“When you come to the party this evening we will ferry you across,” says Marci Hargroder. She resides with her husband, Dennis, in an art-filled, eclectic home situated on a bend in the Amite River that flows 37 miles from southwestern Mississippi through Greater Baton Rouge to Lake Maurepas. The Hargroders enjoy entertaining friends in their charming 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom house extended by four decks and a large screen porch overlooking the water.
Boating and partying are intrinsic elements in their colorful life on the river. “We do a lot of outdoor entertaining, including grilling, crawfish and crab boils. Our house is set up specifically for that,” Dennis says of their verdant river dwelling.
Aspiring gardeners, the Hargroders created a sprawling deck over their boat lift that is adorned with a container garden sprouting tomatoes, squash, and other beautiful vegetables and herbs that are picked fresh off the vine for the many parties the couple hosts throughout the year.
A hot tub and tropical plants add to the relaxed aura. “It’s a great place to look out over the river,” Dennis notes. “And you can walk right out the back door and get the boat.”
The rustic residence in French Settlement is an architectural triumph, and reflects the Hargroders’ love of nature, old building materials, and antiquities. Dennis is a partner in Circa 1857 Art and Architecture, located in the old Griffon’s drug store on Government Street in Baton Rouge.
The shop features antiques, original art, and architectural salvage from around the world and is surrounded in a complex by other unique shops, a salon, a restaurant, and galleries representing the work of more than 200 artists. A multi-talented entrepreneur, Dennis partners in the flower business and Stonewall Architectural Concrete while also dabbling in real estate.
A self-taught artist as well, Dennis uses mixed media including chemical stains, cement, and acrylics to create heavily textured “sculpture on canvas” in the paintings he exhibits throughout his home and shop. He also has a real flair for utilizing salvaged material in the eclectic home he has created with his wife, Marci. “I’m a pack rat. I kind of build around what I find, and my wife, Marci, is very good at decorating,” he explains.
Originally a camp, the Hargroders transformed the structure with “great bones” into an ingeniously assembled organic home styled from recycled materials. “We have completely taken it apart and have put it back together,” Dennis says. “We added a master bedroom and a master bath and bumped out the living room, using old tin and old shutters. It looks like a bass pro shop!” he exclaims.
Rising over the water like a giant party barge, the Hargroders’ residence is notable for its unique architectural elements. Constructed in an authentic style with everything from old fence boards that were knocked down during Katrina to shutters from Belgium, tiles from Italy, valuable sinker cypress, vines, tin, bamboo, stained glass, and a one-of-a-kind staircase, the house is a treasure trove of surprising elements for those entering the modest façade. “From the outside it is very unassuming,” Dennis reveals. “I haven’t done much to change the exterior from the road. People are very surprised when they walk in the door.”
A small entrance foyer leads into the kitchen with Italian tile flooring gleaned from an old villa. “It’s not your typical kitchen,” Dennis says of the antiquated room appointed with a 1940s gas stove, concrete counter tops, cabinet doors made of old shutters, and a ceiling designed with exposed rafters interspersed with old tin. “The ceiling gives it a Caribbean effect,” he explains. Above an old theater lamp that hangs from a beam in the ceiling is an intriguing collection of French wine jugs and Turkish earthenware. “I’ve been collecting stuff for years and years,” Dennis notes.
The L-shaped, eclectic living area is embellished with a cow hide rug, a Russian boar hide mounted on the wall, lamps made of antique stone balusters, an antique work bench, a painting Dennis did of Marci in addition to a fish sculpture he created from driftwood and copper. Art with banana leaves, water lilies, and fish enhance the sub-tropical aura. “I get inspiration from whatever I find,” Dennis reveals.
An interesting feature of the home is the cleverly designed stairwell area. Partially separating the living room from the stairwell is a large French window that is suspended from a wall, alluding to a partition. “I found the old cypress posts going up the staircase right here in the river,” Dennis says.
The stairs, made of sinker cypress boards, are adjoined to rails that are fashioned from black jack vines, rendering a natural, jungle-like effect. While sitting in the living room, one glances up to a dramatic peak adorned with a beautiful stained glass window. A ladder leads up to the loft area above the living room.
“There are look-out windows on either side and you can sit there, read, and look out over the river,” Dennis adds. French doors open onto the screen porch, which serves as an extension of the living area. “It all opens up when the weather is nice,” says Dennis. Art created by friends is exhibited throughout the home, including two paintings located in the dining room and upstairs near the master bath that are by the late folk artist, Bill Hemmerling.
“One is a nude that Bill did, which is unusual, and the other is from his Grand Isle series,” Dennis says of the acclaimed folk artist’s work. “We have a mixture of art, antiques, and new pieces we created,” he notes.
From sunset cocktail parties and cook-outs on the outdoor patio at dusk to quiet mornings observing the sun rising over the misty river, where bars of sunlight blaze and storms come and go, the Hargroders are enjoying the unique home that reflects their love of life, nature, and the pursuit of art. “We liked the location, at a big bend in the river,” Dennis reflects. “We started from there and changed things as we went along. We fit into the surroundings very well.”