Splinter Creek brings eco-living to Oxford

Published 10:29 am Friday, December 29, 2017

Splinter Creek housing development in Taylor, Miss. is gaining regional attention.

The owners, a mother-daughter team made up of Ellen Leakes and her daughters Elizabeth Keckler and Blair Wunderlich, were recently named one of Southern Living Magazine’s Top Southern Tastemakers for 2018. The development, nestled right outside of Taylor, Miss., is a 650-acre plot of land with space for up to 26 homes, where structures are designed to take their cues from nature.

However, the idea for a development like Splinter Creek came from humble beginnings, Elizabeth Keckler says.

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“My parents, Ellen and Eason Leake, originally bought the land back in the mid-90s as a timber investment,” Keckler said. “But as they spent time on the property, they really formed a connection with the place.”

The Leakes worked with Austin-based architecture firm Lake Flato to build the original home, called the Boathouse. Keckler says the family spends as much time as possible on the property, enjoying the outdoors, and they want others to share in those experiences.

“Rather than an ah-ha moment, the project evolved over a decade. It was actually my dad who got the ball rolling,” she said. “He saw the potential to build a family retreat, which then expanded into Splinter Creek. He thought it should be a community.”

To achieve that dream, Splinter Creek has curated a team of over nine collaborators, from architects to landscapers to interior designers, all of whom work together to create an environmentally-friendly space, one Leakes says pays respect to nature down to the smallest details and allows people to “form their own bond” with the land. Many members of this team are friends of the family, and almost all of them have some kind of tie to the South.

One of their collaborators is Oxford-based woodworker John Haltom. Haltom has known the family for many years, and after moving back to Mississippi from Seattle in 2015, the Leakes partnered with his company, Roxie Woodworks, to create fixtures in their model home and around the property.

“After meeting with the Leakes, I was thrilled to know of Splinter Creek, as it’s a development that might expected in an affluent area of Seattle but is totally original and innovative in Mississippi,” Haltom said. “I’ve built a cypress dining table, a cypress bench made using salvaged cypress from an antebellum cabin in Louisiana, 16 cypress Adirondack chairs, and a cherry floating desk and shelves for the model home.”

Haltom says his focus aligns with the Leakes in terms of being eco-conscious and highlighting natural features.

“The slabs of wood that comprise my furniture are locally salvaged and often are natural pieces of Southern history before I even touch the lumber,” he said. “Most of my pieces thus far have been built from locally salvaged trees, and I expect all of my pieces in the future to be built from trees I’ve salvaged in Mississippi or the South in general.”

Another collaborator is Jordan Loch Crabtree, a landscape architect based out of Annapolis, Md. Crabtree met the family through a mutual friend in the Washington, D.C. area, and after meeting with Ellen Leake in Georgetown, he says he was immediately on board.

So far, Crabtree has worked on the landscape master plan, including the model house, entrance courtyard, a terrace carved into the hillside and a meadow filled with a custom mix of native grasses and wildflowers.

“I actually paddle boarded around the main lake, collecting different kinds of seeds,” Crabtree said. “We have a custom seed mixer who created the mix exclusively for Splinter Creek.”

Keeping in mind the property’s natural features, Crabtree says he used minimal designs to draw residents out into nature without distracting from the untouched beauty of the land. His designs feature materials entirely sourced from the Southeast, with most coming from Mississippi.

“If you notice the architecture, the structure of the model home is floating on concrete piers, so the topography floats underneath the house,” he said. “We didn’t build any massive retaining walls or anything like that to disturb the beauty of the land.”

In keeping with the Leakes’ vision, Keckler says each part of the development is designed to be a place where families and communities can grow.

“The modern-contemporary design and generously sized and spaced lots definitely distinguish

Splinter Creek from other developments,” she said. “It’s just such a special place to me and my family. My husband and I are having our first baby, a girl, this spring. I hope it’s a sanctuary for [her] to run and just be a kid – build forts, make mud pies, get dirty and form her own bond with the land and north Mississippi.”