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A short commute

H.C. Porter gallery and loft on Washington Street in Vicksburg.

VICKSBURG — Most weekday mornings, Laura Weeks rolls out of her Washington Street bed, takes a shower, eats breakfast and goes to work.  

No commute necessary.  She simply walks down the stairs.

“My husband and I moved to Vicksburg from Norfolk, Va., and the traffic in the mornings was horrible,” Weeks said.  “It took us 45 minutes to drive eight miles.  We don’t miss (commuting) at all.”

Weeks, owner of Lorelei Books, lives and works in the same space in downtown Vicksburg.  So does acclaimed Mississippi artist H.C. Porter, a Jackson native who has an art gallery on the first floor of her building and a home above.    

They and other small business owners are part of a relatively new trend, at least to Mississippi, of people who treat their office as home and vice versa. In the past, home offices often have been carved out of the guest room or an underused dining room. 

The lure of the live/work environment is not all about convenience and lifestyle choice.  There are also financial advantages to owning your home and business in one location: monthly payments going toward building equity rather than paying rent, tax deductions for mortgage interest payments and the potential for appreciation with the sale of the property.

Lorelei Books with Weeks' loft above.

Weeks and Porter are but two of a growing list of Mississippians who embrace the ‘office as home’ concept.

• • •

Weeks and her husband Troy found what they were looking for — a lifestyle change — in historic Vicksburg. They chose the site of one of the Civil War’s most pivotal battles to relocate from Virginia.

“We started visiting the city prior to 2005, before the real downtown revitalization began,” said Laura. “Shortly afterwards, we started noticing the changes and decided this was the place for us. We wanted a small community that was close-knit, easy to get to know people and one that would be receptive to my business.”

She and Troy began scoping out property on Washington St. and found the building that they wanted.  

Laura and Troy Weeks

Laura and Troy Weeks

“The building was built in the late 1800s and it’s exactly what we wanted,” Laura said.  “It took a year-and-a-half to complete renovations on the loft upstairs and my bookstore downstairs, but we opened in Dec. 2006.”        

Upstairs, the Weeks’ living quarters are 1,600 feet of open floor plan, complete with a full bath and half-bath, which Laura terms a “powder room.” The kitchen is raised by two stair steps and is easily accessible from any portion of the loft.

The couple enjoys a small green space in back, complete with a landscaped garden. They have all the comforts of home and the convenience of having their workplaces a few feet away.

Troy Weeks is a consultant in facility management planning.

“He has an office in the back and this is the set-up that we always wanted,” said Laura. “If he’s not traveling, we come down to work each morning, just like a store owner might have a century ago. It’s like going back to the future.”

Laura Weeks said the City of Vicksburg, known for years as “The Red Carpet City,” certainly rolls it out for those that choose a live/work lifestyle.

Interior of Lorelei Books

“The city has done a great job in utilizing residential/mixed-use space,” she said. “We have great neighbors on Washington St. and actually feel closer to them than if we lived in a subdivision.

“I’m also glad that there’s not a Starbucks on the corner.”

• • •

H.C. Porter calls her Washington Street neighborhood “Fondren with a river,” in honor of the revived art district in North Jackson.

The artist is best known for “Backyards and Beyond: Mississippians and Their Stories,” a mixed-media project Porter created documenting how coastal residents are rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

Porter transplanted to Vicksburg when the opportunity was presented to purchase a century-old clothing store on Washington Street that already had been renovated by Jack Kyle, a noted Mississippi art promoter.

She misses her Belhaven home, Millsaps Avenue art studio and Fondren but the move was a good fit for Porter.

Deck of Porter loft.

Deck of Porter loft.

“Jack had actually purchased this space in 1999 and he did a wonderful job renovating, so I didn’t have to do much,” she said.  “It was strange leaving Jackson four years ago but this place is an artist’s dream.  I just fell in love with the building.”

The building itself contains a whopping 9,000 square feet with three floors and a basement.  Porter’s art gallery serves as the focal point from the street and still features many of the original fixtures from the building, which was constructed in 1875.

“The gallery is 2,400 square feet and still has the same tin ceiling,” she said.  “This place just has a real cosmopolitan feel to it, but I can look out back and watch the barge traffic up and down the river.”

Porter’s second floor loft features an open plan with a unique twist — four ionic columns from the fabled St. Petersburg exhibition in Jackson a few years ago.  

“I sleep between two of these columns and it’s really neat,” she said.  “Jack (Kyle) brought the St. Petersburg exhibit to the state and he put them up here when he bought the building.”

Added Porter, laughing:  “I guess you could call my (decorating) style eclectic —Pottery Barn meets ancient Rome.”

Interior of Porter loft.

Interior of Porter loft.

The third floor is empty but Porter has plans for what she calls her “blank space.”  She envisions subdividing the area into three rooms and opening a bed and breakfast for visiting artists.

“I’ve already drawn up the plans, but it all depends on cash flow,” Porter said.

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