The story of the Ladies of the Court homes in downtown Hot Springs and the Arkansas natives who restored them
By Rebekah Hall Scott
Above: Miss Fancy, Miss Lily, and Miss Scarlet on their perch above downtown Hot Springs (Photo by Madison Hurley)
When I first walked into Madison Hurley and Nic Fuentez’s home in 2019, I was struck. My eyes couldn’t figure out where to look first. High ceilings and tall doors with transom windows drew my eye upwards, and the artwork and carefully arranged knick-knacks lining the walls made me want to stop and ask about the story behind every single one. I immediately felt wrapped up in the warmth and eccentricity of the space and intrigued by the home’s dreamy mid-century touches.
Madison, 30 and Nic, 33, own the Ladies of the Court homes, a colorful trio of Victorian row houses perched atop Court Street and overlooking Central Avenue in downtown Hot Springs. Madison, a Hot Springs native, and Nic, who grew up in nearby Jessieville, live in Miss Lily, the blue house sandwiched between Miss Fancy (yellow) and Miss Scarlet (pink.) Two friends rent Miss Scarlet from them, and Miss Fancy is home to Madison’s photography studio. Miss Fancy is also available for rent as an Airbnb and boasts a truly luxurious Jacuzzi bathtub that I’m still thinking about.
In 2015, when Madison and Nic were in their mid-twenties, they began house hunting for “really humble properties” around Hot Springs, Nic said – originally only looking for a two bedroom, two bath place. Madison found the Ladies of the Court trio for sale on Facebook, and initially, it felt like a shoot-for-the-stars kind of thing.
“Madison was like, ‘Let’s buy these houses,’ and I was jokingly like, ‘Yeah, totally, let’s buy the houses!’ thinking, ‘No one is going to give us a loan,’” Nic said.
After making a couple offers and being turned down, a bank finally agreed.
“We’d had our hearts set on it, but kept being denied, denied, denied,” Madison said. “I started telling myself, ‘It wasn’t meant to be anyways,' to talk myself out of it. Then we got a call from the real estate agent being like, ‘Hey, you were approved,’ and I immediately started crying because I’d already talked myself down. So we just had to decide to go for it.”
Nic said that when they took ownership of the homes, “it was basically a big, blank slate.” Considering the age of the homes, Madison and Nic were surprised to find no huge structural issues. They have replaced roofs, hot water heaters and furnaces, and they’ve painted every room in each house, as well as replacing flooring and installing new tile. Madison’s father, a contractor and design enthusiast in his own right, moved into Miss Scarlet and lived there while he remodeled it. Madison said he played a significant role in remodeling all three houses. Since then, Madison said the homes continue to be a work in progress, with projects popping up regularly.
“There’s always something, so it never feels complete,” she said.
Above: Miss Fancy's exterior in bright, welcoming shades. Upon entry, deep reds and handsome woods invite guests into the home. (Photos by Madison Hurley)
Each home has its own distinct personality and aesthetic, though all are colorful, richly textured, and visually stimulating. Madison and Nic said that Miss Fancy, home to Madison’s photography studio and an Airbnb rental, feels like the house that “gives us the freedom to really go extravagant."
“A mirror that’s ridiculously ornamental might not go in our home space, but we have the courage to put it in this doll house, this fancy house,” Nic said.
“I have a lot of aesthetics I like to go with, and it’s hard to combine them in a space like [our own] house,” Madison said. “I love to go extremely gaudy, gothic, and maximalist, so it’s nice to be like, ‘Oh, I found this piece and I love it,’ and it fits in there really well. It’s like my little playhouse.”
Above: One of Miss Fancy's bedrooms, ready for guests; the stairway decorated with an extensive mirror collection; plants hang above the deep Jacuzzi tub in the spa bathroom; overlapping textiles, pillows and a hanging chandelier all contribute to this dreamy corner. (Photos by Madison Hurley)
Potentially (definitely) paranormal
The homes were first built in 1895 and have lived many lives since then. At one point, local judge OJ Sumpter owned the land, and Nic said “the word is that Miss Fancy, Miss Lilly and Miss Scarlet were Judge OJ Sumpter’s daughters.”
But Madison disagrees. “I like to think that it’s from whenever these were brothels, and those were the names of the madams,” she said. “I mean, those are sexy babe names, those are not daughter names.”
Prior to Madison and Nic’s ownership, the homes were in business as the Andrea Rose Day spa, and before that, they served as bed and breakfasts. “It’s always been a place of work,” Madison said. “And I feel like the property is very happy to be in use and in more of a home environment.”
Nic said they think this is why they haven’t experienced intense hauntings in the homes. “When we first moved in, I sort of put feelers out there to the community of, ‘If you’ve ever worked here or done work on this property and have a story, I’d love to hear it,’” they said. “So many people were like, ‘I was pushed down the stairs,’ or ‘I’ve seen things,’ or ‘There’s a woman in the window upstairs.’”
“So many people said that,” Madison said. “I was like, ‘We’re going to buy these houses and it’s going to be a scary movie.’”
“There are signs in the parking lot saying ‘We’re not responsible if you get spooked or things go missing,’” Nic said. “If there’s validity to that sort of spiritual energy, whatever it is is fine with us being here and what we have brought to the property, if you believe in that sort of energy.”
Well, I do believe in that sort of energy. The warmth and care that Madison and Nic bring to the homes and the surrounding landscape make it a cozy place for all who visit, regardless of the status of their mortal coil.
Above: The exterior of Miss Lily, where Madison and Nic live. On the surrounding land and gardens, Madison and Nic wanted to create pockets of oasis. They recently completed a series of trickling water features set into the hill of the backyard, incorporating stone, mosses and plants. (Photos by Madison Hurley)
Above: Dried herbs and flowers hang from above in the kitchen. (Photo by Madison Hurley)
‘Cottage core meets mid-century’
Madison and Nic said the decoration of their home has evolved over time, reflecting shifts in taste, interests and different functional needs. At first, Madison, a burlesque performer and boudoir photographer, wanted their house to do double-duty as a location for shoots.
“Whenever we first moved in, I wanted it to be a mid-century showroom, and I wanted to be able to do photoshoots,” Madison said. “I quickly realized that’s not practical. I want it to feel cozy and warm.”
Madison gives the example of a vintage turquoise leather couch they used to have in their living room. “I loved that, and I loved how it looked, but it was so uncomfortable,” she said. “Once COVID hit and we were in the house so much, it was more important to feel comfy.”
Madison also began spending a lot more time in the kitchen during the pandemic, so they decided to paint the room a blush pink, a much softer shade than the room’s previous iteration, which was bright yellow. She said their entire home has become warmer and more earthy, due in part to the life brought in by many house plants.
“COVID hit, and I was like, ‘I gotta have plants,’” Madison said. “I need to nurture, I need a project, something to tend to.”
She describes their home as “cottage core meets mid-century,” filled with collected art, vintage furniture and objects with their own past lives. Nic said that aside from the new comfy couch and television, everything else in their home has been thrifted from Arkansas, with some pieces from Louisiana and Mississippi.
Madison and Nic pointed out that it takes patience to create a space that feels like you and is filled with pieces you love. I agree, and in the past, I’ve definitely bought things I didn’t completely love just because I wanted to fill a new space quicker.
“We’ve slowly taken things down that were impulse purchases and found something else that’s now in its forever home,” Madison said.
And, realistically, most of us in our twenties and thirties are ballin’ on a budget. It’s not wise – or really possible – to decorate an entire home in one go. And to me, the process, the layering, the building, is part of the joy of creating a home that grows and changes as you do.
“I want to feel at home, surrounded by things that have stories, or make me comfortable, or are visually pleasing,” Nic said. “Things that make me smile.”
Above: In Miss Lily, Madison and Nic have decorated their bedroom in soothing crisp whites and the greens of many house plants, with unique rugs layered on the dark wood floors; a vintage television has a new life as a working fish tank, displaying Polaroids and treasures; in the breezeway between Miss Lily and Miss Scarlet, Madison and her mother painted a tropical mural and filled the space with unique lighting and thriving plants; a corner of the living room boasts a vintage floor lamp that Madison rewired herself. (Photos by Madison Hurley)
For Madison, her decorator’s eye comes naturally. Her parents owned a home accessories store in downtown Hot Springs when she was growing up, and “it runs in my genes,” she said. “My mom and grandma are both very eclectic, and our homes are spitting images across the generations.”
She and Nic tell me I would lose my marbles if I visited her grandmother’s home, and I believe them. They show me a few pictures, and it’s a Southern Gothic/World Traveler/Victorian Brothel fantasy. “It’s very Mississippi Delta eclectic,” Nic said, which perfectly encapsulates the feminine elements juxtaposed with arrowheads found in Mississippi creek beds and fossils she dug up from her travels.
Above: Details sing in Madison and Nic's home — air plants cascade into a display of crystals, candles and other treasures; unique vintage lamps cast their glow in the kitchen and living room; in the powder bathroom off the kitchen, tucked under the stairs, fish motifs line the walls. (Photos by Madison Hurley)
I believe that the way we make our homes – and the communities in which we choose to make them – are a vital part of investing in, and creating, the future we want. For Madison and Nic, making their home in Hot Springs has been an important element of building a safe, loving community for queer people in the South.
“I feel safe here, I will walk the streets at night alone as a queer person, as someone perceived as a woman,” Nic said. “I feel confident that if I’m in a public place and someone does try to harass me, I have the backbone community of other people here who can give me the space to stick up for myself.
“I believe heavily in a New South, and that the outreach of Hot Springs will grow to places like Jessieville, and Mountain Pine, and Fountain Lake,” they continued. “If anyone is going to stay in the South to work on changing it, why not childless adults? We’re in a place of privilege right now, and I think it’s important for people like us to stay. I feel a communal responsibility.”
Every time I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Madison and Nic in their slice of Hot Springs, I walk away feeling inspired, both by the homes’ interiors and by the spirit of the owners. They also throw one hell of a party, and if you’re lucky enough to get invited one day, take some time to look around – maybe you’ll be able to count up all hundred cat figurines scattered throughout their house.