When Danny Williams hosts his annual Christmas Eve open house in Ponchatoula, family and friends mingle around his one-of-a-kind new dining table.
A conversation starter in itself, the 10-foot-long table was handcrafted by Williams’ cousin Sean Fairburn of Slidell. And, like the rest of Williams’ century home, it reflects his love of family, faith, and travel.
“I wanted a farmhouse style table to set up here, and I wanted it made of cypress,” said Williams, 60, standing in the large entertainment / dining porch he added to his home 15 years ago. year.
Fairburn, a veteran marine, photographer / videographer and jack of all trades, designed the table top from three long planks of cypress trees. It’s the direction he took after that that makes the piece so unique.
“He called and wanted things put in there, under the polyurethane,” Williams said. “He suggested keys, photos, family stuff.”
Williams’ impromptu treasure hunt yielded a handful of old keys and coins and paper money collected on his travels or given to him by his exchange students. There is a family photo taken while obtaining his doctorate with pages from a church hymnbook, a bassoon reed and an olive wood camel figurine that he gave to his late mother. The list goes on: a page from an old passport, a badge from SLU staff; a starfish and a postcard-sized photo of the “Mona Lisa” (more on that later).
His cousin incorporated all of these into the table and added his own surprise: two rows of pecans separating the three boards, appearing to “float” inside the table. The touch of hazelnut is a nod to the pecans in the yard and memories of the family picking pecans in the yard of First Baptist Church as a child.
“And you see that?” Williams asked, pointing to the paper money near one end. “My grandma Fairburn told you to keep a $ 2 bill; it’s a bill she gave me. That way you would never say you don’t have money, you know , keep it in your wallet. “
Fairburn carved the two longer sides of the table from Chilean cypress. He built the legs and supports underneath so that the top could be detached and a crossbar folds upwards for easier movement. But his work was not yet finished.
“I wanted to seat 10, because I wanted it to be a great place to get together with family and the like,” said Williams.
Fairburn found 10 mango wood chairs with slatted backs that complement the table. Williams added light green cushions.
So Fairburn looked up and said, “You need a light.”
A week later, the craftsman called his cousin and said: “I am coming to put your light on.
Fairburn hung a slab of leaded cypress, naturally dimmed by time and sunlight, above the table, wrapping the wood with vintage light bulbs, typically used outdoors, to cast a golden glow.
The table and light fixture echoes the home’s original cypress frame and interior trim, which Williams has retained for its historic charm. Rather than throwing in the cypress swinging door that once led to the kitchen, Williams turned it into a console for the living room. It has also retained the original parquet floors.
A history buff, Williams enjoys sharing what he has learned about the history of the house he has lived in for 35 years.
“It was the Dunk Cowen house. The Cowens’ son Stanley, who was born here in the house, operated the Ponchatoula Hayride (a music hall often featuring touring performers),” Williams said. “So the Hayride performers would often come here after the show and eat what they called ‘breakfast.’ I heard that Dolly Parton was here and, of course, Porter Wagoner and Norma Jean and a few- each other back then who were into country music. “
Williams’ three-bedroom, two-bath home on a three-quarter-acre corner lot is only about a block from the house where he grew up and where his parents still lived when their son moved into the neighborhood.
“When you walk in and see some of its features, like these big rooms and, of course, the property around the corner, I fell in love with it,” Williams said.
The retired educator has filled his traditional home with trinkets and treasures from his many trips to 17 countries. In the center of the scene for the holidays is the nativity scene he bought at the Christmas market in Berlin, Germany in 2019. It is carved and hand painted and sits on the cypress table rack.
Other prized possessions include a grandfather clock inherited from his grandparents, gifts from the 25 exchange students he has hosted over the years, a collection of festival posters, and a “Mona Lisa “framed in gold that he recovered from the Louvre. It dominates a formal dining room wall, where a hand-carved round Mexican table enhances the flow of party guests. The chairs adorned with velvet cushions that accompany it sit against the wall on either side of the “Mona Lisa”.
While the new porch table tells a bit of Williams’ story, he strives to make the house and yard reflect his family’s history, he said.
Magnolias like the ones her paternal grandparents loved on the garden path in memory of her late mother, it all figures in one piece of this story.
“I got it the way I wanted it,” said Williams.