Like many people along the Gulf Coast, dermatologist Marty Claiborne and his wife Barbara had little time to process, much less reflect on, what Katrina had done to their two houses—their primary residence in New Orleans and their vacation home in Pass Christian, Miss.—before it was time to decide whether or not tore build. Four feet of murky water left the Louisiana Colonial they had built 25 years earlier in shambles and a 30-foot wall of water had completely washed away the Mississippi bayside property they’d just finished renovating. But the Claibornes, life long New Orleans residents—Marty is a descendent of the Louisiana’s first U.S. Governor,William Charles Cole Claiborne—didn’t need a lot of time to mull things over. Despite everything that occurred following Katrina, and some very temporary notions of moving to a condominium, they quickly relented totheir love of home and began working on plans to repair the damage.
Walls were eliminated between the kitchen, breakfast room and living room, creating a single, open living area. A marble counter top delineates the kitchen and provides a casual place to entertain or dine. Contemporary touches like glass pendant fixtures and stainless-steel stools lend amodern view point to the traditional cabinetry, architectural detailing,and antiques.
“I called our architect and friend, Stephen Chauvin, as soon as I heard our house had water in it,” says Barbara, who along with her husband, the youngest of their three sons,and their 12-year-old toy poodle evacuated to Destin, Fla., then relocated to Houston, where they joined another of their sons. “My husband loves this house. He knew we were coming home.” Meanwhile,Marty called the couples’ friend, antiques dealer and designer Tara Shaw, to see if she would lend her expertise to the project as well. Both agreed and an easy collaboration that ultimately resulted in amore satisfying and serene outcome than the Claibornes ever expected was born.
Cool marble, stainless steel and white cabinets keep the kitchen light and bright. A 19th-century Spanish, walnut table with iron cross stretchers adds a contrasting note of warmth and age.
While some locals scrambled to re-sheetrock walls and replace fabrics and furnishings just as they had been before the storm, the Claibornesem braced the opportunity to make a change. They knew they wanted their house to look and feel more open and to showcase a well-edited mix of quality antiques set against a clean, contemporary backdrop. The first floor, heavily damaged by water, was gutted to the studs. And thoughthe same basic foot print and original flagstone floors remain, Chauvin infused new life into the floor plan by eliminating walls, heightening and widening passages, and replacing windows and doors. Beams were added to the ceiling of the great room to contribute to the feeling of space and lend architectural character. Custom cabinetry; sleek surfaces of stone and stainless steel; recessed, remote controlled lighting; and an easily hidden, flat-screen television (housed inside the living room’s book shelves, it can be raised and lowered at the touch of a button) also are integral to the fresh design scheme.
A pair of 19th century boisserie panels turned into refrigerator doors inspired the palette of pale, liquid blues used throughout the house.
Guided by Shaw, who opened a Houston warehouse after the storm, the Claibornes began the process of refurnishing the house during their evacuation and continued it while living with Barbara’s parents during the construction phase. Their first purchase, a pair of 19th century painted boisserie panels turned into doors—now used to conceal the kitchen’s Sub Zero refrigerator and freezer—set the tone not only for the interior’s marriage of old and new, but also for its palette of pale, liquid blues. “The color reminded me of water,” says Barbara.“Her palette of beautiful French blues is the color of a vacation,”adds Shaw.
The Claibornes purchased a number of small family heirlooms, descended inthe Claiborne family from Marty’s Virginia-born, great, great, great grandfather—William Charles Cole Claiborne, the first Governor of Louisiana—when they were sold at auction last year. Among the pieces, displayed atop an Italian walnut table, are a pipe, a beaker, and several prayer books.
With three boys, ages, 18, 23, and25, the Claibornes wanted the renovation to be comfortable as well. To that end, Shaw, brought in antiques with roomy proportions and handsome silhouettes and balanced them with soft, insulating surfaces (antique Oushaks and summery sisal); inviting, up holstered pieces; and plenty o fstorage space for electronic equipment, books, family photos, andmementos. “A lot of times when people think of antiques, they don’t think of comfort,” says Shaw, who has honed her flawless eye over the past 14 years. “That’s a misconception.”
The breakfast room’s Mario Villa chairs and table base, originally verdigris, were refinished with a gunmetal patina after being damaged by floodwater. A new glass top, cut to accommodate the shape of the window seat, was made for the base. An 18th-century water-gilded chandelier hangs above the table.
Despite their considerable age and delicate tapestry, the commodious pair
of early 19th-century painted fauteuils on one side of the living roomfits the mandate well as does the dining room’s combination of robust, circa 1920s
Louis XIV-style dining chairs finished with nail head trim and 19th-century Louis XIV-style end-chairs covered with a silkdamask. New pieces such as
the living room’s loveseat-sized chairs and matching ottomans are equally
accommodating thanks to generous dimensions and plush, velvet upholstery.
Biblioteques made from Italian, 18th-century faux marbled architectural fragment shelped transform an under-utilized living room into a frequently occupied library. The art nouveau desk provides ample workspace. The chair is 18th-century Swedish.
Wasted space, such as the small, formal living room located at the front of the house, was reconsidered and given new purpose to make the most of the existing square footage. Now, the quiet room, partitioned by a second set of pool-blue, boisserie doors, also purchased from Shaw, is a library favored by every member of the family as a peaceful place to work or study. While the house has regained its place as the hub of the Claibornes’ busy life, these days, its tranquility also helps fill the void left by the family’s relaxing beach getaway, now a mere memory. “Our house looks beautiful,” says Marty, who especially enjoys the soothing surroundings in the early morning hours. “It’s a heck of a way to have to get there. It’s like child birth, incredibly painful, but youl ove what you end up with.”
A Directoire table paired with velvet-covered, circa 1920s Louis XIV-style dining chairs and 19th-century Louis XIV-style end-chairs covered in silk damask, is the center piece of the dining room, dressed in shades of gold and aquamarine. Artist Gretchen Howard painted the ceiling with muted tones of gold and silver. Eighteenth century, Italian sconces from Sicily and an 19th-century iron and crystal chandelier illuminate the room.
Adds Shaw, who was happy tobe able to assist friends in need after the storm, “That’s the greatest testimony—when you feather your nest and you always want to stay home because it’s so serene.”
The French trumeau in the foyer was one of the few pieces that the Claibornes were able to salvage and restore after post-Katrina flood waters damaged the first floor. Today, it hangs above an18th-century French commode acquired after the storm.
Beams add depth and character to the living room, which over looks the pooland patio. An 18th-century Italian altar is used as a coffee table.
The Claibornes’ 12-year-old toy poodle, Killer, sinks into the soft surface of a velvet-covered ottoman.
Anarchitectural fragment of clouds, which originally adorned a church, forms the base of the powder room’s sink. Tara Shaw gave the piece’s elegant golden flourishes a contemporary edge by topping it with streamlined plumbing and light fixtures.
The Claibornes’ pool and patio, which survived the hurricane with little structural damage.