From Catalog to Custom
A 19th century architectural pattern book home gets a modern update
The original design for Rebecca and Benton Smallpage’s Queen Anne style house came from the pages of an architectural pattern book, a popular source of plans for 19th century residences. It is a mirror image of Residence Design No. 216 from Robert Shoppell’s 1888 “Shoppell’s Modern Houses.” As such, the property was designated a city landmark in 1982 by the Historic District Landmarks Commission and is protected by their mission of preservation. Today, the house, which took the Smallpages three years to renovate in compliance with the HDLC’s requirements, is also a window into current tastes in home design and the busy lifestyle of a family with four kids, ages 5 to 12.
When the Smallpages first viewed the house in 2014, it met a number of checkpoints on their list of criteria. It had room for four kids, a separate carriage house that could be converted into a guest house for visiting family and friends, and a pool. The couple purchased the house and began working with an architect on a renovation that would preserve the architectural integrity of the buildings.
The remodel called for tearing off and rebuilding the narrow rear portion of the house and bumping out the right side of the structure for extra square footage. In order to satisfy the HDLC’s requirement that the addition not obscure the historic carriage house behind the house, the Smallpages had it moved to the opposite side of the backyard, where it remains visible from the street. They also had the carriage house raised to the level of the main house (the two structures, with a screened porch added between them, now flow together as if they were always connected) and abbreviated the existing pool.
Rebecca, who has a degree in accounting, but loves the challenge of renovating houses, a passion inherited from her parents who have renovated numerous houses, did much of the space planning as well as the decorating. In fact, she started her own design business, Le Petit Page, d
uring the renovation and has since helped others with design projects.
“I like the puzzle pieces of moving walls and making it work,” she said. “At night, I stayed on Floor Plan Pro until 1 o’clock in the morning until I made it work.”
For the family’s last house, she used a monochromatic palette of beiges, which has become a standard part of many New Orleanian’s subtropical décor. But this time, she used color and delved into her own tastes, sourcing things from local stores, artists and a variety of internet sites, including Wayfair, 1st dibs, Circa Lighting, and Etsy.
“I promised I would do what I liked and how I envisioned it,” she said. “I went more on the colorful side of things. The other house was what I thought I was supposed to do. With this house, I said ‘it’s ok to do my own thing.’”
She also stayed focused on the needs of her family and the desire to create a place where extended family feels welcome and her kids want to bring friends.
One of her first bits of inspiration came in the form of a painting. Having seen the work of Tennessee artist Emily Ozier, she commissioned a hunt scene, which reminds her of her Lexington, Kentucky upbringing and her love of horses. Working with the bold colors in the painting, she opted for navy kid-friendly sofas and accents of bright green. A painting of the Roman Taffy Man’s mule-drawn cart above the wet bar nearby gives equal time to her husband’s New Orleans roots. Benton is President of Donovan Marine, his family’s marine supply distribution company, which is more than a century old.
While the house had its origins in a design that anyone could purchase,
its new incarnation includes many features unique to the current residents. A built-in banquette in the kitchen provides space for the kids to do their homework or for guests to gather while Rebecca cooks. Accordian doors between the screen porch and den fold back so that the two spaces connect seamlessly when the family entertains. A refrigerated wine room makes use of space beneath the front stairs and a hidden office is tucked away behind the wet bar. The jewel-like vanity in the powder room is made of Cristallo quartzite, backlit with LED panels. But the most distinctive of all the custom touches are the passageways that Rebecca designed for her kids: a hidden door between her eldest daughter’s and eldest son’s rooms and another that enables the children to access the third-floor playroom from the youngest boys’ shared room.
“I wanted to build a house my kids would want to bring their friends to,” Rebecca said.
The strategy paid off. In addition to being a welcoming place for family and friends, the house’s blend of classic 19th century beauty and customized contemporary design has proved a great place for the constant traffic of little feat that Rebecca loves.
“We can have a party with 30 children,” she said, “and everyone has their own space to go and hangout.”