Un tocco di Venezia a New Orleans

A historic CBD building becomes a Venetian retreat

An antique needlepoint sofa from France is placed near the steps that lead to the balcony.

CHERYL GERBER

John Houghtaling has brought the romance of Venice to his unique home in a historic Central Business District building, just steps from the French Quarter. There isn’t a hint of what’s in store from the plain vanilla façade, but once you exit the elevator on the second floor you’ll think you’ve arrived at a palazzo overlooking the Grand Canal just off St. Mark’s Square.

“I have a love for Venice and the old palaces along the Grand Canal,” explains Houghtaling, an attorney who heads the firm of Gauthier, Houghtaling & Williams LLC. His building features the wrought ironwork found in the doorways, balconies and entryways of the famous Italian city. It is his vision of Venice recreated in New Orleans.
Houghtaling purchased the building with real estate developer Tom Bowes, who lives on the third floor. “Tom and I are fellow car enthusiasts so parking was essential for both of us,” says Houghtaling. “We applied for and were granted a variance to turn the bottom floor into a garage. It only fits four cars and when the door is left open it’s quite a sight because he and I have two Lamborghinis and two Ferraris parked there.”

To execute the grand plan he had for the large second floor space, he called in Christopher “Chris” Sacco, owner of British American Design Group and a friend he met while racing in the Ferrari Challenge. “Between races we often traveled together in Europe. Chris has a great working knowledge of Old World buildings and he’s one of the most creative people I know. Among his many talents, he has a great design sense and a knack for finding rare things.

Fortunately, Chris was able to indulge some of my crazy ideas.” Those ideas include the stone wall in the bathroom that rises electronically into the ceiling to expose the tub to the bedroom.

After Houghtaling asked Sacco to do the pre-Civil War building, which was built as a water house for ships and paddle wheelers on the river and had been vacant for 50 years, the designer took several trips to Venice to study the construction of its unique buildings, thus enabling me to incorporate many of the same themes in his place. “I also travel to Murano, an island near Venice, where I found the chandeliers for the unique space.” Sacco scoured New Orleans to find antique hinges, doors and wood from the period of the building. He located the perfect match in an old building that was being torn down and reclaimed the floors and cypress beams that exactly matched the flooring and large beam construction of Houghtaling’s building.”

Today the bold architecture of the 2,200-square-foot space features a single large room across the front that serves as a grand salon. Fronting the row of tall windows overlooking the street are the living and dining rooms, with a unique state-of-the art kitchen hidden behind the 25-foot bar on the opposite side of the space. “Viewed from the salon, you would never know there’s a modern kitchen obscured from view,” says Houghtaling. “The Viking stove and Sub-Zero refrigerator drawers are neatly tucked away behind the counter, while the wine cellar and pantry are hidden behind separate iron doors.”

In addition to the grand salon, there’s a master bedroom and bathroom, plus a spa that includes exercise and massage rooms. The unique setting for the massage room includes a large electronically operated screen that drops down from the ceiling. Everywhere you look you will find something unusual, including the endless tub that fills up and spills over the sides and a waterfall that cascades out of the ceiling onto the adjacent shower floor in the master bathroom.

In the second bathroom an Italian baptismal font serves as a sink.

Lighting also received special attention, with some ceilings featuring light filtering through iron screens and special lighting along the base of the long bar for an added dramatic effect.

Furnishings throughout the dramatic home are as you would expect – fine Italian and French antiques, including a floor-to-ceiling canvas depicting a street scene. “My two favorite things are a 16th-century Italian painting of St. Anthony in the living room, and a sculptured head done by my mother when she was 13 years old. I even created a special niche for the head. The painting is from my first house in Lake Vista. I actually spent my entire furnishings budget on the painting and it didn’t matter that my house remained empty for a while.”

A touch of Venice in New Orleans? “Yes, I think so,” Houghtaling says with a smile. “I can shut out everything here and feel like I could walk out on the balcony and see the Grand Canal.” Venice in New Orleans – it doesn’t get more romantic.
 

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