LEESVILLE -- Margaret Matthews wanted to create a place where friends could meet, have a bite to eat and forget their cares, if only for a bit.
And she believes she has accomplished that at the old house on Third Street in downtown Leesville. From everywhere you sit in "Hazel's Tea Parlor," there's a nice view.
"I love this block. I love that the parades go through here and I love the museum. Who knows ... maybe it will bring more people down here," Matthews said.
The tea parlor, which Matthews plans to open in about two weeks, will feature a light menu with items like sandwiches, soups and sweets -- with tea and coffee, of course.
"I don't want it to be pricey," she said. "I want everybody to be able to come and enjoy it. Even if it's just a cup of tea and a scone, or a piece of cake, or a bowl of soup and a sandwich."
Matthews and her husband purchased the property, known by locals as the old Van Dine home, after searching for places around the city to fit her tea parlor dream.
They were considering buying a lot and building something when a friend told Matthews about the house, which would soon be for sale. When she saw it, the hunt was over.
"I could hear angels in the background," she said. "I had goosebumps."
Matthews and her husband hired local contractor Pat Williams Construction to help restore, remodel and repurpose the home, believed to have been built in the early part of the 1900s.
Matthews said a lot of hard work and planning went into trying to keep the old and incorporate the new to make the home a modern, accessible building.
It now features an open floor plan with original touches like the high ceilings and wooden floors. There are two sections -- one for the eatery and another, a more intimate space with a sitting area as well as space for small gatherings. A modern kitchen was added in the back, as well as restrooms.
Matthews chose every detail carefully - the fixtures, colors and decor, which will be seasonal, she said. The house is ideal for events like showers and rehearsal dinners.
"I feel like it's a feel-good place," she said. "It's comfortable and relaxing."
Matthews is originally from Philadelphia. She and her husband moved to the area when he got military orders to Fort Polk. They have researched the home and have met some Van Dine family members.
"I just feel like I am related to this family. I love the history, the little bit I know," Matthews said.
"Hazel" was taken from a name in the Van Dine family lineage and also from a nickname that Matthews' brother gave her growing up -- a throwback to the 1960s television comedy show centered around a family's efficient live-in maid.
"Because I'm a freak about cleaning and keeping things neat," she said with a grin.
Matthews plans to be open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily until she carves out a regular schedule.
"I want to see what the community's needs are first," she said.