Collector’s Enchanting Cottage
“I’ll take it,” Gayle Belcher McInnis told her real estate agent.
She made the decision in the space of time it took her to walk from the front door to the hall.
“My daughter’s eyes got as big as saucers,” Gayle said. “She asked me, ‘Mom, don’t you think you should take a little more time and think about this?’”
That was six years ago.
“I’ve never regretted it,” she said.
After her husband died, Gayle decided to move back to Lake Charles, where she grew up and has family. She was living in New Orleans and invited her daughter, who lives in Atlanta, to come down and see a place in Carlyss.
Gayle McInnis’ late husband had this stained glass made of the couple’s New Orleans home.
“I always wanted to live on the water,” Gayle said.
They saw the Carlyss property. Her daughter suggested the place might be a bit too remote.
“It was June 2011,” Gayle said. “The real estate agent pulled out her tablet and showed us photos of this place. She told us it was going to be listed the next day. I remember we were as interested in seeing her tablet as seeing photos of the house. Tablets were just hitting the market at the time.”
When Gayle walked into the two-bedroom, two-bath home, she could see her furnishings and “do-dads” in the 7th Street house.
“The walls were close to the color I had just painted my River Ridge house,” she said. “The drapes and curtains were perfect.”
Gayle’s style is eclectic. In her living room, she mixes art — brightly colored graphic art, subtle landscapes, whimsical oils and a Statue of Liberty print — with French antiques, a crystal chandelier purchased from neighbor Bruce Shawa and vintage pottery.
Gayle McInnis’ living room is mixed with French antiques, vintage pottery and collections from her travels
When asked how many paintings cover the walls of her home, she begins to count, moving from the living room to the sitting room where Sandy, her dog, softly snores among stacks of books and comfortable furnishings. The art tally is 30 for those two rooms. The dining room has 17. The hall walls hold the most, 42. Both bathrooms have wall art. The bigger one has 34, and the smaller one, 12. Gayle’s favorite is the Jackson Pollack-esque canvas she picked up for $4.99.
“I think I could fit a few more in the dining room,” she said. She said it while taking a look at the blank space as if to size it up for the next art purchase.
Some of the art is from local artists, for instance, Mary Davis, Jerry Wright and Eddie Morman, She also has art created by her children, now grown and a couple of small paintings she’s done.
Gayle is a retired English teacher of Kehoe-France School. Gayle’s late husband worked in offshore drilling, and they followed the jobs. Gayle has lived in Monrovia, Ghana and Mossel Bay.
“We moved 14 times in seven years,” she said.
She collected Nigerian metal arts, ivory figurines, beadwork, furniture and African currency when she was abroad. She collects candlesticks, pottery, teapots, needle work and Statue of Liberty figurines. She’s a sucker for dishes and has stacks of Rose Chintz by Johnson Brothers.
No wall space left? No problem, Gayle used window space.
“Oh – and dust,” she threw in as her final answer to, What do you collect?
Like most people, she has experienced her share of grief. As a widow, she has felt lonely at times. She admits it wasn’t easy to move back to Lake Charles after 40 years of being away.
Yet she has created what she calls “a happy place.” Gayle’s daughter-in-law calls the house “a fairytale cottage.” Gayle named it Darlington House because she thinks it’s just darling. Her two favorite words for describing what makes her house a home are “comfortable and cozy.”
“It’s a happy house and I love it,” she said. “If you are comfortable with who you are, it doesn’t matter if everyone loves your house or not. Yes. I have a lot of stuff. Do I plan to stop collecting? No.”
Gayle has a knack for embracing the unexpected, finding the right place to put it and encouraging others to find more room for joy.
The Enchanted 7th Street Cottage located in Lake Charles