Treasure on a Bluff
Pirates once roamed in the area of this Lake Charles mansion.
Baton Rouge architect Robert “Bobby” McKenzie designed the Hennings’ Lake Charles home.
Strategically placed on one of the highest bluffs overlooking Prien Lake in Lake Charles, the magnificent home of Shirley and Thomas “Tom” Henning is reminiscent of stately old plantation mansions along the Mississippi River. Step inside the grand entry with an imposing dual circular stairway leading to the second floor, and you will see the large great room opening onto the broad veranda that overlooks the lake. This is not a relic of a bygone era. Here everything is state-of-the art, with grand bathrooms and walk-in closets, both unknown luxuries for plantations built centuries ago, as well as a kitchen with the very latest of everything.
The house is picture-perfect, and it is easy to see why the 18-foot-high bluff with 360 feet of frontage on the lake is a choice location. “Once the land of the Atakapa Indians and the location of one of the earliest camps of settlers in the area, we felt that the serene setting was an ideal location for our new home,” Shirley says. “We are secluded at the end of the road, and it is easy to imagine the folklore we have heard about the pirate Jean Lafitte traveling to this area and possibly burying treasure here.” Then she adds with a smile: “We were told that when the previous home on the location was under construction, one of the foremen on the job found a large box or chest while he was digging. The story goes that he quickly put his find in the back of his truck, and he has not been heard from since.”
Although the legendary treasure of Lafitte may be long-gone, the home of the Hennings is a treasure trove of wonderful things from the past. Some are grand antiques purchased for the house, while others were inherited from both Shirley’s and Tom’s families. “We have my grandparents’ antique beds, and the grand piano in our home once belonged to Tom’s great-aunt, Josephine Henning, who gave it to Evelyn Henning, Tom’s grandmother, when she moved to Paris, France,” Shirley says.
The 10,000-square-foot house was designed by Baton Rouge architect Robert “Bobby” McKenzie of McKenzie & Associates, who enjoyed the challenge of executing the Hennings’ special request: to create front and back exteriors of equal importance. “Shirley and Tom wanted to make the house just as handsome when viewed from the lake or coming up the inclining driveway to the high bluff,” he says.
McKenzie’s design features the same six 24-foot-high and 40-inch diameter columns on the front and rear façades.
“The columns were so massive that we had to pour each one on the job,” McKenzie says. “Another interesting aspect of the project was protecting the massive live oaks on the property. The trees and root systems dictated how large a house could be placed on the lot.”
“It is important to note that when we tore down the existing house on the property, we salvaged the pine flooring and reused it to floor the entire second story of the new house,” says Tom, who is of counsel to the law firm of Stockwell, Sievert, Viccellio, Clements & Shaddock. “We used the salvaged brick for the flooring in the utility areas, pool bathroom and for a feature wall that divides the great room and breakfast room, and we also reused the antique glass French doors.”
Tom was also quick to praise the work of their friend and contractor Russell Stutes of Russell Stutes Construction Inc. and his son-in-law, Patrick Milligan. “We worked very well together,” Tom says. “Russell and Patrick are very knowledgeable, professional contractors.” He also had good things to say about the project’s pool designer and landscape architect, Ted Viator of Viator & Associates in Lafayette, and their current landscaper, Butler Lee of Broadlands Inc. in Longville. “We were especially pleased with [Viator’s] design of our infinity-edge pool,” he says.
Lake Charles interior designer Sheila Whitson of Sheila Whitson Interior Design LLC was a part of the project from the very beginning. “The house was an exciting project, and I loved working with Shirley and Tom,” Sheila says. Shirley adds: “I could not have this beautiful home without Sheila. She was an invaluable asset in all aspects of design with extraordinary ideas. She is a true credit to her profession.”
Today the home is much-enjoyed by the active family, which includes their 15-year-old daughter, Katherine, who goes by Katie, and their son, Grant, 14. “We love sharing our wharf with our friends who like to fish for speckled trout and redfish,” Tom says. “As a family, we enjoy boating, tubing, water- skiing and swimming in the lake, and we have easy access to the nearby country club where we all play golf.”