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Home on the River

By Meagan Russell
In Bayou Home
Apr 29th, 2021
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Perched along the bank of the Ouachita River that flows past Columbia, Louisiana, Debbie and James Mixon’s new mountain-ranch style townhomes add to the allure of small-town Louisiana.

WRITTEN BY / Vanelis Rivera

PHOTOGRAPHY BY / Kelly Moore Clark

BUILDERS / Vista Construction Group

ARCHITECT / Doug Breckenridge

Sometimes we underestimate, take for granted even, how much history can be packed into a tiny community. We glaze over the beauty around us dreaming of faraway places we deem worthier of our attention. But, if you’ve ever traveled away from home, you may relate to the faint itch that appears, seemingly out of nowhere, calling you back to the placidity of where your heart unmistakably will always be—home. James and Debbie Mixon understand that principle and have acted upon it, building three townhomes that address the artistry of Louisiana’s natural beauty and will undoubtedly become part of the area’s rich history. Perched along the bank of the Ouachita River that flows past Columbia, Louisiana, the Mixon’s new residence adds to the allure of small-town Louisiana.

James grew up 30 miles from Columbia and Debbie was born in Nebraska. Her dad, a geologist for Exxon, never stayed anyplace more than two or three years, living all over the country. “Kind of like being in the military,” she said, adding, “Caldwell Parish is a wonderful place. I always tell my family, it’s kind of like living in a Mayberry. It’s small and everybody takes care of everybody. It’s just really a wonderful community to live in.” The couple has lived in the area since 1979, and have been looking at the riverside location for many years. When a friend of theirs bought the property, they took it as a sign and purchased the location. Originally, they were considering building a 4200 square foot house, but they began second-guessing themselves because their children were grown and they knew they wouldn’t need that much space anymore. James came up with the idea of constructing a condo-esque home. “I say condo loosely because they’re actually detached single-family dwellings. They have no common wall or anything,” Debbie explained. She was excited about her husband’s vision, agreeing only on the condition that they didn’t build them “cookie-cutter.” The result: three different mountain-ranch style townhomes with varying cultured stone and brick columns, siding colors, and timber gables with decorative fascia boards. 

Though the couple had experience with construction before, like renovating older homes, nothing has compared to the extensiveness of the riverside project. “We’ve dreamed for thirty-something years on it. This is just a dream come true, but better,” revealed Debbie. She credits the success of the project to the builders from Vista Construction Group, and architect and planner, Doug Breckenridge. “I started this [architecture] firm in 2010. I’m the only employee. I work out of my house,” he said. Doug is also an artist (mostly oil painting) and a photographer, which grants him a unique perspective when overseeing the construction of buildings. “I’ve always been design-oriented,” he said, referring to his experience working as lead design architect at a national firm for several years. While some architects are more “nuts and bolts,” Doug leans toward the expressive: “I’ve always been drawn to the artistic aspect of architecture more than the technical aspect.” 

The collaboration with James and Debbie went seamlessly, particularly because the couple had a lot of architectural vision. Debbie, inspired by lodgings she had visited in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, informed Doug of her affinity for the craftsman-style design. Texture became the theme of the project, and if you happen to drive over the main bridge on Highway 165 getting into town, glance right, you’ll see three structures with distinct gables. ssentially, they are three-bedroom units, and they are about 2800 square feet. The principal level includes the kitchen, living room, main bedroom, and main bath. A patio area rests under the gables with guard rails made of three-eighths inch metal wire. “You can see right through them,” said Doug, recalling the times he has been able to observe riverboats pushing barges. In that area, there’s a large family room that opens up into a large outdoor kitchen facing the river. This floor includes a guest bedroom and also opens up to a terrace. The Mixons, because of James’ love for golf, installed a putting green! “They’re very exciting,” emphasized Doug. One of the considerations when they began building plans was ease of access, so they installed elevators, which makes it easier for Debbie, who loves having family around, to carry dishes downstairs. 

While Doug spearheaded the curb appeal, Debbie managed the interior. Dabbling in different forms of artful conceptions over the years, Debbie credits her seasoned eye for design with “thirty years worth of cutting out pictures and kind of tweaking things.” Confessing that in the past  she’s been guilty of what she calls “country clutter,” Debbie admits that the older she has gotten, the more stuff she has had to let go. “I don’t want to just cram something in every little nook and cranny,” she said, wanting to be more particular about the interior details she incorporated into the new space. Enamored by the blend of rustic and modern in mountain homes, she has recently taken to wood and stone details, greenery and flowers like the juniper bushes planted in the property, textured artwork like Caroline Youngblood’s work, and earthy, natural colors. “Green is my favorite color,” she laughed, revealing she had a hard time convincing Doug to go an evergreen shade on the exterior of their townhome, but once it was on, he agreed it was the right move. The townhouse next to the Mixons is painted in a brick red, and the one in the exterior is tan. Currently planning for building two more, Debbie has the exterior colors in mind—cranberry red and blue-gray. “I already have it all picked out,” she said eagerly. 

When considering the favorite characteristic of her home, Debbie had an unexpected response. “Everybody is gonna think this is the funniest thing. My favorite thing is that my laundry room is in my master closet. I’ve got a stackable washer and dryer. And I love it,” she said, enthused that her clothes no longer live in the dryer like they used to. Aside from the practical elements of her home, Debbie enjoys the places where she can spend quality time with her family. “I actually have a table that is a pool table, ping pong table that converts into my dining room table. My kids and my grandkids and all of their friends love it,” she said. When not entertaining family, Debbie usually lounges on the outside balcony or in her bedroom, specifically an armchair facing the large picture windows with transoms over them. Meanwhile, her husband, when not working on his golf swing downstairs, can be found in the outdoor kitchen where they have a fire pit and television set. “He now cooks and he never did before. But he likes to grill,” said Debbie. 

Doug is more partial to the alluring hillside view. “When you walk onto that main floor coming off the garage level, you see this huge glass within the living room that overlooks the river; if you go to the side and into the master bedroom, you see the same view,” said Doug, who explained that “the whole thing is designed to address the river.” Naturally, the waterway is a constant element no matter what room you’re in (except for the garage and the back of the building). There is a constant dialogue with the Ouachita and the ever-changing activity on it. As someone with a careful interest in historical renovation, Doug’s ardor for the project took the form of basking in the natural beauty of the land. “This is one of the few places in North Louisiana that has these kinds of fields,” he said, remarking that most of the area is fairly flat, unlike the grandiose views like the high hills of the Columbia river bank where the townhouses look straight down the river. Debbie seconds these sentiments, saying, “I don’t think you could find a better view in North Louisiana like what we’ve got,” adding that visions of the most beautiful sunrises from her kitchen window definitely no longer make her feel like she’s being punished when she does the dishes. 

Another reason Doug was enthusiastic about the project was their location in Columbia. “It’s a very old town,” he said, commenting on its history of riverboat traffic. “It’s a nice little village.” Though Doug is from Monroe, he recognizes Columbia’s charm, designating it a town to escape to. In the same vein, the Mixons, wanting to add to the topography of the area, are in the final stages of finishing a water reservoir which is being built by the DeChene Lake Commission. They hope this added element will complement Louisiana’s often temperate climate, especially for outdoorsmen like her husband. 

This lifelong dream the Mixons now are living has been years in the making, which speaks to a profound commitment to themselves, the town of Columbia, and the natural wonder we sometimes don’t take enough time to soak in. Not only will the potential residents of this soon-to-be expanding community be living in an idea come to life, but they will also understand the respite that nature can offer. 

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