Antebellum Elegance

Shelly and Kirk Morgan emulate old plantation charm in their Lexington home

By Helen Clay

Photography by Robert Clark

Surrounded by four acres of manicured landscape and backed by a tract of undeveloped forest, Shelly and Kirk Morgan’s plantation-style home encompasses the sophistication of antebellum South Carolina. Massive white columns supporting two-story wraparound porches accentuate the home’s plantation grandeur. Wrought iron railings, contrasting with the home’s white exterior while complementing the home’s dark plantation shutters, enclose the top-level porch. 

Shelly and Kirk modeled the outside design to resemble Oak Alley Plantation on the Mississippi River in Vacherie, La., yet the couple modernized the interior to make the living space more practical. “The architectural style involving porches and columns always appealed to Kirk and me, and after attending college at Ole Miss, my love of the deep South was deepened with the culture, food and design,” tells Shelly. “As young adults, Kirk and I fell in love with the beautiful plantation homes near New Orleans.” 

The replica of Oak Alley Plantation is not the first home constructed on the Morgans’ Lexington land. The 1994 tornado havocked the Morgans’ original Charleston-designed home, ripping off the top part of the house and destroying most of their property and belongings. During the tornado’s fury, Sam — the youngest Morgan son — and Ernestine Middleton — Sam’s babysitter — sat upstairs folding clothes, moving into a closet for shelter as the storm’s ferocity progressed. 

Rushing home from his office after the storm had subsided, Kirk abandoned his car a neighborhood away, running through the debris toward what was left of his house. “From the driveway I could see our roof crushed on the ground. Sunlight and rain poured into our home, and ceiling rafters lay on our bed where Sam and Ernestine had been folding laundry minutes before. It is a miracle they were unharmed,” Kirk shares. 

The tornado maimed the house into a state of disrepair. The home’s structure shifted one inch on its foundation, and the unrelenting rain ruined 80 percent of the interior furnishings. The house required dismantling to the first floor framing, a structural project whose cost exceeded obliterating the entire building and rebuilding. Constructors bulldozed the house within a month.

While cleaning out a desk in the backyard pool house, untouched by the tornado’s devastation, Kirk stepped on a perfume ad featuring Oak Alley Plantation as the backdrop. Because he and Shelly admired the plantation architecture, Kirk previously clipped the picture of Oak Alley Plantation, mindlessly storing it away. “I guess this house was meant to be,” Kirk says with a smile. “We called up our friend Jeff Lewis who designed our first house, and he accepted the challenge.” 

Designed by Jeff Lewis and built by C.T. Johnson, the antebellum home is a perfect square, surrounded by 20 white columns and stunning wraparound porches. Windows, located between the grand columns, line the exterior, with eight French doors opening onto the porches positioned on each side of the house. “Jeff’s design results are a very traditional exterior — built with brick, wood and a slate roof product from Vermont,” says Shelly. 

Wraparound porches strengthen the home’s old Southern ambiance. The hand laid brick, custom design ironwork and “Haint Blue” wooden ceilings uphold the integrity of deep-South traditions. According to Southern superstition, Haint Blue porch ceilings originated from the fear of haints, troubled spirits roaming the earth. This blue paint offered a protection against evil, preventing the spirits from influencing or “taking” the homeowners. This superstition dubbed the particular hue of blue “Haint Blue,” and Southern homeowners continue the deep-rooted tradition passed down through the generations. Painted on the Morgan porch ceiling, this blue paint shelters outdoor furniture, creating a picturesque visiting space for lackadaisical days.

While the home’s exterior closely resembles the original historical plantation, the Morgans designed the interior to reflect a more modern lifestyle and comfort. With a foundation of solid colors, the interior features matching colored ceiling and wall paint, separated by exquisite molding adorning rooms throughout the house. The detailed molding accents the hardwood floors, accentuating the home’s traditional design. “The significant molding adds strong character to our house,” Kirk says. 

Due to the home’s symmetrical structure, Jeff positioned family areas along the parameter of the house, tucking the stairwell in the home’s center. This design fills each public room with natural light streaming from large windows and grants access to the wraparound porches. Downstairs, an open kitchen flows into an inviting sitting room featuring furniture surrounded by original art, pottery and framed family photographs. The kitchen, a room of family congregation, contains a 20-year-old AGA stove, a useful addition with its ability to cook and retain large amounts of food. “Our home is lived-in. There isn’t one piece of furniture that is off limits — even to all four dogs!” shares Shelly. “I want our home to be comfortable and practical, reflecting a love of family and friends.” 

Conforming the second floor design to the limits of the square foundation presented a challenge. The bedrooms wrap around the rectangular parameter and each L-shape bathroom hugs the corners. The master bedroom, a large sunlit suite accommodating a sitting room, continues Shelly’s eclectic design style and opens onto the massive porch perched over the property. “I like reading in the sitting room slightly separated from the bedroom,” Kirk says. “The open design is appealing.” 

The corner master bathroom creates an assuaging environment — the soft colors, lighting and art reflecting a calm ambiance. Shelly created this soothing room through a recent renovation with Wayne Jewell. Jewell Builders gutted the upstairs bathrooms and master closet, overhauling the existing cabinets and lighting. “I loved the entire design process and project’s progression — even though it was a bit nail-biting at times!” exclaims Shelly. “We donated the cabinets and lighting to His House for charity re-use. I like everything to be re-purposed if possible.” 

The Morgans’ desire to craft their home into a relaxed haven for loved ones prompted the couple to add a detached guesthouse to the existing pool house five years ago, a great inducement for friends and family to visit. The pool house is the pre-tornado original structure, a white brick rectangular building tucked behind the house overlooking the pool and pond. “Adding the guesthouse was the best decision I ever made. When guests visit they can have total privacy, and it also provides a great area to watch sports,” Kirk says.

Trim boxwoods and flowerbeds line the porch outskirts, embellishing the house with lush vegetation. Blooming magnolia trees loom over vibrant hydrangeas, lady bank roses, azaleas, gardenias and camellias decorating the spacious landscape — each plant reflecting an old Southern home. “The property garden design has been a work in progess with Bryan Landscape and Design,” Shelly tells. “Kirk and I enjoy the secluded grounds. In the morning we love sitting outside and listening to the birds, and in the evening a symphony of frogs will delight you with a song!”

The Morgans’ polished landscape contains a serene pond and lies adjacent to a 50-acre tract of undeveloped land, creating an endearing haven for the couple. “The privacy is my favorite part of our home. We live tucked back in the woods, kept off of the road, but still close to Lexington,” Kirk says. “It really feels like you are on a Southern plantation.”

“There is great peace in being surrounded by nature,” adds Shelly.

The stocked pond, inviting swimming pool, various wildlife and vast woods provided an ideal place to raise two rambunctious boys in a safe play environment. Eddie and Sam Morgan contentedly passed time with lazy fishing days and exciting campouts. “They had a boy’s dream,” reminisces Shelly. “This home has created so many memories —that is a life well lived!” 

The initial catastrophic tornado presented the Morgans with an opportunity to craft a plantation paradise, a family refuge and the epitome of Southern charm.

Editor’s Note: The Morgan home was styled for photography by Ellen Taylor.

«  back to issue