Judi Horton’s Oxbow Lodge is located in quaint St. Joseph, Louisiana. The rebirth of this jewel on the shores of Lake Bruin combines rustic, yet modern touches.
article by Maré Brennan | photos by Martin G Meyers
Just look for the 1954 1/2 Chevy truck out by the road. “It was my father-in-law’s truck, and my husband would hunt in that truck along the Missisippi River when he was growing up,” says the vacation rental’s owner, Judi Horton. “Monroe residents may remember the truck from my old house located in the Monroe’s Garden District on 2nd Street, where it used to sit on a bed of jasmine – the most unique yard art ever! It has been covered in flowers and Christmas lights and even helped us win an award from the Garden District Neighborhood Alliance.” Well now that yard art beckons vacationers, family reunion-goers and more to come sit a while on the home’s extensive dock and replenish what’s been missing – more down time – a luxury to spend with friends and family at a place where the pace is a little slower and the laughs are a lot heartier.
But first, we must start at the beginning of the rebirth of this jewel on the shores of Bruin.
It was April 2011 when the swirling winds of destruction zig-zagged along the banks of Lake Bruin, hitting a nearby dock then making a bee-line for the Oxbow Lodge. Luckily, Judi Horton had just left the lodge to check on her other lakefront house, when the tornado wiped out the entire top floor. And in Judi’s characteristically optimistic fashion, she determined right then to rebuild her beloved lodge even bigger and better than ever.
Horton worked with Monroe architect Ricky Newcomer to redesign the Lodge. The new accommodations can sleep up to thirty guests with ease. Mike Butler, the builder who was tapped by Judi to reconstruct the home in the tornado’s aftermath, took a look at the ruins with no roof and asked, “How would you feel about wood walls?” These same wood walls give this vacation rental home on the lake that’s been dubbed the ‘Hamptons of the South’ their warmth. He also was instrumental in convincing Judi to cover the vaulted ceilings and the front of the home in custom aged tin, which at 50 cents a square foot offered an economical and atmosphere inducing patina to the home. To keep recessed lighting from sticking out against the aged tin, Judi spray-painted white housings an unobtrusive pewter hue.
Beginning with a fairly blank slate, Judi raised the ceiling an extra two feet in the living area to make it feel grander. The ceilings in the upstairs bedrooms were also vaulted and covered in corrugated tin. Floors and walls throughout the top floor are a honey-colored pine and give a rustic, yet modern feel.
The open concept kitchen opens into the expansive living room. When traditional granite or tile countertops didn’t seem to feel right for the space, Judi had her counters wrapped in tin and finished with neat riveted corners and seams. Judi’s dad’s plane has found new life as a towel holder near the sink with its industrial arched fixture. Beside the sink, a graphic red and white Coca-Cola hand-painted sign is a nod to Judi’s father, who was a commercial artist, who had studied in New York City under the legendary Norman Rockwell. Says Judi, “Daddy was Old School. He did everything by hand and retired at the age of 84. He loved every minute of every day, lettering signs by hand to making an egg costume for a local dance school.” Judi explains that her dad trained her two brothers and her to appreciate art saying, “Art is in your eye, not your hand.”
Stainless steel double wall ovens, an induction cooktop and an extra roomy refrigerator/freezer ensure cooking for the a large gathering is a breeze. Rucker Cabinets in Columbia fabricated the custom cabinets in the kitchen. Mirrors which reflect the natural light from the large windows overlooking the lake are placed in the top cabinet doors.
Just around the corner is an antique, bead board cabinet which serves as the lodge’s well-stocked pantry, filled with necessities for cooking like flour, sugar, salt, mayo, mustard, oil, paper towels, toilet paper and more. “We like to think of ourselves as the ‘host with the most,’” says the effervescent home-owner.
The generous island is topped with 125-year-old sinker wood that was reclaimed from the Ouachita River. Beneath the island a vintage Coca-Cola ice box adds old-fashioned charm. Catalpa branch braces are used to secure the counter top. Wrought iron counter stools with cane bottoms are backed with metal fish. Pendant lights above the island were found at Paul Michael Company.
Beyond the island in the main living area, an extra long farm table creates the central dining area and is surrounded by school chairs and a unique railroad bench. The table was a find from an old Bonita, Louisiana grocery store. The railroad bench has a back that toggles back and forth that made it easy to sit and watch the incoming or outgoing trains. The table seats 14 people easily and extra chairs and tables can be added to accommodate even more. An unusual light fixture of Edison bulbs found at Third Street Market is attached to the tin, vaulted ceiling above the dining table.
Judi makes a resourceful use of dropcloths from Lowe’s to economically cover the enormous floor to ceiling windows in the main living area. The dropcloths are clipped onto metal rods and used as curtains. A comfortable grouping of overstuffed club chairs, cushioned rattan chairs with ottoman and flag-draped neutral sofas create ample seating area for get togethers and for watching the glorious sunsets on Lake Bruin from air conditioned comfort. The “Cabin Fever” sign was a gift from a friend from the Horton’s first lake house in 1992.
The bunk room just off the main living area upstairs is filled wall to wall with Army cots from Cabela’s. “We call this the ‘Camp Room,’” says Judi. “Kids love to claim this space as their own!” Vintage wooden tennis racquets line the walls. A repurposed shutter was painted red and hides the hot water heater.
Across the hallway, the spacious Cabana Bathroom offers a luxurious place to shower after swimming in the lake and can be accessed from the back porch. Light fixtures from Third Street Market illuminate the triple sink counter. Judi used scraps of wood left over from construction to create frames for mirrors over each vessel sink. An oversized shower with river rock accents provides a soothing respite.
In the upstairs laundry room, Judi updated a brass chandelier by painting it a rousing red. The table in the laundry room has made its way to the lake from Judi’s former Monroe Garden District home. On the table’s top, you’ll find the names of the Horton kids and all their friends. Judi explains, “You should have seen the kids’ faces when I would give them a little pen knife and tell them to carve their names on it.”
In the hallway, a possom-belly cupboard from the early 1800s holds Judi’s collection of vintage plaid Thermos bottles on its zinc wrapped top. Grins Judi, “I like plaid and started collecting these in the 1970s – and this isn’t all of them.”
In one of the upstair’s bedrooms, a white-painted pulpit is repurposed as a bedside table. Above the bed, an antique tin-type photographic portrait adds a bit of nostalgia. Neutral bedding is accented with red and blue pillows.
A darling painted antique bench rests at the foot of the bed in the second bedroom. Pillows in stars and stripes add an Americana-vibe that Ralph Lauren, himself, would love.
The rails on the the stairs were hewn from branches of a catalpa tree that is located just beyond the back deck. Downstairs, paintings, posters, vintage painted signs and board games that Judi has acquired from estate sales line the walls with exuberant color. The cozy downstair’s den features a tribal rug found at Paul Michael Company and a neutral sofa with fringe accented with bright and cheery pillows. A super cool vintage peanut vending machine holds special meaning. Judi’s late husband Robert’s nickname as a child was Peanut, “so I bought it. Pieces like this take you back,” she says. During the remodel Judi and her contractor converted a downstairs kitchen into a bathroom. The new shower features the same river rock accents as the Cabana Bathroom. Exposed brick walls downstairs were whitewashed for a softer look.
Taking center stage in one of the downstair’s bedrooms is a painted iron bed, which was sanded by one of Judi’s friend to enhance its vintage patina. Just beyond the downstairs den is the screened in sleeping porch with its plethora of bunk and trundle beds at the ready for cousins telling ghost stories or friends reminiscing and making new memories.
“The sunsets here are unbelievable,” says Judi as we walk beyond the sleeping porch and out onto the over 2,200 square feet of deck and dock space. In the shallow, the kids get their own swim dock. After the tornado, Judi added the swim dock and lots of built-in benches. The boat slip is outfitted with a hydraulic lift for convenience and offers extra spots for friends to dock their boats. Majestic cypress trees offer shade in the summer and magnificent color in the fall and spring.
In celebration of family and friends, the Oxbow Lodge on Lake Bruin offers the perfect escape to share with the multitudes. For those who wish to include golf, tennis or a dip in a pool, the Lake Bruin Country Club is located conveniently across the street from the lodge. In addition, the Oxbow Lodge is handicap accessible with a ramp that makes getting from the gardenia lined pathways to the second floor a breeze.
For more information about how you can enjoy Judi’s amazing vacation get-away for your next reunion or family gathering, check www.vrbo.com and search for Lake Bruin Oxbow Lodge.