Leigh Anne Peters became experienced at home remodeling while doing design work for local builder Mike Bertel of Bertel Construction. During her years in New Orleans, the Mississippi native also befriended contractor Will Erikson of Yazoo Restoration whose work she admired. When she bought the house she now shares with her husband Thomas, 9-month old daughter Maxwell, black Labrador, Shady, and Cavalier King Charles puppy, Lula Belle, her experience combined with Erikson’s would prove a winning collaboration.
“When I bought this house, I partnered with Yazoo and had them come aboard,” said Peters, who was then traveling to Mississippi to visit her ailing father on the weekends. “I trusted Will to make decisions. He’s just got exquisite taste.”
The remodel called for gutting the house, while keeping the footprint and layout mostly the same. It also included remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms with contemporary finishes. At the same time, newly whitewashed doors and pickled floors ground the cottage (originally a double shotgun with a camelback added later) in its historic roots and provide a counterpoint to sleek components, such as the kitchen’s marble countertops and Caesarstone island.
Walls and trim painted with Benjamin Moore’s Linen White enhance the home’s abundant natural light. In fact, Peters originally worked with a local designer to create an all-white interior. Six months later, she was engaged, and marriage and children factored into the equation. She re-thought the design scheme with family in mind.
This time she turned to designer Ware Porter, a Birmingham native and New Orleans resident whose work has been featured in such magazines as House Beautiful and Veranda.
“I hired him to order some lamps and some tchotchkes and then ended up doing the whole house,” Peters said.
Both client and designer share a love of color, fabrics and wallpapers. But Peters did have a few directives. She wanted the house to be comfortable for a man (there was to be no pink, with the exception of the master bedroom already decorated with an exquisite chinoiserie wallpaper,) durable for children and pets (“I don’t want to be upset
when the dog gets on the sofa with dirty paws,” Peters said,) and functional for entertaining. In a word: livable.
Porter responded with a myriad of patterns and colors, each prettier than the previous, and a house that manages to be both exuberant and peaceful took shape over the course of a year.
“I am known for a look, I use a lot of layers and patterns and color, but we have to use some restraint too,” Porter said. “I always try to be humble and not take ego into anything. It’s a fine line. I wanted there to be elements of sophistication and whimsey, but I also wanted it to be serious. We always use the word comfortable. Comfortable to us is the ultimate luxury.”
Red, the one color that Peters initially didn’t like, became a thread throughout – from the entryway, where a Dhurrie rug and sepia pastorals are edged with it, through to the den at the rear of the house where it’s combined with shades of white and navy.
“Ware asked if there was a color I don’t prefer and I named red. But now that it’s a predominant color, I absolutely love it,” Peters said. “I knew I loved his aesthetic so I trusted him and I said let’s do it.”
Though Porter anchors his work with timeless pieces, he has a talent for turning the traditional on its ear – often with color. In the dining room, a clean-lined custom-designed armoire painted peacock blue and flanked with red-shaded sconces takes center stage. The interior, used as a bar, is lacquered red.
“I love the peacock blue,” Peters said. “It kind of smacks you in the face when you walk in the door and the fact that it’s lacquered makes it even more unexpected.”
Porter also paid careful attention to the details that finish a room. He hand-applied the blue grosgrain that trims the shades of the chandelier above the dining table.
Family antiques inherited by both Leigh Anne and Thomas, glamorous glints of metallic lighting by local designer Julie Neill, new classics from designer lines (including Bunny Williams and Theadore Alexander) and fabrics from such iconic names as Brunshwig & Fils and Schumacher rub elbows with a perspective that’s fresh without being trendy, colorful without being loud.
“I don’t like when a house has so much charm and character and people do try to do it inexpensively and do things that aren’t in keeping with the character of the house,” according to Peters, who also did not want the house to feel precious or stuffy. “Ware brought in color and incorporated the old with the new. It’s a lot more livable.”