Red Oak Retreat
Peggy and Phil Stratton enjoy coming home as much as they love traveling the world.
They came from Alabama – but instead of a banjo, Peggy and Phil Stratton brought with them a love of community and an appreciation for Hot Springs’ natural scenery. Their Red Oak Ridge address allows them to enjoy these elements and more.
The soaring brick home, situated on a forested hill above one of Red Oak’s pristine lakes, showcases tall windows, open framework archways, and an upper-level landing that looks down upon the entry hall. The light-filled foyer features porcelain tile floors with the look of marble and a wide, curving staircase to the upper landing. To the right, a grand piano occupies an elegant, restful space adjacent to the formal dining area.
“We’re one of those families that likes formal dining and living,” explains Peggy, the family pianist. Peggy, a counselor at Lakeside High School, has also provided piano lessons to children for years. Thanks to Phil’s artful design ideas for their home, there is a room devoted entirely to piano lessons. “Phil drew up plans and [worked with] the architect,” she says, adding, “We looked at houses in Alabama before we moved here.” The Strattons also toured Red Oak Ridge’s Southern Living Home during a visit to Hot Springs and found another great source of design ideas to share with builders Tim Hughes and Andrew Johnson of Jadee Construction.
The Strattons’ children are grown and Phil is retired from his career as a CFO for an Alabama manufacturing firm, so summer break spells travel time for this companionable pair. This summer, they plan to visit the Emerald Isle for the first time: Ireland, where they will add to their collection of art glass and cut crystal gathered from past trips to Europe.
“We’ve never been to Ireland,” says Peggy. “We try to go some place new every year.” Souvenirs from their travels, displayed in glass-fronted cabinets, include Austrian Swarovski crystal candlesticks, Waterford and Murano glass, and a faceted Berger oil lamp that sparkles rainbow prisms in the natural light. Set against a muted backdrop of earth tones and cream-colored trim and crown mouldings, these splashes of color provide eye-catching accents.
To the left of the foyer, Phil’s classic study features a floating beam over the doorway for an open feel accentuated by vertical windows that extend the height of 20-foot-plus ceilings. Tucked beneath the foyer’s curving staircase, a wine nook maximizes what could have been an unused space, its ornate iron scrollwork door echoing the entry door’s design as well as the staircase’s ironwork balustrade. A circular floor plan leads to a den that features a striking fireplace with mantel of polished travertine flanked by tall bookcases that also house an entertainment center. From this cozy space, the Strattons have a green view of the ridge behind their home – a bluff overlooking Lake Catherine is just two hundred yards beyond. “We see a lot of deer,” Phil says as Peggy states: “The deer like our day-lilies – they eat them and our shrubs!”
Just off the den, a russet-colored breakfast room also enjoys a view of the woods. Through an arched doorway lies the well-appointed kitchen that in turn opens through double doors to the formal dining area. Peggy wanted the kitchen to be away from the rest of the house to prevent guests congregating around the kitchen island. The result is a nice flow to the ground floor, while another set of rooms on the far side of the den offer privacy and provide utility areas, a watercloset, and Peggy’s music room. “I teach all ages,” she says, adding that back in Fayette, Alabama, she had students she taught all the way from kindergarten to college.
“This house is amazingly easy to heat and cool,” says Phil, thanks to a combination of energy-efficient windows and the latest advances in weatherization and insulation. The ceiling heights give a feeling of openness to the home’s 4,500 square feet but without any accompanying sense of emptiness. Peggy and Phil collaborated on the décor, which includes striking examples of Arkansas art pottery and handcrafted, lathe-turned burlwood bowls alongside gorgeous watercolor prints picked up for a song on the Champs-Elysees.
The last stop on the ground floor is the Stratton’s master bedroom and seating area, which include lavender-tinted examples of art glass from Phil’s favorite place they’ve toured (so far): Prague, the ancient capital city of the Czech Republic. The his-and-her walk in closet spaces constitute a necessity: along with an eye for art, Peggy has a flair for shoes – the sheer variety of strappy sandals and pumps is enough to make any style-conscious woman issue a wistful sigh of admiration. Beyond this treasure trove of fabulous footwear lies the master bath – a serene space with spa tub set below an encircling rim of polished granite. A starburst tile pattern distinguishes the luxuriant bath, and two shower rooms offer room to spare – but this master bath is not Peggy’s favorite: the Stratton’s three-bedroom home features two half-baths and a total of three master baths, including two upstairs!
As we climb the gently winding staircase to the upper landing in search of these other hidden oases, the full height of the home’s interior can be appreciated. At the top of the staircase, a set of French doors opens to a room where Peggy loves to go to read. Inset into a sidewall, an interior window with scrolled ironwork looks down into the den far below, while another window peers out into the treetops that ring the property. Next to this soothing spot is Peggy’s favorite master bath, which showcases some beautifully veined gray-blue granite around the under-set spa tub and ample counter spaces. Double sinks of hollowed marble add a timeless air. A plush chair in a seashell design provides an Art Deco touch, while down the hall a guest bedroom with Juliet balcony overlooks Peggy’s grand piano. The expanse of windows allows one to lie in bed and observe the moon’s slow path across the night sky – one of many advantages to living away from city streetlights.
“This is actually the second lot we owned in [Red Oak],” Peggy says, explaining that they sold their first lot because its lakeside site was not conducive to their chosen floor plan. “This house, as it became a home, was what made things work,” she says of the upheaval involved in moving from the small town where she and Phil were “so involved” with their community. They have been pleasantly surprised to explore Hot Springs and find all there is to see and do – especially the many wonderful restaurants now just a few minutes’ drive from their home.
The upstairs landing leads to another guest bedroom, this one done in a beautiful pastel cobalt blue with white trim. A chair upholstered in raw silk continues the color scheme in a delightful plaid, while the sleigh bed and richly stained furniture upon polished wood floors make a traditional statement. “Phil and I are very traditional and in tune,” Peggy says with a smile. “We only buy things when we’re together.”
As we exit the guest suite to the landing overlooking the heart of the Stratton’s home, one can imagine guests flowing up and down the staircase to the sound of a piano concerto, as chandeliers and candles flicker and sparkle and a heavy moon rises outside the gorgeous windows. “We’re not big entertainers,” Phil demurs as Peggy agrees – this home is their retreat, a testament to years of teamwork and mutual devotion. Looking down upon the foyer, a round polished wood table found during a chance visit to an antique store makes an eye-catching conversation piece. The Strattons loved it, and it is easy to see why: a folk artist has carefully painted a garland of flowers and leaves in an around-the-world design on the table’s burnished surface. The result is satisfying and inspiring, just like the Strattons’ love of travel and fondness for home.