Old house transformed into photography studio and venue


Most looked at the derelict 100-year-old structure for sale in Ridgeland’s Old Town Railroad District and saw a costly remodeling or even a demolition.

But in search of a new studio, photographer Ron Blaylock saw a huge opportunity to make the space on Wheatley Street his own. He did. And now he envisions hosting live music, photography classes, art shows, book signings and more in his newly-renovated workspace. 

“The building was in really bad shape,” Blaylock said. “But I saw the challenge, I saw the potential of what it could be.”

Blaylock bought the property last spring and spent a solid year working on it himself.

“There was a big gaping hole in the walls that you could stick your head out. The windows were falling in and there was a giant hole where the bathroom was supposed to be,” Blaylock said. “A lot of our friends looked at me like I had lost my mind.” 

In between photo sessions, he was ripping out walls, replacing electrical systems, installing a new HVAC system and reworking the plumbing system.

“I had a vision for it, and I'm happy with the result. It turned out, it turned out just like I wanted it to,” he said, slightly stammering with excitement.

For him, it was a labor of love. 

Blaylock first picked up a camera as a youth in North Carolina. After attending the Rocky Mountain School of Photography in Missoula, Montana, he apprenticed with a professional photographer in New Orleans and established himself professionally.

Blaylock shot for newspapers, magazines, as well as school portraits and weddings. In his free time, he looked for unique views in the Crescent City’s culturally rich cityscapes. 

The Blaylocks were windswept to Madison County in the chaos of evacuating New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. 

Forced to ultimately relocate here, he started shooting for area publications and figuring out his next steps. 

He and his wife Lindsay ended up buying a home in Ridgeland. He opened his first studio where the Lily Pad Cafe is going in now in the same block. 

Three years later, he moved his studio to Fondren with now late photographer and artist James Patterson which lasted for about about 10 years. 

Blaylock loved his time in Fondren and admits he has occupied some interesting spaces. But the Wheatley property is the first to be his own, conceptualized and designed to meet his needs.

“I spent a lot of time really just standing there, and looking around, and making measurements, and doing drawings and kind of figuring out how to best use the space,” Blaylock said of the old house he made his project. “It was a pretty monumental undertaking.”

Other potential buyers were likely turned off by the house’s aged patina, peeling paint and general state of disrepair.

Blaylock only saw the makings of a solid structure. And he was right. Ripping off the sagging sheetrock revealed old-growth pine walls, known for durability and resistance to rot. “It was kind of like peeling an onion,” he said.

Blaylock saved the roof and the ceiling and as much of the original tongue-and-groove pine lumber. Before modern paneling was readily available, older houses were constructed with tongue-and-groove boards. In many older houses, each board had to be fitted and matched with another to ensure a tight fit.

Blaylock worked for an entire year with his family’s help. His sons, Gabe, 20, and Declan, 16, and his daughter 14-year-old Susanna helped with some of the heavy lifting.

He doubled the size of the north-facing windows and paneled the outside with a crisp, white bead and batten siding. He kept the porch and exterior trim natural wood, inspired by the primitive architecture of early Louisiana.

“I wanted a traditional Southern, almost Acadian looking home,” Blaylock said. “Inside, I liked that natural wood…I’m really happy with how it turned out.”

There was no sub-floor when he took possession, so Blaylock installed new wood over the original flooring and stained it to match the original shade.

Now that Blaylock’s studio is finished, it feels “weird.”

“I am glad that is done, but I miss working on it,” he said. “It was very therapeutic in a lot of ways.”

The remodeled structure is more than a studio to Blaylock, and many others in the community. 

He chose the location, in part, because he believed in investing in the railroad district.

“I want it to be an efficient working space when I need to shoot,” Blaylock said. “But I also want it to be a hub for the community and the railroad district, a place where people can expect fun things to happen.”

The studio’s open layout and extra space were practical for a professional photographer while functional enough to host live music and serve as a gallery. The studio’s porch and yard allow extra seating.

“I wanted a nice, open feel, but also a comfortable living room feel,” Blaylock said. 

He now also uses his space as a venue to promote other artists in the area.

Musician Eric Stracener chose the studio to perform and celebrate the release of his fourth studio album, Ocean Springs, this summer.

Stracener, along with musicians Jamie Weems and Matthew Magee, played an acoustic set in June to an intimate gathering. 

“We wanted the venue to be family-friendly, listener-oriented, and to sound great,” Stracener said. 

Blaylock’s studio was the perfect fit. The soft strums of the band’s guitar and mandolin hung in the air that night. 

Stracener said Blaylock’s studio fills a hole in the community where a community venue was needed.

“When you play there, it just feels like the community is on your side,” Stracener said. “They are there to be somewhere that’s relaxed, and where an artist — musicians or writers, whomever — can do what they feel like, and if you have something cool to say, or play, it’ll be listened to.”

Artists want to schedule more events after performing once. Stracener planned another set for the following month. 

Weems has already performed twice this summer, once with Stracener and once with the Mississippi band, The Rails.

“Ron is a great artist and true music lover,” Weems said. “Presenting a creative and genuine experience was central to the development of the space. That attracts an audience that wants a genuine experience, and that is the audience you want to perform for.”

Weems said the space held instrumental notes close for the audience to experience.

“The acoustics in the room are exceptional for folk instruments,” he said. “Guitars, fiddles and mandolins resonate with those walls, and the room becomes part of the performance. Most venues present challenges for artists, but Ron’s space is easy.”

Musician and friend, Bryan Ledford, helped Blaylock with parts of the studio’s renovation. Like other artists, he can’t ignore the venue’s potential to bring artists of all disciplines together.

Ledford said the studio has “all of that old wood to warm up the sound.”

He said the studio has fully encapsulated what Blaylock wanted.

“I got to spend a lot of time working beside him and listening to him talk about his vision of what he wanted the space to provide,” Ledford said. “From what I’ve seen and heard from other folks, he and Lyndsay nailed it.” 

In addition to the studio being a functional workspace, Blaylock is excited about the art shows, book signings and live music.

“I wanted it to be a place that kind of keeps moving forward with things, so I'm looking forward to what it is going to grow into,” Blaylock said. “Keep your eyes peeled for what we are doing.”