Home: New Age

A new house with timeless Italian characteristics

“We didn’t want it to look like a brand-new house,” said Ann Williams of the new residence she and her husband retired state appeals court Judge David Williams recently built in Old Metairie. “We wanted it to look inspired by an Italian Villa.”

Check and check. The home’s classic bones defy being identified with a particular decade and, like an Italian villa, it was conceived to invite the indoor/outdoor living associated with the temperate climate of the Mediterranean or California. The Williamses, who have four children and six grandchildren, have renovated multiple houses and built several spec houses, but they’d never built one for themselves. When their search for an Uptown house “with fewer larger rooms that would be versatile” led to a dead end, they decided to rent temporarily and look for a place to build.

“Older houses with older floorplans were designed for a different lifestyle,” Ann said. “No one lives like that anymore.”

Eventually, the Williamses found a rundown property in foreclosure and built a three-bedroom, three-and-a-half-bath house in its place – an H-shaped design with rooms that flow, but also can be closed off.

“You can shut doors to make it more intimate and private and soundproof,” Ann said.

Ann, who has partnered with her daughter to renovate and build houses, including one in conjunction with Cottage Journal, conceptualized the design and was involved in the day-to-day construction process. David spent hours online sourcing materials.

“I like the design part and I don’t mind being in the mud with the guys,” she said. “David is better at the computer part, researching the details. He got to be an expert at shopping and comparing and ordering everything from appliances to light fixtures.”

To achieve the classic character of an Italian villa, Ann paid close attention to the details and craftsmanship. For help with interior architectural features – such as French doors across the front and back of the house and a Rumford fireplace, which has a taller opening and mantel than today’s fireplaces – she turned to architect Davis Jahncke. She also went with custom carpentry and millwork and included a covered terrace with garden views for outdoor living.

When the couple eliminated a second floor from their original wish list, they decided to have a steeper roof with large custom copper roof vents that have the look of dormers.

“The pitched roof creates the impression of a second floor and gives the house greater presence,” Ann said.

In place of the stucco that is typical of villas, they opted for a brick façade with a mortar wash. On the terrace, they chose concrete pavers over stone for both modern technology and the look of age.

They also kept the landscaping simple and the foundation exposed. Being able to see the intersection of the exterior wall and the ground, according to Ann, creates the illusion of more space and height, and like the pitched roof, gives the house a greater presence. 

Inside, the couple furnished the house with some of the many antiques they’d collected over the past 40 years. In fact, some of the custom details in the house were designed with particular pieces in mind. In the living room for example, French doors were spaced farther than originally intended to accommodate the dimensions of a 19th century English breakfront. 

While the couple did forego both the second story and the staircase that were part of the initial design, the luxury of starting from scratch afforded them the flexibility to make the best use of the square footage and to choose materials that both look timeless and stand up to daily use. A long-time collector of antiques with her husband and a former antiques dealer (she and several friends owned and operated a Magazine Street store for 11 years) Ann credits the time-worn imperfections of antiques with bringing lived-in authenticity to the space. The rest of it, she says, will evolve as the couple settles in.

“We took a few things and had them redone but we mostly used what we had,” she said, pointing out a settee that over time has faded from blue to gray and shifted from room to room. “The Old World effect is there in the materials, the floors, the millwork, in how it reads.”