A Palace in the Prarie

A Clay County couple brings Old World grandeur to the Mississippi countryside.

Story Jan Swoope | Photographs Matt Garner

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

At first glance, a vista of verdant pastureland in Clay County, dotted with grazing cattle and a few horses, may seem like any other setting of pastoral beauty to the casual passerby. But closer inspection reveals an unexpected delight for the eye — a stunning Tuscan-style retreat rising from the rural Mississippi Prairie.

Inspired by Italian villas they have visited, Christy and Milton Sundbeck of West Point created a richly textured enclave of distinctive architecture, warm colors and livable spaces.

“I loved fairy tales when I was little,” admits Christy, standing beneath one of many interior architectural arches that evoke Mediterranean charm throughout the 15,000-square-foot complex completed in 2006. Remnants of that penchant for fables of old, complete with castles, filtered into the vision for a unique sanctuary.

The Sundbecks worked closely with Austin, Texas-based architect Luis Jauregui and contractor Burks Mordecai Builders Inc. of Columbus on the project.

The couple was hands-on from start to finish. Knowledgeable in construction, Milton, for example, elected to set the home’s massive foundation on steel- and concrete-filled piers bored in limestone bedrock 15 feet below the soil surface, to better support the weight of the structure wrapped in stone from a quarry in Oneonta, Ala.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Photographed by Matt Garner.

Throughout the design stage, it was important to both Christy and Milton that the house meld with its environment and that windows tall and wide allow natural light and sweeping views.

“It may seem crazy, but we built all of this house to enjoy the outdoors,” Christy says, smiling.

Most of the furnishings, fabrics and antiques were selected by the Sundbecks, although designers Steve Bengel of West Point and Curtis Knight of Oxford assisted with elements of the interior. Helen Pridmore of Lighting Unlimited in Columbus was an invaluable resource with lighting selections. The cohesive palette of earth colors and accents that infuse each high-ceilinged room was Christy’s choice.

“I love neutrals, but neutrals with life,” she explains. Christy also selected the extensive array of tiles Jauregui’s team used to master effect in creating floor and ceiling designs worthy of an artist’s canvas.

For all its grand scale, the Sundbecks’ home is lived in. A comfortable place, where college-age children can bring friends, where nephews and nieces can fish, hunt, swim or go for a horseback ride. A welcoming place, embracing Old World romance and contemporary lifestyles.

“One of my dreams had been to build a stone house some day; I’d thought about it for a long time,” shares Milton. “Now, it’s like a dream that came true, and we enjoy it every day.”