JoAnne Oliver has lived in The Highlands for six years. She and her husband, Gary Wright, are from Memphis and both graduated from Ole Miss. The two have known each other since they were 12-years-old, reconnecting many years later after both had been married to other people and had children. In fact, Oliver was living in New Orleans and her husband in Orlando, Fla. when they met again. They’ve been married now for 15 years and have five children, Oliver’s three and Wright’s two.
Oliver and Wright bought the lot in The Highlands and thought one day they’d build their dream home there and enjoy the quiet, peaceful life that the countryside offered. Then her husband became ill with leukemia, and Oliver said that ‘one day’ became more immediate and important.
“We started the house when we went to Vanderbilt for treatment,” Oliver said, “with the trust that he’d be OK. And he was, thank God. He’s a walking miracle and is just doing great now.”
Oliver said that it took 14 months to build their home and both of them are thrilled with the way it turned out.
Oliver is an artist, an abstract painter whose breathtakingly stunning work hangs throughout the home, along with many other extremely beautiful pieces of art by different artisans. From pottery to furniture, to paintings and eclectic pieces of wood that showcase the couple’s good taste when it comes to the décor of their home; the atmosphere that fills the house is welcoming and relaxing, all the things she said they were looking for when they imagined their dream home.
“I have my studio here, which I love,” Oliver said. “I do some landscapes, but primarily abstracts, which a gallery in Hot Springs always showcases for me on commission.”
Oliver and her husband almost totally designed the house, since they had a definite idea of what they wanted before they ever began.
“We wanted a one-story, U-shaped house for all the kids,” she said. “My brother and sister also went to Ole Miss and all their children came here, plus seven of their grandchildren graduated from here. My brother and sister both have condos here, but this is home for all of us. This is the congregating place for the whole family.”
Oliver said technically the house has six bedrooms, but only four that are actually slept in. One is used as an office for her husband, who sells banking equipment, and one is her art studio.
The house has a unique feature that Oliver absolutely adores and that is that the house’s floors and countertops are made entirely from concrete.
“Concrete countertops and floors are all I have in my home,” she said. “I had a Bulgarian artist out of Orlando who made all of my light fixtures for me. And most of the art in the home, except for maybe two pieces; we actually know the artists or potters personally now. We have a pretty extensive art and pottery collection. And the concrete is just a wonderful complement.”
Oliver said she and her husband decided on concrete because she was a faux finish artist for many years and had worked in New Orleans and across four states, commercially and residentially.
“It was beating my body up doing that,” she said. “So, I decided it would be good for me to go into the concrete business. About 1999, I started staining concrete and doing concrete countertops. So, that was a pretty long time ago and it was a hard concept to sell because people were used to it at Home Depots, commercial buildings, Wal-Mart; those kinds of places. But more and more, New York, Dallas, Atlanta; your bigger cities, Chicago, had started using concrete for their flooring in contemporary buildings and new construction. And people saw the beauty of it. It’s cost-effective, easy to clean; there are no grout lines; we didn’t choose to score this house, so they’re no lines at all in the flooring; it’s just a solid pour. And I truly like the cleanliness of it.”
Oliver said one misconception people have about concrete is that it’s automatically cold all of the time.
“Technically, it stays three to five degrees warmer than brick or tile year round,” she said. “And that’s because it’s your flooring. Brick and tile, once they’re laid over the concrete slab, there is always pressured air trapped between them. Concrete may give the illusion of being colder, but technically it isn’t. I just wouldn’t have anything else.”
Over one of the beautiful countertops in the kitchen, Oliver has a very distinctive mirror hanging above it.
“It’s a 1920s carousel mirror,” Oliver said. “Just like the carousel you’d ride at the fair as a child. The mirrors would surround the carousel from the inside and you could see yourself as you went round and round. I bought this at Tin Pan Alley in Taylor.”
Throughout Oliver’s beautiful home, filled with impressive pottery and artwork, the painting that hangs above her stove is the one that touches her the most. It was created by her daughter when she was a freshman at Ole Miss.
“She made this in her art class,” Oliver said. “She took thousands of pieces of paper and made this collage of shadows. It’s one of my favorite pieces.”
The beauty of Oliver and Wright’s home may be apparent, but the heartfelt emotions and love that went into selecting each facet of it and all of the individual pieces of art that are scattered throughout, serves only to underscore its charm, making the old adage, ‘home is where the heart is,’ all the more true.
Angela Rogalski is a HottyToddy.com staff reporter and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.