The Tuscan-style villa that overlooks Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans is a secret treasure. Hidden from busy Lakeshore Drive behind huge iron gates and framed by glorious rose gardens, the home of Natasha and Ronnie Lamarque is a work of art featuring fine materials and craftsmanship.
The couple wanted to keep the integrity of the original house, which was built about 30 years ago by Wilson Abraham, a builder who constructed the current governor’s mansion in Baton Rouge, but they also wanted something totally different. “When I first walked into the house, I had a vision of how we could make it comfortable,” Natasha says. The living room is furnished in a plush, comfortable style that immediately makes you understand that this is a place for living and not just another grand home for viewing.”
“It was just meant to be our home,” adds Ronnie, an automotive dealer and racehorse owner (his Risen Star won the Preakness, Belmont and Eclipse in 1988). “I have always been a risk taker, and taking on the challenge of creating something truly unique in the space was exciting and sometimes a bit overwhelming.”
The original house was built around a two-story center atrium. Today the atrium is three stories tall, topped by a magnificent lighted, stained-glass dome. The third story was added to accommodate a huge office overlooking the lake; it is here that Ronnie begins his day with meditation. The couple pushed out the walls 15 feet to take in the spectacular view of the saltwater swimming pool.
Jim Blanchard, a noted archival artist and designer, is credited with the final design of the house. He also designed the manicured, European-style gardens that feature more than 100 Abbaye de Cluny rosebushes and many fountains. Horticulturist Annie Zipkin maintains the gardens.
There is definitely a “wow” factor around the 16,000-square-foot property. Blanchard wasn’t satisfied to design floors with fine woods, marble, granite and travertine. Each floor is embellished with interesting designs, such as a compass-like design that sets a tone of grandeur. There’s a special touch to everything, including the plasma-screen televisions over the mantels, which are wrapped with elaborate picture-frame moldings.
“It was a dream, a once-in-a-lifetime project from start to finish,” Blanchard says. “Natasha and Ronnie were hands-on about everything. He was in the house every single day while the work was going on, and Natasha kept reminding me that she wanted beautiful spaces, but it had to be child-friendly for Ronnie Michael, their young son. She stressed that nothing would be off-limits to children.”
Inside the two-story front door, the drama of an Italian villa is evident in the atrium, with walls finished in faux stone and painted clouds surrounding the lighted, stained-glass dome. Three levels of columns enhance the walls.
“We both love light,” Natasha says. “The sides of the house are wrapped in lots of glass, while the solid walls on the front offer us complete privacy. The sun is never a problem because electronic shutters, set by timers, are orchestrated to close when the sun is bright.”
Ronnie is proud to explain the brass plaque on the front door. “Natasha had it made for the house,” he says. “The words are from Joshua 24:15: ‘As for me and my house we will serve the Lord.’ … It is a special thanksgiving to God for giving me the talent to be a successful businessman who owns such a special home.” The plaque adds to the charm of the house, but it definitely captures the warmth and sincerity of the owners.
A wall of windows overlooks Lake Pontchartrain
The dining room.
The terra-cotta facade, lush gardens and rippling fountain pay homage to grand mansions of Italy.
Ronnie and Natasha Lamarque with their son, Ronnie Michael.