With antique furnishings and an eye for classic collectibles,
this Olive Branch home brings Old World style stateside
Story by L. Taylor Smith • Photography by Terry Sweeney
Rita and Chip Christian’s estate in the southwestern end of Olive Branch brings southern French style to the MidSouth from the inside out.
They moved from Huntington, Tennessee, to DeSoto County, where Rita grew up, about 10 years ago. “He said ‘I’ve got one more move in me if you want to move back home,’” Rita says. “We lived in a home that was built in 1850, and I love old homes. DeSoto has a few, but not many, so we decided to build.”
Eventually they found a neighborhood that suited their taste for the antique and well-worn: cobblestone in the streets, slate or thatch roofs and gas lights lining the curb are all characteristics that made the gated community the perfect place to build.
Although working with an architecture is a headache for most, Chip says his wife’s organization and attention to detail made the process much easier. “We had antique pieces of furniture we wanted to incorporate, so she told the architect ‘These are the dimensions of the furniture,’ so he worked around that.”
The country-French style of the home has been carefully cultivated by the Christians through antique furniture from family and shops they come across in their travels, and the antiquated atmosphere starts just through the stately front door flanked by stone planters overflowing with vibrant flowers.
Just off their comfortable living room is their dining room, inspired by the New Orleans and the French Quarter. The main focus of the dining room is the beautiful mural on the ceiling by local artist Billy Turri. They wanted a unique centerpiece for the room that reflected their shared love of reading and their professions in the medical field. “The basic design is from the state capitol in Illinois, and he changed a little bit of the figures,” Rita says. “One of the figures is holding a medical caduceus, reading books, because we love to read.”
Like most pieces of furniture in their home, the chest of drawers against the wall of their dining room was found in an antique store. When they brought it back from Boca Raton, they pulled up the shelf lining and found that the original maker had signing it in 1714, making it one of the older pieces in the home.
Probably the most personal part of the home, though, is the Christian’s library, inspired by the dignified library of the Biltmore. “When we decided to build, Chip said ‘You can do whatever you want but build me a library,’”
The wood-paneled library features a wrought iron staircase and a regal fireplace where Chip and their labradoodles often come to read and enjoy the quiet sanctuary. Chip, who hails from Virginia, is related to Martha Washington, the first First Lady, and grew up with an affinity for presidential artifacts, which they’ve incorporated into the decor of the library.
Pictures on the wall feature the signature of every president from George Washington to the current president and leather bound history books fill the shelves. “I’ve always been fascinated by dusty leather books and maps, and my interest in them really started 30 years ago because they were in my aunt’s house in Virginia,” Chip says.
The master bedroom contrasts sharply with the weighty atmosphere of the library, although both offer a refuge. “I wanted a spa-like feel, so there’s very little color, very monochrome,” Rita says. “The window overlooks the backyard. We can sit in there and see outside.”
The dedication to reading spaces carries on to the upstairs area of the home where they had a reading nook built that their grandchildren could enjoy. Although the chairs are replicated pieces, the ornate rugs, purchased from a Memphis dealer, have extra special character. “The nomads would travel, and when they stopped to mix up their dyes, it wouldn’t exactly be the same colors,” Rita says.
As a home filled with stories, it makes sense that they’d have a few homemade ones of their own, especially considering the Christians have five grandchildren. When the home was first built, they had a pool in the back with a two-story pool house that matched the royal feel of the rest of the complex. “At the time that we built the home, our granddaughter was three, and when the saw the pool house, she said ‘Oh my gosh, mamie, you’re getting a giraffe,’” Rita says with a laugh. “So now it’s the giraffe house.”
The renovations never stop for Rita, who’s always looking for a new project. This year, the Christians have focused their efforts on bringing out the best in their outdoor living space. They filled in the pool and added a pergola so guests can enjoy the beautiful summer days, and their front door is always open to friends and family.
The European regality of their abode blends effortlessly with the Southern warmth that the Christians bring to it, and it shows that they know the most important aspects that make a beautiful house into a welcoming home. “When people walk up to our home, I want them to feel relaxed,” Rita says.