Jennifer Jones had to rebuild her home after Hurricane Rita and then again after Hurricane Ike flooded it three years later. (Rita LeBleu / American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 11:58 AMMargaret and Jennifer Jones believe there’s no place like home, but when they say it, they’re not talking about a house. The two sisters live in Cameron, where Hurricane Audrey wiped out their childhood home in 1957.
In 2005, Hurricane Rita’s winds and storm surge wreaked its havoc on houses across Southwest Louisiana and East Texas, including theirs.
Jennifer not only had to rebuild her home, but her office as well — which Hurricane Ike flooded three years later.
But the women have never considered moving away. Today, both have built beautiful new houses on the same land where their parents, Jennings and Fae McCall Jones, lived and rebuilt in the ‘50s.
Those two families have been in Cameron since before the Civil War. Jennings and Fae were high school co-valedictorians. Both attended LSU. He studied law. She majored in accounting.
The third sister, Sallie Sanders, lives in Baton Rouge. “I don’t think I’ll ever quit missing it,” she said about Cameron.
Margaret remembers her father planting live oak seedlings when the family returned to rebuild after Audrey. His hope was that the trees would help buffer the winds of future storms.
These oaks, now stately, are picturesque but did little to protect against storm surge. Most are still standing — deeply rooted. So are Margaret and Jennifer, anchored in Cameron by their love of the tight-knit community of survivors. “You can depend on people here if you need help,” Jennifer said.
There was a time when
everybody knew everybody and if they didn’t, they knew your parents or your grandparents, Sallie said.
Jennifer talked about the values of neighbors and culture of a community where, until Rita made it too expensive to rebuild, there were stores where the owner helped you take your groceries out and would even check the treads on customers’ tires for wear.
Margaret and Jennifer also lean on each other.
When it came time to rebuild, they called on Cameron native “Stevie” Trosclair who now calls Iowa, Louisiana, home.
Based on new, post-hurricane building codes, dwellings in Cameron are raised to varying heights depending on ground elevation. Margaret’s place is 16 feet off the ground and Jennifer’s is 19 feet up, making both entrances quite grand because of the number of stairs. Both homes have elevators. Pilings extend below the surface, sometimes as much as 10 feet. Exterior doors open outward. Openings are covered with shutters. And heating and cooling units don’t sit on the ground. These are jacked up, too.
Jennifer describes her house design as somewhat West Indies. But Trosclair said the only way to describe it is a “Jennifer Jones original.” “This is as custom as it gets,” he said.
Walking into Jennifer’s foyer and main living area is like walking around in sky and sunshine. Part of the feeling is due to the open floor plan, the many unadorned windows, and the home being so far off the ground. The paint and accessory colors — yellow and blue — help heighten the effect of sun and sky.
The color of the maple wood cabinets, mainly cream, added to the feeling of expansiveness, as did the wide cypress plank wood flooring. “Stevie scared me with those cabinets. I came in to check on the progress one day and they were mostly black,” she said. He hadn’t applied the cream-colored paint at that point or finished the rubbed or distressed effect.
Kenny Fuselier suggested the cypress flooring that mixed both light and dark shades, a style that allows more options for changing furnishings and accessories.
The kitchen’s concrete countertops look anything but dull or industrial. Instead, the surface resembles marble with delicious swirls of light and dark caramel colors.
That wasn’t the only fabulous kitchen feature. A wood ladder and ladder rails, like those usually used in libraries, made a beautiful way to get to items on the upper shelves. A screened door built to look vintage covers the pantry and antique-stained glass double doors cover a stairwell entrance.
Jennifer has used antiques throughout her rooms, the perfect amount of dark and light, old and new.
How much does she like looking for these antiques, usually auction items? “I’ve filled up four storage buildings,” she said.
Colors throughout her home are lively, Tiffany blue and seafoam green for example. (Trosclair told both sisters that their wall color choices reminded him of Easter baskets.)
Jennifer said that the dramatic coral fits her granddaughter’s personality to a “T” and that her granddaughter wanted her bedroom modeled after the one in the movie, “Pollyanna.” Jennifer found the book afterward, in her aunt Virgie McCall LeBleu’s things, a gift to Virgie in 1927.
The grandsons’ room has plenty of playroom, storage and a set of bunk beds. “When I tried to talk them out of them because I know they’ll soon outgrow them in five years, they told me they’d sleep in them forever,” she said. Nautical blue walls provide the perfect backdrop for bright-colored artwork. Some of it is by the boys. Some is from a flea market. And some, from Jennifer.
In fact her paintings are found throughout the home. “She’s OCD,” her sister, Margaret, said. “She can’t do anything without going overboard.”
Margaret is talking about her sister’s enthusiasm with painting after she enjoyed a couple of one-hour painting sessions. Jennifer began to paint so often, her arm was beginning to hurt. “We thought she was about to have a stroke,” Margaret joked.
But Jennifer, a Cameron Parish assistant district attorney, has no aspirations for changing careers.
“There was never a time I didn’t want to be an attorney,” she said. Sallie, a retired assistant attorney general, said that “Jennie” has some of that same courtroom personality for which their father was well known. He was one of the first 14th Judicial Court assistant district attorneys.
Jennifer’s artwork is mostly floral but in the master bedroom, a room swimming in a tropical bluish-green hue, the triple canvas of a swimming school of Monet-ish fish looks very much at home.
Margaret is retired as an accountant for the Cameron Parish School Board. Sallie said that part of the family is good with numbers and the others, not so good. “I don’t think I could have passed my math classes if it wasn’t for Margaret,” she said. Margaret kept books for their father at one time — a challenge because he was never one to record checks.
The first words that come to mind when entering her southern coastal design home are cozy and comfortable. Like Jennifer’s house, this home plan design also capitalizes on lots of windows. The natural light and scenery from the unadorned windows blurs the boundaries between outdoors and in. “My mother had a lot of windows in her home and every morning, she would go to each window and open the curtains and drapes — every morning,” Margaret said. “I just never put any up to make it easier.”
Her home was completed in 2007. After Ike, 6 feet of water stood under it with little damage overall.
When Margaret returned home after Hurricane Rita, she salvaged a few reminders to use in her re-build, a mirror found facedown in the mud and bricks that she used for pathways and borders, and for her fireplace.
A fireplace in a home that’s so high off the ground requires more time and materials — thus money. The foundation has to be sufficiently reinforced to handle the load. But Margaret was set on it.
As it turns out, it’s one of her favorite things about her home and makes her place the location of choice for Christmas get-togethers. She’s created 13 stockings for family members that cover every inch of a rough-cut slab of pine — also a “save” after the storm.
Another item that she insisted on, even though her builder tried to discourage her, is a customized kitchen bar. It’s not the standard size — but it’s the perfect size for the area and her needs.
Throughout her home is artwork, much of it given to her by her nephew, picked up during his travels.
Over the bed in one of the bedrooms is a painting by Jennifer to remind them of a “sister trip” that included an attempt to cross off hot-air balloon riding from Margaret’s “bucket list.” The weather wasn’t cooperative. “We drank mimosas on the porch instead,” Margaret said. The painting shows the cabin and porch.
Her master bedroom is an absolute oasis of calm. The room is uncluttered. The theme contains hints of the coastal environment. Family photos and a few prints line one wall. “When I was still working, I’d come home to this and I think it actually lowered my blood pressure a few points,” Margaret said.
Grand nieces and nephews are invited to romp to their hearts content — upstairs out of eyesight and earshot in the large spacious area Margaret designed just for that. It’s decorated with antiques she’s picked up at auctions, shells — some from local Rutherford Beach — and with family photos including a portrait of Melanie Castain, Margaret’s great-grandmother. In the photo, Castain is wearing a watch. “That watch was given to me and I never opened the drawer where I kept it, but somehow I did before I evacuated and took it with me,” she said.
Though Margaret saved this heirloom, there is something that the family passed down that’s not found in these rooms.
But you can see it. Just ask either of them if they’ve ever thought about living anywhere else. Their eyes get a little steely — like you’ve insulted them.
The sisters are proud of their homes, but that feeling doesn’t hold a candle to their passion for Cameron.
They’ve got minds set harder than the concrete of an old filled-in swimming pool that one of the pilings hit during construction: No hurricane can move them away. To Margaret and Jennifer Jones, there’s no place like home.