of marriage. It is a seamless blend of continental sophistication and relaxing informality.

“Lex calls it ‘chandeliers and hay bales,’” laughs Judith, passing a side table topped with European-style statuary and flanked by primitive wooden farm implements leaning against the wall. The juxtaposition works and is subtly repeated throughout this home the Jacksons share with five dogs and four cats. (Plus one horse in the pasture.)

“My philosophy is to bring together what you love and throw all of it in together,” the former art education major and elementary school art instructor says. “If you love it, it will work.”

The house is lustrous in white, inside and out, and reflects Judith’s love of Italianate architecture and design. French Country influences make themselves at home, too.

“I think it’s a perfect palette for anything you want to do,” she asserts, referring to the Benjamin Moore White Dove wall color used throughout.

It is a perfect foil for a discriminating collection of artwork that enhances the appeal of each welcoming room.

“We’ve added on and taken off and added on again,” explains Lex, owner of Reed’s of Columbus and Starkville. Each construction phase, carried out by builder Gene McCool of Columbus, brought The Cedars closer to its current look and function. Along the way, it has been important to both Judith and Lex to preserve the character of the old structure. Appreciation for the past is evident in the Jackson’s use of original doors, floors or walls where possible, in square nails in plank flooring, in beam sections from beneath the house re-purposed as transoms in doorways.

“Lex and I are kindred spirits in our idea of where we wanted to live and what we wanted to do with this place,” Judith emphasizes.

Much of what they wanted to do was outdoors.

“We’re outside people,” Lex laughs. “Anywhere outside is our favorite spot.”

That shows everywhere on the grounds — in a joyously free-form “picket fence garden,” and a more formal Italian-esque garden Judith planted at the home’s entrance. An eight-acre lake and deck, a pool and a patio overlooking the water offer a choice of intimate venues for conversation and entertaining. Topping the list, however, is a three-sided, stone outdoor living room and kitchen the Jacksons call the pool house.

“We’ll watch football out here all fall; we love it here,” says Judith, following a pebbled pathway on toward a remarkable greenhouse where most of her horticulture projects begin. She is a tireless gardener, whose idea of a great day is never having to leave her driveway.

“There’s such a sense of accomplishment that you planted 99 percent of the things around your house … just to be a caretaker of this beautiful spot in Mississippi is wonderful to me,” she says.

Her advice to others creating their own unique environment is to be patient, to listen to everything your home is telling you.

“Don’t try to do everything overnight,” she smiles. “Enjoy the process. Enjoy getting there.”