Interiorssneak peeks

A Home in Rural Mississippi, Built Like An Art Gallery

by Erin Austen Abbott

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Nestled down a country road, past oak trees, off the road and out of view from anyone passing by, sits a home built from the ground up, for and by homeowners and artists, Vivian and Walter Neill. Also on the large, wooded property is the blacksmith studio of homeowner Walter, a full chicken coop, and the art gallery that the Neill’s run together, Oxford Treehouse Gallery.

“Always interested in the arts, we had early careers in the restaurant and plumbing businesses,” Vivian shares. “We married and settled in Oxford, MS in 1999 where we began our art careers and business in earnest. We are developing a sort of arts compound where we live, work and promote regional artists. We have taken our time reclaiming the acreage we acquired and look forward to the coming additions/evolution, including a sculpture garden in the field outside our home.” The arts compound she’s referring to is the rural art gallery she and Walter opened three years ago, sitting off the ground in a treehouse-like setting, aptly named The Oxford Treehouse Gallery, just 200 yards from their home. The gallery, as well as their home, houses a lot of their own art, too. Walter is an artist/blacksmith and Vivian is a painter and block printer.

On the process of building their home, Vivian said, “The construction only took about one and half years, but the house site and design decisions took much longer. In the meantime, we sold our [previous] home in Oxford, MS and renovated the basement of the home already on the property, into an apartment and lived onsite while we developed our ideas for our home. The gallery apartment now serves as guest quarters and an Airbnb location. We finally settled on the old homestead site, but first had to remove dilapidated tenant shacks… Near the house is an old well that was hand dug by the first family on this property. One of the previous homeowners visits on occasion, and recently we learned he was a 12-year-old boy when he helped his grandfather hand dig the 30-foot well.”

Vivian continues, “We wanted a floor plan that opened to the outdoors as much as possible. A place to showcase the art we collect in an inviting, user/dog-friendly space. A place to casually entertain guests while we cook. We chose a Danish dining table/chairs to maximize our view of the fields behind our house that will one day include more sculptures.” The Neill’s worked with architect firm, Howorth & Associates to see their vision to fruition.

I hope you enjoy this peek into the art-inspired Neill home as much as I have. —Erin

Photography by Don Feitel


Image above: Vivian and Walter’s photography display hallway. Photographers include Adam Shemper, Walter Neill, Mary Ellen Mark, Sebastiao Selgado.

The front foyer features reclaimed wood used to build a bench, with paintings by Jere Allen, Mildred Wolfe, Lynn Green-Root, Richard Kelso above.
Here, a view of the old cedars and front porch from the kitchen booth. Melanie Munns embroidery is seen under the cabinet.
The built-in breakfast nook, made from reclaimed cherry, feels so open next to the large window. A painting by Marie Hull of the Jackson, MS farmers market hangs above the nook.
"The cats and dogs take advantage of the low windows on the kitchen door and our soft hearts, constantly reminding us of mealtimes and their preference for the indoor bedding," Vivian shares.
The Danish dining set sits amongst paintings by Ron Lindsey, Vivian Neill, Michael Maxwell, Marta Ferris and Richard Kelso. Sculpture by Lewis West.
"This room opens to the north and south with an abundance of large windows and sliding doors," Vivian notes.
"Made by Walter, the shelves are made of reclaimed cherry. Sculptural pieces on top of shelves and metal fish by Walter. The wood stove may be our favorite component in the house."
"My small art studio with large north windows. I love seeing the fire in wood stove in the den when I walk down the hall," Vivian says.
"I love the huge oak outside the bathtub window and the moonlight at night. Art by Virginia Chavis, Andi Bedsworth and Mac Anderson."
"Daybed and side table made by Walter. Great napping spot!" Vivian says.
A view from the covered porch to the outdoor shower.
"Walter loves this spot after a long day in the blacksmith shop. I think the pool that should accompany an outdoor shower is missing," laughed Vivian.
Vivian and Walter Neill for Design*Sponge
What the couple loves most about their home: "We love the ever-changing views out our windows, the rich colors inside and the skill that crafted such simplicity."
Homeowners and artists, Vivian and Walter Neill.
Vivian and Walter Neill for Design*Sponge
The floor plan of Vivian and Walter Neill's home in Mississippi.

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    • Thank you Nora! There are 2 paint colors on the walls of the foyer…the area closest to the front door is Sherwin Williams Sea Salt and the area with the bench is Benjamin Moore Palladian Blue. The ceiling in both areas is Sherwin Williams Spare White and trim is Benjamin Moore White Dove.

  • Thank you for sharing your gorgeous, special and very personal home. I think I favor your entrance door and your breakfast nook.

  • This home is gorgeous!! I love seeing MS homes since I grew up there. I’m curious where the living room sofa is from?

  • I love everything about this home! It is so bright and beautiful and welcoming… I just want to curl up in ya’ll’s sunroom with some coffee and a book! Also, I love seeing MS homes since I grew up on the MS Coast… There are so many beautiful homes with so much character in MS… Thank You Design Sponge for showing some homes in the South in places other than Nashville and Atlanta.

  • ditto, ditto, ditto. wonderful art, beautiful spacious home, i could sit in your kitchen forever.

  • I so appreciate this celebration of art and design in the South! Erin, thank you for bringing this to Design Sponge.

    It is difficult to make new construction feel soulful, authentic, and organic, but these homeowners have succeeded.

    Could you share details on your beautiful wood flooring? I’m guessing wide plank pine… and is it oil finished?

    • Thanks for your kind words! The flooring is indeed wide plank heart pine but not oil finished. Blue Ox Lumber in Carrolton, MS was our source.

  • This home is stunning from the second you walk in. I adore all of the exposed wood, especially in the covered porch and outdoor shower. I would love to see the exterior once some of the sculptures are put up.

  • Gorgeous space, the attention to detail and to creating places for art is so clear. I used to live in rural MS, too, and loved seeing the southern light and deep gold-green through the windows. Many thanks for sharing your beautiful home!

  • To me, a house is not a home without art — so what a beautiful home you have!

    And thank you for mentioning the artists’ names.

  • The homes in Oxford are all so beautiful but I have to say this one is exactly my style. We have come to love Oxford as our daughter is graduating from Ole Miss next month! We will miss the square and all of the great food and atmosphere. Hotty Toddy!

  • One of my favorite homes I’ve ever seen on D*S! Where are the matching chairs and 2 seater in the sunroom from?

  • Wow, this is one of the best homes I’ve seen on the internet in a while. There is something so authentic about the way the home is put together. You can tell that everything they selected is what they truly love and it all goes together so well, and has such a nice feel! It’s clean and intentional yet so cozy. This home really inspires me!!!

  • Stunningly beautiful Vivian and Walter. Vivian, I know that this is a big step toward a culmination of a long held dream. Y’all done real good!