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Style Meets Serenity

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A Little Rock couple’s vacation home on Lake Hamilton sets the stage for summer fun in the sun.

Richard and Betty Gulley love Hot Springs – it reminds them of resort towns on the Gulf Coast, where they re-connected at a family wedding some 15 years ago. The Gulleys have been together ever since; their new vacation home at Bayview Estates is a favorite family destination.

“I was actually her first boyfriend in the ninth grade,” Richard explains, noting that he and Betty stayed friends over the years while living in different states. Richard, who with brother David owns Standard Business Systems in Little Rock, has vacationed in Hot Springs for decades. When the Gulleys decided to follow in David’s footsteps and purchase a home on Lake Hamilton, they found a nice ranch style house and had just closed on the deal — when fate stepped in.

“As we were leaving after we bought the house, [our realtor] said, ‘There’s a new one on the market I want you to see,’” Richard recalls. “We walked straight through the house onto the back deck – when I saw the lake view, that was it!” There was no turning back. The Gulleys ended up selling the ranch house, pouring their energy into making the new home on Serendipity Trail into a showplace.

The first thing one notices upon arrival is the home’s park-like setting. A grove of tall trees flanking the home shelters a new batch of baby geese. (This feathered family takes advantage of the Gulleys’ boat slip when leading their goslings to the lake.) Along the breezeway overlooking the entry court, country-chic furniture from De Madera is attractively arranged. Richard, his brother and nephew brought De Madera to Hot Springs – Gulf Coast transplants flourish in the Spa City!

“We wanted a Mississippi Gulf Coast feel,” Richard says as we continue the tour. “We wanted to sit here and watch the lake.” The pristine view will remain green and natural thanks to a family trust that owns shoreline opposite Serendipity Trail’s lake frontage. Builder Phillip Otwell went to great heights – the portico facing the deck features mammoth columns of raw cypress, each cut from one huge tree. Richard and Betty added to the home’s existing deck: they put in a winding boardwalk, Tiki bar with outdoor kitchen, and space that doubles as a dance floor! “We’ve had some wonderful parties,” Betty recalls, adding, “We tell folks that if the palm tree in the Tiki bar is lighted, it means we’re here — pull up your boat and drop by!”

Betty and Richard enjoy ballroom dancing; their fellow dance club members come out to boogie on the retractable dance floor with live music right on the water’s edge. “Our kids enjoy coming here,” Betty says. Their son, a boat captain in St. Thomas, inherited the family’s appreciation of open water and seaside sunsets – in the Tiki bar, little hand-painted signs tell how many miles to Key West, the Virgin Islands, etc.

There is much to amaze the lucky visitor within the home’s expansive interior. Richard, who flies his own airplane, collects models of sailboats and antique cars along with telescopes and aircraft memorabilia. Together with Betty’s extensive collection of original watercolors and prints of Gulf Coast lighthouses, the home’s décor comprises an engaging balance of their personalities. “We picked out furniture and accessories in Destin,” Betty explains, adding, “I flew back crammed into our plane with lamps and framed prints all over me!” (One nautical-themed find occurred here in Hot Springs: Richard found a handmade Adirondack chair in the shape of a giant fish and bought it for Betty. Like a sort of whimsical mermaid throne, it offers the ideal place to recline on the deck with a glass of iced tea.)

The great room’s open floor plan and 23-foot-high ceilings ensure ample room for entertaining, with tall windows and transoms facing Southern exposure to allow maximum natural light. Cappuccino-colored walls, white trim and mouldings, and columns hand-painted by Bonnie & Roscoe make the main living area a soothing place to relax. A spacious chef’s kitchen and dining area with view of the channel are focal points, while the formal dining room comes alive during Thanksgiving and Christmas. This home is all about indoor-outdoor living – right down to Betty’s hammock and Bemer the sh’ih tzu’s miniature life vest. “He wears it when we ride around on the jet-ski,” Betty says with a laugh.

One feature of the home surprised Betty and Richard. “We didn’t even know [at first] what was behind this door,” chuckles Richard as we turn down a hallway past the kitchen. Through the door lies an entire separate wing of the home – complete with kitchen, living room and fireplace, utility room, and several bedrooms and baths. “Keep in mind – we have five [grown] kids,” he says. This area opens directly onto the back deck so that visitors can step right out into the sunshine, jump in the boat, and go!

On the opposite side of the ground floor lies the master bedroom and bath. The master bedroom, filled with natural light and decorated in white linen and muted wall colors, makes a perfect backdrop for Betty’s seaside artworks and hand-stitched bed linens (“I monogram everything!” she laughs.)

As we head upstairs to the landing, Richard explains why they decided to keep the previous owner’s leopard-print carpeting. “We had just come back from an African safari,” he says, “and the leopard print kind of grew on us.” Sure enough, there is a photo on display nearby that shows Richard and Betty in the wilds of Africa – looking incredibly composed considering the lions in the distance! The upstairs guest bedrooms include one filled with gorgeous antique veneer furnishings from Richard’s grandparents and, on the other side of the immaculate jack-and-jill bathroom, “the Destin Room,” a bright and breezy mix of pale blue-green walls and white trim with beach-worthy orange, green and teal accents.

Richard and Betty finished out a long attic space that over-arches the breezeway to run the length of the home’s garage – this project resulted in maximized space that makes the home’s 5,000-plus square feet seem even larger. But with a separate zoned heating and air system, electricity costs stay low. The longish space is divided into Betty’s sewing area, complete with computerized pattern-making programs, miles of thread spools in every color; and convenient built-in storage so that not an inch of space is wasted. Through this craft-happy corridor, we arrive at the home’s secret hideaway: The Man-Cave! With four daughters, the Gulleys’ have some lucky sons-in-law (the newest is scheduled to become son-in-law number four in August). This room doubles as a home theatre and poker room, housing a swanky card table; topnotch stereo system; vintage theatre memorabilia, and a stunning example of Hot Springs history: a Jennings Sun Chief antique nickel slot machine, mint condition. Found at a yard sale in Little Rock, this treasure of Hot Springs’ wild and woolly past mercifully escaped destruction to become a cherished family memento.

The Gulleys have much to celebrate – including their first grandbaby, little ginger-haired Kirby Ann. As they settle into their serendipitous lakeside retreat, Richard and Betty radiate happiness and contentment. Whether taking the boat over to Gilligan’s for breakfast; watching the Fourth of July fireworks over the water; or simply swaying in the hammock, these two have found their niche. As Richard sums up, “It’s a fun house.”