In work and in life, artist Rebecca Rebouché is enthralled by the beauty of the natural world. Trees, birds, butterflies and other flora and fauna dominate the whimsical language of her symbolic paintings. They also surround her rural Northshore house.
“I call it the treehouse,” she says, of the three-story, rustic-modern structure. “It’s very vertical, like a box on stilts.”
The house was originally built by the late artist David Abel and his wife in the 1970s. Through a friend of her mother, Rebouché found the property in 2010.
“I felt I had this duty to this artist I never met to shepherd this home into the future,” says Rebouché, who splits her time between New Orleans and the Northshore. “It was in disrepair. It was beautiful and inspirational and wonderful, but it felt like it was crumbling beneath me. My goal was to one day give it the care it deserved.”
In 2018, Rebouché hired Cicada Architecture, a young New Orleans firm, with whom she shared a common vision for the project: to save the house, but also add on to it in such a way that highlighted and respected the “clean, modern, minimalist, natural house in the woods” aesthetic of the artist who built it. That called for keeping the pine floors, exposed wood ceilings and beam work of the original 1,200-square foot house, while renovating it with new siding, plumbing and baths, as well as a new kitchen and roof.
“We kept the bones but reinforced the existing framework, updated everything else and strengthened it up to code,” says Rebouché.
The renovation also included a striking 400-square-foot addition consisting of a new first-floor master suite on one side and a new deck on the other. Along with her desire to honor the original homeowners’ intent, Rebouché’s commitment to simplified, sustainable living informed every step of the redesign.
“I wanted longevity and low maintenance and quality materials that would work with the elements of the environment instead of against it,” she says.
Environmentally friendly decisions were made at every turn. The addition is wrapped in honey-hued Cumaru (Brazilian Teak), a sustainable hardwood suited to moist environments. The base of the kitchen island, the kitchen shelves, the dining room ceiling and a built-in bookshelf are all crafted of wide wooden floorboards reclaimed from a shed on the property that had to be torn down. All of the windows are double paned as well as operable so they can be opened during temperate weather. The kitchen’s vintage cast iron sink is a repurposed find that Rebouché stumbled upon while walking through the woods; its refrigerator is a smaller, more energy efficient model than the one it replaced.
“It’s not about the cost of a refrigerator,” says Rebouché. “It’s about the cost on the environment.”
Indoor-outdoor living is the heartbeat of the house. New windows increase the prevailing emphasis on natural light (Rebouché often works a full day without turning on a single light switch) and further accentuate the landscape. The spiral staircase, modernized with thick wooden treads, now features rectangular windows strategically placed at different angles and heights so that the views are seen from a variety of perspectives.
“The windows are almost like frames for paintings of the surrounding environment,” says Rebouché. “And the stairs are a design element that allow light to pass through them.”
While windows bring the outdoors in, multiple outdoor living spaces bring the indoors out. A first-floor deck, a private deck with an outdoor shower off the master suite, and a roof terrace, where the artist enjoys painting en plein air, were all part of the renovation. Despite the private setting of the house, Rebouché likes to entertain, especially outside, and has hosted such events as outdoor movies, “a bluegrass pickin’ party” and a mini festival where friends camped in tents and Airstream trailers.
Having moved out of the house during the 18-month project, the artist says she returned to the finished space last spring with fresh eyes.
“After the renovation I didn’t want to fill it back up with things I had,” she says.
Inspired by the architecture of the house and by trips to South Africa and Mexico, she wanted to create an interior in harmony with the outside world. Furnishings are sparse, colors are warm and there are sleek accents of black. Through a partnership with Anthropologie, images from Rebouché’s colorful paintings have appeared on apparel and home goods, but only a few of her works are displayed in the house. A mural covers the wall behind the guest room bed and a vine that looks as if it came to life from one of her canvases climbs the wall of the master bath.
(As of November 2020, the wallpaper mural is available on rebeccarebouche.com.)
For Rebouché, sustainability means living in a purposeful, organized way that reduces clutter. She added closets, drawers and cabinets with the renovation, but also shops for fresh foods, and avoids plastics and other unnecessary packaging and waste. The minimalist environment has in turn given her open space to fill with her prolific creativity.
“In the design process, I leaned what is considered the norm for kitchens and baths and how they are used, and I got to know myself better and what I wanted,” she says. “I resisted modern pressures to put more. Simple is beautiful.”
At a Glance
Original house designed by artist David and Toby Abel; total renovation and addition by Cicada Architecture.
Environmentally friendly elements such as Cumaru wood and repurposed finds; abundance of windows for natural light and views; multiple outdoor living spaces.