Ellen Leake and her husband first purchased land in Mississippi hill country in the 1990s, thinking it would be a timber investment. “But,” she says, “we started spending time on the property and decided the land was extraordinary, so we began to think about a private retreat for our family.” They soon began construction on a weekend home, called the Boathouse, which was completed in 2021. “My husband, Eason, said it was perfect except for one thing: he wanted neighbors and a sense of community. That’s when the idea of Splinter Creek was born. Rather than an ah-ha moment, the project evolved over a decade.” 

Splinter Creek is a 650-acre property about 10 miles outside Oxford, Mississippi. Approximately 250 acres of the land is being developed into a lakeside community with a small number of homesites; the remainder is in a natural preserve. “We see future residents designing homes that will integrate with the natural features of the land, preserving mature trees and native plants and complementing the distinctive topography of the area,” Ellen says. 

They worked with architectural firm Lake|Flato to design the Boathouse as well as Splinter Creek’s overall plan. “The firm has a reputation as a national leader in master planning and design of eco-conservation projects,” Ellen explains. “Their design process started with a comprehensive understanding of the environmental and cultural context and employed sustainable strategies unique to our region. For example, they incorporated gabion walls, a feature used throughout the property, for erosion control. Rather than new, interlocking concrete erosion walls, Lake|Flato suggested a low-tech, age-old approach that uses ‘cages of river stones’ (gabions) as retaining walls which blend into the natural landscape. Another example, given our climate, they designed our house with roof lines to maximize generous over-hangs and wide screen porches.”

A lot of the land at Splinter Creek is set aside as common areas—there are barns, old stone walls, docks, and swimming holes. There is an area they call Community Porch, which is a pavilion with a long lakeside porch. “It recalls days past, of families and stories being shared on a porch swing,” Ellen smiles. “It’s the memory of running barefoot across a lawn while the ‘grown-ups’ traded stories on the porch that we are trying to recreate for our children and grandchildren. We see the lakes as our Main Street, with residents boating over to each other’s docks for a glass of wine to watch the sunset or paddle boarding across the lake before their morning coffee.”

The idyllic landscape soon called Ellen’s daughter, Blair Wunderlich, away from her life in D.C. “In the past four years, we have had four granddaughters! So, the multi-generational seeds are now sprouting,” Ellen shares. “Blair and Ben, who live in Washington D.C., full-time with their two daughters, are now owners of the East Cove Concept Home [pictured in the slideshow and designed by Lang Architecture], which is just across the lake from the Boathouse. We can wave to each other from our docks.” 

Blair explains that the early days of the pandemic were scary for everyone. “At that time, our girls were ages 1 and 3, and we wanted to get out of the city with them. Splinter Creek was the obvious choice for our family. We arrived last spring and stayed through the summer. We’ve always loved spending time at Splinter Creek, but being able to stay for that long of a stretch really changed the way we thought about our life. We loved the slower pace and how much our girls got to spend time outdoors and with my parents and their aunt, uncle, and cousins. We started talking about coming every summer, even when the pandemic ended, and the idea took hold.”

The East Cove Concept Home features a huge soaking tub that overlooks the lake and serves as the ultimate escape. “There’s a deck right off the master bedroom where I like to have a cup of coffee before the kids wake up. Having the screened-in porch between the main part of the house and the office and guest room is a great way to have some separate togetherness,” she says. “We love being right on the lake. We paddle around in the mornings and evenings, before and after work. Dinners on the screened-in porch while the sun sets make us all happy and relaxed. I love that our daughters will grow up with these memories of running around so free all summer long.”