The White House on South Lamar has been one of the most eye-catching homes in Oxford for more than 100 years. Take a look inside and you’ll find its interior is every bit as grand as the house itself.
By AMY ROSENTHAL
Among the trees lining South Lamar Boulevard stand some of Oxford’s greatest treasures: historic homes with stories as rich and colorful as the people who fill them.
The White House, a stately, soaring Southern property at 1012 S. Lamar, might look like the picture of modern Southern sophistication, but the property has been part of Oxford’s story since 1885.
Texas natives Kelley and Lou Zeleskey fell in love with Oxford in the late 1990s when visiting their niece, then a student at Ole Miss. Fast forward a few decades and the Zeleskeys now have three daughters who all graduated from the university, including Annie Hooper, who has become a permanent Oxford resident and owner of The Z Bed and Breakfast. In a relatively short time, the Zeleskeys became completely enamored with Oxford and with the house that eventually became their home.
Kelley says she was a longtime admirer of the house, often driving down South Lamar dreaming of one day owning the fabulous white Victorian.
“Lou and I always talked about wanting to retire here,” she says. “We love this town so much. We love the people so much. We love southern hospitality.”
One fateful day, the home’s realtor invited her and Lou to tour the house “just for fun.”
“Being a designer, I was just excited to see beauty and architecture and history,” she says. “When we walked out, I just said, ‘We’ve gotta do this.’”
The preservation of the house was what immediately attracted the Zeleskeys to the home.
“We have a passion for old,” Kelley says.
The home, built in the late 19th century, features an extraordinary amount of original details. The tower at the front of the house glows at night through a collage of red, white and blue stained glass tiles originally designed to pay tribute to lives lost in the Civil War.
“You just look at this house, and so much of it is original … You can’t even fathom. Like when you look at the stairwell,” she gestures toward the grand wooden staircase that ascends to the second level, “You see that it’s beautiful, but we take it for granted that in 1885 they didn’t have the technology we have. How do you do that, carve that woodworking in the stairs with your hand?”
Amplifying the home’s historic features is the interior of the house, which incorporates modern color schemes and design within the historical framework of the home.
“We love history,” Kelley says. “We love the fact that it’s so old … but we didn’t want people to walk in and have it feel like a grandma’s house. We wanted the house to feel current while keeping the period feel of the house.”
The two front parlors of the house are perfect examples of Zeleskey’s design aesthetic. Bright turquoise and corals embolden the walls that reach some 20 feet upward to the home’s high ceilings. Natural light from the floor-to-ceiling windows flood the parlors in the daytime, highlighting the vibrant hues of both rooms.
“I love the splashes of color in both of the rooms,” Kelley says. “I tried to do the two parlors in the same color palette but reversed.”
“Being a designer, I was just excited to see beauty and architecture and history.”
– Kelley Zeleskey
Zeleskey’s use of contemporary fabrics also plays a part in propelling the house into the 21st century. “I wanted it to be surprising. Shocking even,” she says.
The rooms remained anchored in their roots with one of Kelley’s favorite features: thick wooden sliding doors originally built in 1885 that soar to the parlor ceiling.
“That’s one thing that still takes my breath away,” Kelley says.
The elegant dining room is another spot the family loves. An art-deco chandelier, a favorite of Kelley’s, hangs above the 14-person table, making a bold statement within the room’s snow-white walls. It is the perfect spot for the Zeleskys to host friends and family and enjoy good food and good conversation.
When asked about the five spacious bedrooms in the house, Kelley gushes about the master suite on the second floor. A spacious area bathed in light blue, it features a sitting room, deep closets and a luxurious bathroom.
“It’s so grand and just yummy,” Kelley says.
Across from the master are two other cozy bedrooms, affectionately called the Green Room and the Cotton Room. Downstairs you’ll find the Pink Room – the only bedroom on the ground floor.
Up a small spiraling staircase, you’ll find the Tree House, a bedroom that consumes the entirety of the home’s third story.
“We named it the Tree House because when you’re up there, and all the blinds are open, all you see are trees,” Kelley says. “It really does feel like you’re in a little tree house.”
In the basement, down a narrow staircase and hidden behind a door marked “Private,” is one of the home’s most unexpected treasures: a dimly lit bar accented by rich leather, waxy candles and the smell of cigars. The ultimate secluded hideaway.
“When we moved here, the basement was sort of just a catch-all. For some reason, I was down there one day, and I just thought, ‘Oh my gosh, this would be the coolest man cave,'” Kelley says. “So I just ran with it and because of the age of the house, I came up with this idea of a speakeasy.”
When the Zeleskys want to relax, they often retreat to the lar
ge veranda out front filled with sweet-smelling greenery and rocking chairs that welcome neighbors and passersby.
“I wake up in the morning and sit in the rocking chair and have my coffee. We have our tomato-mayonnaise sandwiches out there during the summer, which I just love,” Kelley says. “And of course, at night we have our little toddy out there too.”
Kelley says designing the home was her all-time favorite project.
“I love doing everybody’s homes, but this was just fun,” Kelley says.
“It really is our happy place. Everybody here does everything so well. People love so well. They’re just old, Southern good people that have their priorities right.”