Photographed by Jeremy Murdock.

Arts and Crafts

A Starkville couple creates an artists’ haven on the edge of the MSU campus

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Jeremy Murdock

The scent of the place drew Brent Funderburk in long before he could have dreamed he and his wife, Debby, would live there.

It was in the early 1980s. An artist who has exhibited internationally, Brent would pedal past the wooded property on his bike, headed to his nearby office in Mississippi State’s Department of Art. The modest 1930s-era bungalow sat back from the road, its verdant setting advancing.

“But I would ride past, and I smelled the most exotic smell,” Brent recalls. “It only took one breath to get by the house on my bike, but when I breathed in, I would smell heaven.” So great was the impression, it later inspired him to create a series of paintings and drawings he would entitle “The Breathing Eye.”

Photographed by Jeremy Murdock.

Photographed by Jeremy Murdock.

The celestial perfume was a heady mix from apple, pear and fig trees, fragrant junipers, cedars, pecans and a big black tupelo burnished fiery red every autumn. It came from flowers, vines and grasses, too, all of it the legacy of a gentleman everyone called Col. Scoggin, Brent says. The green-thumbed James Scoggin Sr. (U.S. Army, retired) was a longtime MSU agronomy instructor, the original and only owner of the 1938 arts-and-crafts-style house. He lavished his energies on the near-two-acre property. When it eventually came on the market, the Funderburks gave it a closer look.

“I was discouraged, only because it was just so covered up, but my wife is always the one who has prophecy in our family, and she saw something there,” says Brent. That was in 1985. “The Little Cottage on the Knoll” — the house’s name discovered on a set of original blueprints drawn by Columbus architect William I. Rosamond — has been the Funderburks’ sanctuary ever since.

Like Brent, Debby is also on faculty at MSU, where she teaches dance curriculum in the Department of Kinesiology. So, the house’s proximity to campus was a premium perk. Its aura and organic privacy were fuel for the soul.

“I liked that it was an older home and had had only one owner. And I loved the fact that there was a lot of room, trees, tomato plants trying to produce and asparagus trying to come up,” says Debby. “There were old beds of daylilies and roses … I loved that very much.”

With the exception of a few updates like central air, a dishwasher and additional electrical outlets, the ’30s-era house has remained “in the spirit of that time,” Brent says. Artistry is reflected throughout — in stained glass, prints by Walter Anderson and Brent’s own rich canvases, as well as Arts and Crafts, contemporary and Native American influenced pottery.

One room that has changed little is the compact 1938 kitchen.

“People from time to time suggest updating it, but we’re not the least bit interested. We call it a ‘one-butt’ kitchen,” Debby laughs. “If there’s two butts in there, then one needs to leave.”

In the course of raising two sons, the Funderburks occasionally thought of moving to something larger, they admit. In 2003, they opted to expand instead. 

“And now you cannot tell where the old house stops and the new house begins,” Debby says, crediting architect Briar Jones of Starkville.

Photographed by Jeremy Murdock.

Photographed by Jeremy Murdock.

Central to that project was a new expansive studio, where Brent paints and Debby develops choreography. A generous bank of studio windows and an added deck offer front row seats to the changing seasons — which can unfurl almost like a breathtaking Japanese folding screen, Brent says.

The house is an excuse to look out into nature, he adds. Nature became a reason for having windows.

He calls it all an inspiration, a “fountain of youth” for a couple that works hard and rests hard.

“We come home and become young again and then go back out,” says Brent. “I don’t think we’ll ever move.”

The house, the land — the big black tupelo, St. Augustine grass, pear blossoms, even the fossils Brent unearths — all are part of the history of this place.

“It’s an eternal cycle, but for now, it’s ours,” he says. “A lot of it was a gift from God and Col. Scoggin. It was here, waiting for us.”