Rebecca and Dr. Simon Finger were friends with interior designer Jill Dupré before they were clients. As soon as they saw Dupré’s home, they knew that one day they would be clients as well. “We were trying to figure out our style,” says Rebecca of the couple, who was starting their family and living in a ranch-style cottage on Slidell’s Bayou Liberty at the time. “We went to a party at Jill’s, and it was like lightning struck. We immediately fell in love with her trademark graphic, whimsical style. We approached her and asked her to promise that one day when we renovated our house, she’d help.”
Katrina changed the Fingers’ plan of eventually renovating their Slidell house. After the storm, they sold their home and moved Uptown, where they’d met and where their children already attended school. By the end of the year, they’d found a house that spoke to them. But before signing on the dotted line, they called Dupré to see if she was available to lend her particular brand of magic. “Once she said yes, we made an offer, and she has been involved in every decision since,” says Rebecca. “Jill introduces us to things we’ve never thought of.”
When the Fingers purchased their circa 1920s Colonial Revival house, it was a virtual shell. Over the years, a series of renovations, including one in the 1950s that replaced columns across the front porch with wrought-iron lacework, had muddied the style of the architecture. The last owner had started renovating the interior of the house and then stopped, and the property, gutted down to its studs and subflooring, subsequently sat empty for five years. Working with architect Davis Jahncke of Jahncke & Burns, the Fingers wanted to return the house to its traditional origins and juxtapose that foundation with Dupré’s cutting-edge aesthetic. At the same time, they wanted the house to reflect their personalities and function well for a busy family of five. “It was the potential we loved,” Rebecca says. “When we looked at it, we didn’t see what was there; we saw what was going to be there.”
In order to make sense of the confusing floor plan they’d inherited, the homeowners went back to the drawing board with Jahncke. On the first and second floors, they extended the rear of the house so that the family room and master bedroom would have additional square footage.
They reconfigured some of the existing spaces, added first- and second-floor porches, remodeled the façade of the house to more closely resemble what it would have looked like in the ’20s and completely redesigned the back yard – with a stylized garden and a pool that sits dramatically below the porch – to take full advantage of the deep lot and create pleasing views inside and out. With three children – 11-year-old Jack, 9-year-old Ana and 5-year-old Charlie – the couple also turned a third-floor attic into a whimsical playroom that Jack describes as “epic.”
Architecturally, only the new kitchen, the bathrooms and a striking fireplace of glossy black tiles can be described as contemporary. Elsewhere, the progressive spirit of the house comes largely from its furnishings and art. During the design process, Rebecca worked closely with Dupré to blend contemporary, antique and vintage pieces. “Jill is a great teacher,” she says. “I gradually began to understand how to approach each room as a composition, and it was like completing a puzzle or a check list. We try to figure out what’s missing and then fill in the blanks. You know when you’ve achieved the right balance. It just feels comfortable.”
Arriving at the balance that now exists was not without challenges. The first renovation was completed in 18 months. But unforeseen construction problems required that a second extensive renovation be tackled on the heels of the first. The upside was that the Fingers used the undertaking as an opportunity to tweak a few of their earlier decisions. It was then that they added a large master closet, the family room’s arresting fireplace and an outdoor kitchen. They also turned the third- floor playroom’s half-bath into a full bath and added a king-size bed nook so that the space could double as a guest suite. As they had before, they painted walls white to provide a neutral environment for their art. But this time, a five-step process was used to make the walls on the first floor and on the landing ultra-smooth and glossy. “We love the way it reflects the abundant natural light from all of the huge windows on the first floor,” Rebecca says. “It feels very modern but mimics the appearance of the smooth finish of old plaster. It is also very durable, which is something we always have to keep in mind with three young kids.”
Against the background of sleek white walls and warm heart-pine floors (wood salvaged from a plantation in Picayune, Miss., was used to match the original floors where rooms were enlarged), they brought together things they love and married them with the nontraditional flair that is Dupré’s forte. “It was very complementary,” says Simon of the couple’s collaboration with their friend. “Jill didn’t just come in and take over. She really helps you develop your own sense of style.” In addition to favoring Italian contemporary furniture, the Fingers treasure antiques and art from Simon’s native South Africa. Raised in Johannesburg until the age of 9, he still has strong family ties there, including an aunt who founded the internationally renowned Goodman Gallery. The gallery has been the source of some of the most important works in their home, as have Simon’s parents, who live in Los Angeles and have been collectors for many years. Rebecca’s own upbringing in Houma figures into the mix in the form of large black-and-white family photos displayed like fine art. The Fingers, who are also passionate about collecting art by locals, credit Dupré with the placement of the art and with the interplay between the art and the colors used throughout. But it’s clear that in taking a house from what she once described as “raw material” to a polished showplace, Rebecca has left her stamp, as well. “Growing up in a small town, my passion was art and all things creative, but I never imagined the possibility of a career in visual arts,” she says. “My focus shifted, and I got away from my creative side while studying business in college and graduate school. But this project has led me back.”