By Alexe van Beuren
Eighteen months ago, the Warings bought the Wagner house on Pate Street. The three-story white house, built by the illustrious Wagner family, had come on the market for the first time in the home’s history: it had been in the Wagner family for five generations.
The Warings hadn’t exactly been seeking such a house. For one, they have only recently finished restoring their 1901 Queen Anne home in Vicksburg; “we were looking to speculate in Oxford,” Richard tells me. But then Karen saw a picture of the Wagner house in a real estate office, and she fell in love.
Eighteen months later, we’re standing under an ancient magnolia tree, staring at Water Valley’s most notable home.
“I was totally against it,” says Richard.
Karen waves a hand. “I said, ‘just amuse me.’” She turns to me, pushing back her hair and hugging her new Yorkie puppies close. “Do you know that book, Lost Mansions of Mississippi? I told Richard ‘I don’t want this house to be in that book.’”
So the contract was signed, and now, a year-and-a-half later, renovations are in full swing. “We weren’t ready to start before now,” Karen says, and makes mention of a landscaping project at their Vicksburg home.
Karen (who grew up in a Victorian house in Menton Hall, Mississippi) has big plans for the Wagner house. They are extending the kitchen a further twenty feet into the backyard, and are brainstorming ways to showcase the sixteen-foot-deep cistern they found under the old kitchen’s floor. She speaks of rerouting the driveway, making a courtyard, and working from historic photographs to build a balcony on the house’s front. “The grander the better!” says Karen, and smiles.
The couple also plans to install a spiral staircase in the newly converted attic to lead to the widow’s walk. The master bedroom, which will run the length of the house, will feature a wet bar and french doors leading onto the rear balcony. I also hear talk of a generator and an elevator.
As for furnishings, Karen tells me she already has two storage units in Oxford filled with antiques, just waiting for the house to be finished. “And the house in Vicksburg will probably lose some pieces,” she adds.
As we walk through the empty hallways, Karen tells me she often thinks of decorating the house for Christmas. “I can’t wait until it’s filled with our family and friends,” she says. “Can’t you just picture it?”
The Warings plan to use the Wagner house as a second home. Richard tells me that their daughters will be attending Ole Miss, and the house will come in handy then. “Our oldest will be in college in nine years,” Karen says. “That’s nothing,” and she snaps her fingers.
Though the house is not yet finished, the Warings tell me they already feel a part of the Water Valley community. “People are so friendly here,” says Karen; indeed, as we’re talking, neighbors from Dupuy Street wander over. “I love north Mississippi,” Karen declares. “I just love it.”
Though the renovations they’ve undertaken are extensive, the Warings say that the house should be finished by December of this year. When I ask if they feared taking on a project of this size, the Warings demur; “Not with the people we have on board,” Karen says. Her green eyes shine. “Can’t you just picture it?” she says once again.