If location, location, location are the three main things to consider when purchasing a house, Rachel Dangermond got it right. Her home embraces Bayou St. John through large expanses of glass, a wide porch across the front, a small garden between the steps and the sidewalk and a second-story balcony just made for sipping tea and gazing at the historic body of water.
The large front space features built-ins on one wall and a picture frame-esque window on the opposite side.
“It was exciting to come home after 15 years in California and undertake a major renovation,” she says while showing a “before” photograph of the house she purchased in May 2005. The object of her attention was an ordinary 1920s bungalow that offered her the best of both worlds – “to invent the new while constrained by the challenges, eccentricities and beauty of the old.”
Located between historic houses on Moss Street, the California-style bungalow wasn’t much to look at when Dangermond arrived. “It had brick pillars, a pair of ordinary windows and a dark-stained front door,” she recalls. “Inside it was a sturdy structure that had been home to the same family for three generations. It had even been split into a double in the 1970s to accommodate the extended family.”
The custom built mahogany picture window in theliving room provides an unobstructed view of Bayou St. John.
Dangermond tackled the project with great gusto. It helped that her then-husband, Steve Dangermond, who now lives in Portland, Ore., was an architect with a vision for making something special out of the ordinary structure. “The parts of the house that were kept intact were thoughtfully restored,” Rachel Dangermond says. “Floors were stained dark to hide flaws, hardware was refinished or authentically replaced and windows were recorded and refinished.”
There modeled home features a modern vernacular of a bungalow with largeexpanses of glass and solid mahogany columns to support the porch.
The major change was the creation of a new contemporary-influenced façade. Clearstory windows were added above the two large panes of glass and the existing cypress French doors were moved to the center and restained to match the windows. Four solid mahogany columns were strategically added to support the porch roof and to provide an unobstructed view of the bayou. “I thought a lot about the façade and decided that the new steps to the yard should run the length of the new porch that was raised to the same level as the house,” Dangermond explains. “Since I had a relatively narrow space between the steps and the sidewalk, I wanted to maximize the curb appeal by creating flower beds that would feature what I call my California perennial garden. I quickly filled it with things native to Louisiana.”
From the moment you step into Dangermond’s home you’re struck by the “wow” element of the floor plan. The two front windows have dual-purpose custom mahogany shutters that swing back to give a totally unobstructed view and yet provide complete privacy from the street when closed. A wall of storage lines one side of the kitchen. “I like the glass-front storage that’s fashioned with sliding doors,” she says. For a special touch of luxury, Dangermond selected Carrara marble for the kitchen counter and bar that divides the kitchen from the dining room. The three front spaces – living, dining and kitchen – flow seamlessly together creating a feeling of openness that is further enhanced by the high ceilings.
A wall of storage fronted with glass sliding doors hugs one wall of the kitchen; Carrara marble was used for the counters.
“The master suite is my retreat from the rest of the house where I can cocoon myself in my own temperature-controlled safe harbor,” Dangermond explains. She’s especially fond of her new office upstairs that ‘s a detached addition which she regards as her reward “for having worked out of a closet for 18 years as a freelance writer.” “I call it the tower,” she says, “ because I look at the bayou in the front and in the back I see the flowers, trees, plants, shrubs, the rooftops of my neighbor’s houses and beyond. I feel high up in my office with my work vibes isolated from my living space.”
The dining room chairs and table are positioned to take fulladvantage of the Bayou St. John vista.
“I love being back home in New Orleans and I’m definitely connected to this place. The house was nicknamed LaLa early on in the renovation and it stuck. To wake up every day and have the bayou greet me, to have all who pass by wave and smile at me, to know that I am finally home – it’s like a dream from which I never want to wake up.”
One of Dangermond’s favorite features of the house is the outdoor shower inthe interstitial between the main house and addition.
The screened back porch is a favorite spot forrelaxing and it provides a view of the new addition and rear garden A two-story freestanding addition was added to the rear to createaninteresting office and Loca Negra, Dangermond’s Labradorretriever-mixpuppy enjoys the rear garden